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Stories I’d like to see

Super PAC cash, immigration rules, and Businessweek’s revival

By Steven Brill
February 28, 2012

1. The business of super PACs:

With super PACS having altered the dynamics of federal campaigns, it’s time for a look at how they’ve changed the fortunes of political consultants, pollsters and others who feed off of campaign money. With the cash flow this Republican primary season shifting from political organizations run by the candidate to independent — or at least ostensibly independent — entities, giving them much more money than the campaigns themselves, has the talent followed the dollars? Wouldn’t pollsters or ad-makers rather work for an organization with $100 million to spend than one with $10 million? And how do the people who run these super PACs get paid? How do the IRS rules governing the finances of non-profit entities apply to super PACs? Can someone like Karl Rove take a cut of the tens of millions he’s raised and dispensed for America’s Crossroads the way private equity funds take management fees? Who decides how much Rove or other super PAC executives or staffers make? Articles like the one in Sunday’s New York Times have pointed out the overlaps among staffers. So who ferrets out conflicts if, for example, someone running a super PAC steers business to his or her ad agency or consulting or polling firm?

2. Rick Santorum’s father and a Mexican laborer: A tale of two immigrants

I doubt that I’m the only one who doesn’t know the basics of America’s immigration laws and rules, despite the fact they have become a staple of current political debate. For example, whenever I hear Rick Santorum talk about how his father, Aldo, was an immigrant from Italy who came to the United States in 1930, I wonder if he came in legally and, if so, under what rules. I assume Aldo Santorum couldn’t simply pick up and come here today from Italy, right? (I wondered the same thing about Rudy Giuliani when he ran for president in 2008.)

My curiosity was piqued by a recent editorial in the Washington Post that took President Obama and all of his would-be Republican opponents to task for saying that illegal immigrants should “get to the back of the line” in applying for citizenship. In fact, the Post pointed out, when it comes to most illegal immigrants, there is no line — and no possibility of applying for citizenship. As the Post explained, “a large majority of the 11 million illegal immigrants are unskilled or low-skilled Mexicans [who] have no relatives over age 18 who are either U.S. citizens or permanent residents in possession of green cards,” and that would make them ineligible for visas, let alone citizenship status.

So what exactly are the rules? Which countries and what kinds of people get preference, and who gets no chance at all of “getting on the line” to pursue the American dream? How come? And what were the rules when the parents or grandparents of the politicians who rail the most about closing our borders came here?

3. Textbooks and money:

A recent editorial in the “Bloomberg View” section of Bloomberg Businessweek described the Neanderthal state of the American textbook market: high prices, little innovation and market domination by a few big companies. All this adds up to an industry in which prices have doubled the pace of inflation since 1986 and kids still lug brickloads of print books in their backpacks. The opinion piece keys off of the recently announced entry of Apple’s iPad into the market. But as it glumly concludes, Apple’s announcement that it is working with the incumbent publishers on a pricing model that is not likely to save anyone any money means that “Apple seems less intent on disrupting the textbook cartel than on joining it.” That’s because Apple seems set on partnering with the incumbents to publish their digital products only through the Apple store and have them be readable only on Apple’s expensive iPads.

The essay then offers up the idea that digital texts should instead be published only on open platforms so they can be read on all devices. The federal government, it suggests, could force this by threatening to cut off crucial education aid to states that don’t require those open platforms.

Beyond the obvious political obstacles with that kind of heavy-handed regulation, Bloomberg missed a bigger story. Forty-six states and the District of Columbia have now agreed to begin implementing what’s called “Common Core” curriculum standards — partly because of being pushed to do so by President Obama’s Race to the Top education grant program. In a country with 13,000 turf-conscious local school districts, this common-sense approach to setting strong national standards to meet the challenge of global competition is revolutionary. It also promises a potential revolution in the textbook industry, both print and digital. A textbook that becomes a favorite of education officials charged with implementing the Common Core standards could achieve unheard-of scale and sales volumes. The same is true for high-tech teaching products, which is why venture capitalists are starting to warm to an industry they once shunned because sales had to be made one by one to states or even school districts in a highly politicized process.

The emergence of digital publishing combined with the adoption of the Common Core is going to upend a big, important industry. The right story would take us inside the jockeying among traditional publishers and startup entrepreneurs to get in on the potential Common Core gold rush. Which bureaucrats are making the Common Core decisions about which learning products to adopt? What kind of lobbying and political pressure has been unleashed at what levels to influence these choices? Apple stories have glitzy appeal, but what’s going on behind closed doors to determine how and what our kids will learn when the revolutionary Common Core is implemented is the real story.

4. Businessweek’s revival:

Although I wasn’t keen on that Bloomberg View essay in the Feb. 6 issue of Businessweek, I was stunned in reading this issue, as I have been repeatedly in reading other recent issues, at how terrific the magazine has become under its new Bloomberg owners and editor Josh Tyrangiel. I second Jack Shafer’s December appraisal: It has become, for my money, the best business magazine published today and one of the two or three best magazines, period. If anything, its fault is that, because it’s a weekly, there’s so much good stuff in each issue that it leaves the reader feeling guilty he didn’t get to it all (though there are smart bottom-line summaries at the end of each piece to help deal with that).

The cover story of that Feb. 6 issue was an exquisite blow-by-blow account of how hard it is to merge two giant airlines (Continental and United) because there are thousands of surprisingly complicated decisions to be made — such as whose coffee and uniforms to keep or figuring out how to cut over to common reservations and flight-information systems while still operating 24/7 around the world. Reporter Drake Bennett made the important but mundane come to life in a way that reminded me of the quote attributed to McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc celebrating “the kind of mind that can see beauty in a hamburger bun.”

