Sarah Hooker of the Migration Policy Institute, a think tank on immigration that professes an independent stance, has a forward looking attitude. “Of course border and immigration policy has an impact on schools. But we can only talk about border policy going forward. Education is one of the basic services states have to provide.” In other words, according to Hooker and the Migration Policy Institute, and many others, the illegals already in the country is a done deal. It’s over. It’s done. You can argue how to integrate them into society, and how to pay for things like public schooling, but not whether illegals should be integrated or deported. And the reason is not merely a liberal attitude towards immigration, but rather a matter of logistics: you can’t possibly deport millions of them, or even a significant percentage. So you have to accept one of largest collective violations of law ever. The border is a logistical construct defined by economics and social policy, not a constitutionally defined limit, according to this widespread view.

This sets a precedent – likely a constitutional one should any legislation that is finally passed by Congress and not vetoed by this or any other President be challenged by one side or the other in court and should it reach the SCOTUS – which makes the constitution conditional in essence. If a problem is too tough, and too expensive, and involves too many people, then the law will have to be bent or even ignored. And when that happens immigration activists will attempt to have the right of free movement across international borders legally defined and enshrined. The 1948 Declaration of Human Rights already lists freedom of movement as a right, but only a right to move freely within one’s country, to leave one’s country freely, and to return to one’s country freely. The right to enter a foreign country freely was understandably left out and it is this missing piece of the puzzle that the activists are looking to have enshrined and then enforced. And what a wonderful precedent do we have in the USA! Activists like open borders’ John Lee writes in his blog, “Of course, we would always abolish or minimize border controls, as literal open borders would suggest. But we would also simply offer visas to anyone who applies for them, (subject to standard exclusion for people bearing diseases, weapons, or criminal intent of course.)” Aside from quibbling semantically over how a border guard would detect someone “bearing criminal intent” in John Lee’s utopia, we have the view that it would be a routine matter controlling for disease, guns, and criminals in a world where all applicants get a visa.

Obama, won’t quite say it, but we are a lot closer to John Lee’s world than we realize when we take a logistical rather than a constitutional view of the nation’s borders. And it bears repeating that many in the business community essentially share the logistical view of the border. This is a key time for defining what America’s borders actually mean and what a nation’s border actually means across our globe. Emerging GOP candidates like Scott Walker are already backpedalling on previous comments over the border and immigration. Walker should realize that even if Wisconsin seems like a long way from Arizona and the border with Mexico, that border is a lot closer to his home state than he had realized. Maybe Scott Walker should read John Lee’s blog. And think a little about where he stands on immigration.

Byron York is right to mention that foreign policy may be far more of an issue in the 2016 race than strategists, pundits, and candidates have predicted until now. The economy is still important and healthcare is a hot-button issue as is immigration, but they may not top voter concerns as previously expected. That means GOP candidates have some catching up to do considering Hillary’s experience as Secretary of State, according to York. At this point in the argument that York develops, one suddenly has an urge to pause. As does York at the very end of his piece in the Washington Examiner where he points out that it’s vision, not experience, that matters to voters.

And matters in the real world. One remembers, for those who remember, Jimmy Carter’s dramatic warnings about a Reagan presidency during the final stretches of the campaign in the fall of 1980. An unproven “extremist” who would lead the world down a dangerous path. In fact, it was Carter’s bumbling if well-meaning as well as ideologically unsuited foreign policy that had led the world to a dangerous place by the late 70’s. Or more accurately, his policy was a weak response to a dangerous world in which Soviet strength was predicted to last for generations. Reagan took a tough and clear stance and the Soviet apparatus fell apart within a decade. That’s a historical fact. It was both a moral, or ethical if you wish, and a pragmatic posture, and he had previously signaled it with his brilliant “farewell” speech at the GOP convention in 1976, where a very experienced Gerald Ford won the nomination and bumbled his way through the campaign, losing to Carter.

Vision requires courage and coherence and is in even more short supply nowadays in a world dominated by fine-tuning of policies and “nuanced” responses to dangers around the globe. And it’s hard to predict who might have that precious quality that any CEO, especially the President, requires to be successful. While the issue of national security and foreign policy can and will leak into or wash over the coming campaign, voters need to feel they have a candidate who really cares and really does have a viewpoint that they can trust. And not someone who hands out responses cobbled together by poll-reading strategists. That strategists are vital, and that they read the polls, is obvious. But any candidate has to rise above the policy details and present themselves as true leaders. Character still matters and one hopes that people like John Bolton, if they do enter the race in order to shine a light on the issue of national security, will provoke responses from the other candidates that reveal something of their character. Whether it’s foreign policy, or economic policy, or healthcare, or immigration. Character still matters. In fact, it’s one of the most important assets a candidate brings. Not popularity or media savvy, as necessary as they may be to get elected. And not a narcissistic selfie about their personal story that leaves you wondering who in the world got elected to the Oval Office.

The White House is worried they may offend Iran. As reported in Politico, Samantha Power, ambassador to the UN, stated “We in the administration believe that at this time, increasing sanctions would dramatically undermine our efforts to reach this shared goal.” The shared goal being the reduction of Iran’s nuclear capabilities. Samantha Power is the Irish-born, Harvard-educated human rights advocate who in the heat of the nomination battle called Hillary a “monster” in an interview with The Scotsman done in London, England. The self-righteous globe trotter has had a great deal of influence on Obama’s foreign policy outlook, having worked with him since his days as a freshman senator. She pulled the rookie into Darfur and argued for military action in Libya – which is good – but she also seems to be behind his current insistence on using the presidential veto against the Iran sanctions that Congress has put together – which is not so good.

The problem of negotiating with an adversary that uses violence and terror has been studied through the analytics of game theory for decades now, increasingly so since 9/11. One can quibble over whether the current regime in Iran is strictly terrorist. The fact is, however, that Iran has supported, financially and tactically, terrorist islamic organizations for decades. That means that in reaching a nuclear deal with Iran, you are dealing with a regime that has close ties to terrorism, whether the current top officials are part of the loop or not. How do you negotiate with such a regime on an issue as vital as nuclear capability? Terrorism and Game Theory, a paper by USC’s Todd Sandler and Rhodes College’s Daniel Arce, states that “each adversary acts on the beliefs of the opponents anticipated actions.” And uncertainty caused by power struggles between the moderate and fanatical factions within any terrorist organization lowers visibility on the part of the government negotiating with the terrorists. As well, in negotiation theory there is what is called the Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement, or BATNA. What this means is do you have a back-up plan if negotiations fail and is it credible? A BATNA is often used in fact as leverage in negotiations and not just a a safety net. Or as Senator Menendez put it, ” a credible threat of future sanctions will require Iran to cooperate and act in good faith at the negotiating table.”

It’s not as if sanctions are a new and radical policy change. Iran has had sanctions imposed on it by the EU, Canada and of course the USA for years now. The current bill would step up the pressure to another level, that’s all. So why is Obama so touchy on the issue? Does Samantha Power have his ear to such an extent that anything that doesn’t fit with Kennedy School of Government policy perspectives gets dismissed out of hand? The President needs to remember who he is dealing with in Tehran and what they have been and are capable of doing, and turn his ear away from his advisor’s whispers just a little.

The White house wants a lot more money for financial services regulators, as in the SEC and especially the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, or CFTC. The latter would have its budget boosted by 29% to $322 million, while the SEC’s budget would increase by 15% to $1.7 billion. Yes, billion. Why all the extra cash? Essentially, it’s a give back to Wall Street done in December’s cromnibus bill, where some derivatives trading would no longer be pushed out to separate entities that are not covered by the FDIC. In other words, your bank deposit insurance would continue to cover complex high-risk derivatives transactions undertaken by large financial entities. And that means regulators like the CFTC as well as the SEC screaming for more cash to do all that overseeing. The CFTC’s mission statement heroically proclaims that the Commission’s job is “to foster open, transparent, competitive, and financially sound markets, to avoid systemic risk and to protect the market users and their funds, consumers and the public from fraud, manipulation, and abusive practices, related to derivatives and other products that are subject to the Commodity Exchange Act.”