Inside the same issue there were at least a dozen other stories I wanted to read, from the “wild battle to overpay for the bankrupt Los Angeles Dodgers” to “So Long, Wal-Mart Greeter.”

This kind of transformation doesn’t just happen. Someone needs to do as thorough and as page-turning a piece on the magazine’s resurgence as Businessweek itself would do. There is a lot more to remaking a magazine than investing in talent. It takes attitude, discipline and a constant visualization of the reader — a relentless focus on whom you’re writing for and what you’re trying to deliver.

How did Tyrangiel put all that together in an age when print is supposed to be dying? And is his reborn product making money? Are advertisers ponying up? Are circulation revenues on the rise? How is the magazine keeping itself from being victimized by the Web — or is it? How does its progress compare with a parallel effort to beef up Bloomberg’s long-suffering cable-TV network? What’s the difference? And how does all of this fit into the larger strategy of the Bloomberg company?

PHOTO: A pedestrian walks into the border station to cross into the United States from Mexico in San Ysidro, California September 27, 2011. REUTERS/Mike Blake

Comments
3 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

Sorry, but your inclusion of this quote “as the Post explained, “a large majority of the 11 million illegal immigrants are unskilled or low-skilled Mexicans [who] have no relatives over age 18 who are either U.S. citizens or permanent residents in possession of green cards,” strikes me as being somewhat lacking a basis in fact.

For one thing, no one really knows how many illegal immigrants there really are in this country. I have seen that number quoted for years without any change whatsoever.

Many of these illegal immigrants are not just “unskilled or low-skilled” workers, since many have been picked up in raids on relatively high-paying jobs (the meat packing industry comes to mind).

And not all of them are Mexican.

Given the fact of their typical “extended family” structure, I seriously doubt that they have “no relatives over age 18 who are either U.S. citizens or permanent residents in possession of green cards”.

Maybe instead of just repeating meaningless “statistics” without question, it would be better to examine the immigration laws in some detail.

Your article attempts to cover too much with too little factual data.

Posted by Gordon2352 | Report as abusive
 

On the immigration “issue”, get real.

For two hundred years, from the mid-1700s to the mid-1900s, the United States benefited from the ingenuity and adaptability of essentially uneducated people from almost anywhere to settle and tame a wild country into a productive agrarian society. There were NO “government benefits” and even children were an asset in such a world. Anyone and everyone was pretty much welcome.

Our world today is quite different. The United States is a superpower with the single paper currency of world commerce. We have achieved a national standard of living the envy of the great majority of nations. We have a mostly literate, capable and motivated general population among the most productive in the world.

All American land is owned, and “we ain’t makin’ any more of it” as Will Rogers once said. In terms of finite resources such as land and government financial resources, the more people here, the less is available for and to each. It’s long past time to pull up the gangplank.

The people illegally streaming across our southern border without limit are, in the main, without skills and without literacy in English. Perhaps to an extent unprecedented, they seek to “bring their culture with them”; inasmuch as they (and their descendants) have openly demonstrated a distinct reluctance to assimilate into American society.

Much of the unreported and untaxed money they earn is sent back to family in their countries of origin. Their children overfill our public schools and classes, get free meals, medical care, school materials, etc. for the asking that Americans must not only provide for themselves, but pay the additional taxes from which such “benefits” are paid.

Many social services in the United States are available to people that are NOT citizens, which is one of the primary reasons a successful crossing of the southern American border translates direcrtly into an incredibly “better life” here than “home”. We need to recognize that each immigrant child is, until adulthood, an unnecessary and unwanted drain on America’s financial resources. “We, the people” just can’t afford to keep doing what we are now doing for millions and millions of people that shouldn’t even be here.

I think the politicians who have allowed all this to come about have sold this country “down the river” to “buy the votes” of such illegals, especially since children of illegals born here are automatically American Citizens. We need to change that.

Every illegal that finds work takes a position that otherwise would have been filled by a legal citizen, hispanic or not, we need to cut off the incentives and roll up the welcome mat except for those immigrants with skills America needs. Our immigration laws are clear and reasonable, but they have been largely ignored. We need to change that, retroactively and with consistency and determination.

People who want to become Americans learn and speak English. No more school materials, instruction, driver’s license information, voter information, etc. in Spanish.
Those illegals brandishing Mexican flags, t-shirts, or car stickers should be immediately arrested and returned to their country of origin, dedicating their lives and efforts to improving the society with which they identify!

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive
 

Here’s an item from the front lines of real-world immigration law:

An illegal immigrant from Viet Nam was convicted of armed robbery and battery, sentenced to 11 years and served 6 in California. Upon release, deportation proceedings were initiated–until Viet Nam refused to issue travel docs. So he could only be held for 6 months thanks to the nut jobs on our federal courts. He just killed 5 people in San Francisco (his citizen accomplice from the original crime is still in prison!).

There are tens of thousands of these cases all over the country, the worst offender for non-returns is China, followed by India, Pakistan, Iran, Viet Nam, Cambodia, and Cuba. Love that free trade!

The relevant statute says the State Dept. is supposed to retaliate by withholding visas from offending nations. They do nothing. As does the media–see any national coverage of this SF case vs. the hysteria over the Trayvon case? Look up Jamiel Shaw on the internet, he was a truly innocent black teen killed in LA by another deportable gangster who was released instead of deported. Again a roaring silence from the media, as well as all of the “usual suspect” race nationalist organizations that are screaming bloody murder over the Trayvon case.

Posted by MarkTea | Report as abusive
 

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