A piece of cake really and that $322 million budget should help. Especially considering, as they themselves state, that the notional value of the swaps market over which the CFTC has oversight is about $400 trillion. But wait, the notional value is not what you need to worry about. You take a tiny percentage of that, say 15% which represents the maximum change in the notional value in response to a big move. In other words, the amount of money you could lose in a worst case scenario. Heck, lower that to 10% and you wind up with a mere $40 trillion risk from swaps alone. We’ll assume that’s worldwide of course, but most swaps are done in US dollars and are thus the purview of the CRTC. So that merely adds up to the combined economies of the USA, China, Japan, Germany, France and the UK. Piece of cake really. You can now sleep easy knowing those extra $72 million that boosted the CFTC’s budget from around $250 million up to $322 million will take care of the problem.

Of course there’s a much much larger pot of money that’s really at stake. It’s called your current and future tax dollars and what Wall Street has done by reversing the push-out of some derivatives to separate entities, is to ensure that should another meltdown around swaps and other derivatives occur, the US government will once again rescue them with as much taxpayer funded bailouts as necessary. There is no question that moral hazard – the lack of consequences for risky behavior and the subsequent increase in risky behavior in response to the lack of consequences – in the financial industry is a huge problem and one that must be solved without taking down everyone’s savings in the process. So Elizabeth Warren was right to protest back in December and it’s not surprise that Obama is asking for more cash for the SEC and the CRTC.

The problem is Warren would have the financial industry so bound up in regulations that it would risk sucking the life and innovation out of the credit markets. How much risk, how much pain Wall Street should endure in order to ensure it does not risk the world financial system again is a tough question to answer. But the trade-off is clear: if you have a freer world where people can bet on swaps and other derivative purely for speculative purposes rather than for hedging future production, then you have to allow the speculators to go down when their bets go wrong. If you have a controlled world where any derivative has to be based on an actual good or service that is to be sold or bought, then you give up some of that freedom and hand it over to the CRTC, the SEC, the IRS, and countless other agencies. Where to balance between these 2 poles is almost impossible to answer, but we have no choice but to try. And to do it in a far more transparent way then the fast one pulled by Congress in December.

Get Your Stamp Here


Filed Under Latest News on Feb 2 

Alex Nowrasteh, comfortably ensconced in Virginia with his gun collection, wants open borders, The “smart” way to secure the border is not through fences or “other security gimmicks” according to the undoubtedly bright libertarian who now publishes at the CATO institute, but rather through a guest worker visa program. A return to the Bracero agricultural guest worker visa program that lasted from the mid-50’s to 1965, is basically what Nowratseh, son of Cyrus of Path to 9/11 fame, is calling for. What an elegant, neat idea that hopefully should fix what is now a “trivial flow” of “unlawful” immigrants. The London School of Economics grad seems to think that fine-tuning the economic incentives will make building a border security system that is hard to penetrate unnecessary. A guest worker visa program will ensure that business gets the (cheap) labor they need and will “drive would-be illegal immigrants into the legal system.”

In other words, just give the “trivial flow” of illegals a temporary visa and you fix the problem. Border patrol agents chasing down clusters of illegals crawling through the hard-scrabble, in say Arizona, to make sure their paperwork has all the right stamps? Or rather, they would hopefully just line up at the border checkpoints to get the stamps. And when the visas expire? And when the trivial flow turns back into a flood as a result of the very guest worker visa program? Or as a result of hard times in Mexico and an improving US economy? What Nowrasteh is doing is taking half of Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner’s two-pronged plan to increase border security in conjunction with a guest worker visa program. The reason Gardner’s plan is more feasible is that you have a critical mass of somewhere over 12 million illegals, your guess is as good as anyone’s, about half of them from Mexico, already in America. That community in and of itself creates a large pull factor and makes comparisons with the Bracero program over 50 years ago less sustainable. A guest worker visa program without a significant improvement of border security would open the floodgates to an unknown extent.

The underlying problem is the enormous difference between Mexico and the USA. This is not close to being equivalent to say, Greece and Germany. The difference in GDP per capita between the USA and Mexico is almost $43,000 That’s only the difference. That means that America’s GDP per capital is almost 4 times Mexico’s. Germany’s is slightly more than double Greece’s. The difference between Turkey and Germany is similar to the US-Mexico divide, and guess what? Turkish immigrants to Germany now make up about 3.7% of the population and number about 3 million. An equivalent proportion in America would mean over 11 million Mexican immigrants in the USA. Estimates of the total number of illegals vary, for understandable reasons, but take a conservative estimate like the Pew Center’s that estimates about 6 to 7 million illegals from Mexico alone. If a guest worker visa program has a similar effect to what happened in Germany, that would mean a near doubling to around 11 million. And that’s not counting those from Central America. These are all merely estimates, however, and the outcome of a guest worker visa program is uncertain, aside from the fact that it would be a tremendous pull factor. But that’s ok with Nowrasteh, he just wants to open up the borders and give everyone a stamp.

Recently, former Governor Sarah Palin delivered a speech along with many other influential Republicans at the Iowa Freedom Summit. Many derogatory words can be used to describe her performance, I’ll just say it was cringe-making. For the sake of the GOP, it’s time to stop viewing Palin as some youthful (comparatively speaking) representative of the party but rather as an impediment to any attempt to expand the party outside of its base. I’m not sorry when I say that enough is enough, Palin is damaging to the Republican Party as a whole, especially at a time when the party is far from unified. It is time to stop providing her the attention she doesn’t deserve.

In 2008, then Governor Palin, was thrust onto the national stage by Senator John McCain by being chosen to be his running mate in the presidential campaign. I’m still boggled by the choice of Palin. Yes she brought youth and good looks to an otherwise and let’s be frank, old man campaign, yes she brought grass roots conservatism to an otherwise establishment campaign, and yes, the benefits of having a female running mate were real. Regardless, there were so many other choices available that could have provided the same. After McCain’s loss though she retained and in some ways gained support across the country .In my opinion though, her time in the light is over and she should just back off as she is now a danger to the party.

Truth be told, I’ve never been a firm believer in the idea of always voting along party lines, or showing absolute obedience to the party. The party is not infallible and I will never be that person who rushes to defend it due to some weird devotion and allegiance, when it is clearly wrong. I prefer individual candidates over the talking points of the national party. Not everyone is me though and unfortunately, rather than looking at individual candidates, many do and will use singular points to define a party; in this case, Palin will be used as she already is by some to generalize the Republican Party.

Now some might say I’m a bit too harsh on Palin and that my brand of Northeastern Republicanism is insignificant compared to the country Republicanism from which she derives her support. But can anyone say in all honesty that her recent “speech” at the Iowa Freedom Summit was anything more than a driveling, whiny, 35-minute embarrassment? Yes, people have bad days and not every speech will be a stunner though this isn’t isolated, rather a shining example of absurdity among a long line of absolute disasters. Between her gaffes on the campaign trail in 2008, to various statements made afterwards at conventions and as a talking head, to her channel (which I still don’t understand why it exists), we have now been blessed by this abomination.

This speech though came just as she was hinting that she might seek the GOP nomination for the 2016 presidential election. Many believe she is just blowing hot air, I think she might actually believe she has a chance. Whatever the case may be, this speech alone and the reaction to it can and should stand as reason enough for her to not even entertain the thought any more. Furthermore, Republicans should see this speech as indication that it is time to stop fueling the Palin cult of personality. I refuse to see otherwise excellent Republican candidates be criticized by those on the left who conjure up images of Palin and make electorally damaging connections between the two. By continuing to provide Palin with a seat at the table, the Republican brand is being damaged.

There are indications though that Palin may have crossed the line this time in the minds of some of her closest supporters. Several former supporters are now backtracking from her while others have become openly hostile and have ridiculed her. The speech which was half complaining and the other half a hodge-podge of criticisms against the left was simply that awful. Enough with the Mamma grizzly, folksy-speak, populist substituting for substantive rhetoric BS. The GOP should take warning. As long as Palin is put into positions where she is seen as a figurehead, role model, and spokesperson for the party, the GOP will actively hurt itself. This isn’t to say Palin should be silenced but rather sidelined to an extent. It’s been seven years since she was a vice-presidential candidate. Since then, apart from building her own base, she has raised money for some successful candidates and others who were total failures. Let Palin continue to do what she is doing in fundraising, just stop putting her in positions where she can be seen as a spokesperson for the party.

As reported in the Denver Post, Colorado’s Department of Motor Vehicles is cutting back its program, “The Colorado Road and Community Safety Act” passed last year and set up to provide licenses to illegals in the state in an effort to make roads safer by having more drivers insured and licensed. A reasonable question to ask is why should one expect someone who has violated immigration laws, either entering the country illegally or overstaying their visa, to suddenly become a responsible driver because they have a license? Maybe some who flee scenes of accidents will now remain to give their personal details to a police officer. Maybe many won’t.

So the GOP controlled state senate took the practical step of denying funding for the CRCSA, a program they have opposed from its inception. That means that illegals must now head to the Denver central DMV office to book an appointment for a license, or to renew the one they have obtained. That’s down from 5 offices in the first 6 months or so of the program and far less than the large increase Hispanic activists were calling for. The new waiting lists are long, years maybe, and that means a driver’s license in Colorado is now much harder to obtain for those living illegally in Colorado. Rather than engage in heated debates about top-down overarching immigration policy on a national level, the Republican Senators in Colorado cut off the money. Simple and perhaps very effective. Perhaps because politicians do change their minds and it remains to be seen how constant they are in upholding their stance, and because the evidence of how effective this will prove remains to be seen.

Illegal immigration is both a push and a pull phenomena: Poverty and violence push illegals towards the USA while job opportunities and a lack of punitive measures – like summary deportations – pull them north from Mexico and Central America primarily. Some like Damien Cave back in 2011, and Linda Chavez more recently, claim that the balance has shifted and that the USA is a far less attractive economy for illegals while Mexico, despite the horrifying violence related to the drug cartels, is booming. This has meant that illegals coming across the border has slowed from about 500,000 per year to around 100,000 a year. That’s ignoring the flood of children from Central America in the last couple of years of course. For Chavez, the issue of illegal immigration is over and we should move briskly to a comprehensive reform package. Aside from the fact that 100,000 illegals (in the last year or so) is still a large number, and the fact that anywhere from around 12 to up to 20 million illegals remain, what Chavez and Damien do not focus on is the fact that illegals realize there is now a great deal of anger and that tougher enforcement policies may finally be on the way, despite Obama’s amnesty. When making a decision on whether to run the border, induced by smuggling gangs and direct contact with relatives already in the USA, actions like the cutting of funding of the Colorado drivers license program makes them think twice. And might induce some of those already in the country to think about leaving. That means that specific steps by local and state governments to ensure compliance with the laws on the books – nothing more than compliance – is perhaps the best way to start winning battles over illegal immigration. It will be interesting to see what the evidence suggests in Colorado over the coming months and years. It’s a fairly straightforward concept the senate in the Rocky Mountain State have alluded to through their action: let the money go to those who are here legally and not those who are here illegally. Is that so hard to understand?

There is one nefarious consequence of the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare to most, that is not mentioned as much as it should be: the damage to eyesight to anyone actually trying to read even a small portion of the act. For example, consider one relatively modest item under the act; reforms to the Medicare payment system. This entails moving from a fee-for-service reimbursement scheme to a bundled-payments reimbursement scheme. While fee-for-service is reasonably self-explanatory, try wrapping your head around the tantalizing concept of a bundled payment reimbursement scheme: the reimbursement of health-care providers on the basis of expected costs for clinically-defined episodes of care. Essentially, it is a middle ground between fee-for-service and lump-sum payments per patient treated. And those clinically defined episodes of care are usually complex and expensive procedures like heart surgery, obviously important in age-based schemes like Medicare.

The concept started in Texas apparently back in the mid 80’s and various projects since that time claim to have saved HMO’s money, did not cost hospitals money, and paid the surgeon and his or her crew, if you will, additional money. The question is, where did the savings come from? Or more precisely, who lost out on some of that cash? Into whose pocket were those systematic inefficiencies going that bundled payments miraculously moved to all the good guys? Did the insurance companies lose out? Between private insurance, HMO’s, PPO’s, specialists and staff, and patients themselves, not to forget attorneys and their litigation, the collection of players – each with their own strategies and often conflicting goals around literally life and death situations – means healthcare’s complexity is overwhelming and continually increasing. Oh, and that additional player not listed just now, the government. Imposing regulations, handing out subsidies to level a playing field that’s really a dense thicket of data, policy and regulations, and opinions.

Behind all this lurks the economic concept of pooling: Based on your predisposition to certain illnesses as well as your age and other health factors, an insurance company may price your risk and associated payments beyond any reasonable capability for you to pay. The opposing concept is moral hazard and the risk that people will take advantage of any subsidies and demand unnecessary treatments. And any trade-off between these two is essentially a political choice, aside from any real inefficiencies that are actually weeded out by, in this case, a bundled payments system. However, there is a third factor and that’s the ever-expanding technologies, including prescription drugs, that are coming on the market. On the market, meaning the billions, or trillions, spent on R&D have to be recouped. Does this factor get gamed as well? Undoubtedly, but making sure all have fair, (not even Obama’s policy advisers are quite going as far as suggesting equal, as of yet at least), access to healthcare still hits the wall of having to pay for the subsidies both to patients and sometimes to providers and others.

And that means asking how much bang for the buck is Obamacare producing? The CBO projects that over the next decade, Obamacare will increase insurance coverage by a net of around 27 million patients. The cost is projected to be around $ 2 trillion in total for the same time period. That’s slightly more than $74,000 per added patient over a decade. That’s a 2015 Ford F series truck plus a slightly used Toyota Corolla. Or a very nice downpayment on most homes between California and New York City. A not insubstantial amount. Is it worth it? For some, clearly yes. For others, it’s a further invasion of big government in their lives, whether they actually are forced to enter the scheme or merely have to pay for it through their taxes. And remember, we’re talking about a government office estimate. It could be better, or it could be a whole lot worse in 2025.

Mitch was mildly positive, Joni stuck to traditional values and refused to get into a dogfight over policy proposals, and Curt, as in Florida freshman Clawson, was relaxed and not a bit angry. Obama had headed to the podium practically bouncing on his toes and pumped and swinging, but the GOP – whether the elite, the new faces, or the rebels – seemed not to be taking the bait. While liberal commentators like Slate’s Josh Voorhees sneered at Joni Ernst’s lack of specific talking points on Obama’s proposals in her response, is that such a bad thing? Do we really need a detailed drag-em-out knuckle buster over statistics that might relate to a proposed law that goodness-knows-what it will look like when and if it survives Congress’ committees? Is the whole partisan process of arguing over how Washington should fix everyone’s lives the only noble response to the latest SOTU address?

As the constitution dictates, the president “shall from time to time give to the Congress information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” There is no specific requirement that it be in the form a speech and for over a century it was in writing after Jefferson broke with Washington and sent a written report rather than speak before Congress the way Washington had in 1790. He felt the giving of a speech was too similar to a Speech from the Throne and the shackles of monarchy were still vivid in the nation’s collective imagination and certainly in Jefferson’s cautious avoidance of the trappings of monarchism. But the theatrical potential and the ritual proved too tempting, especially with radio offering new opportunities, so Woodrow Wilson brought back the speech in 1913. Whether the current practice of the SOTU address obliges a measure of accountability can be argued for and certainly against. In a representative democracy, the only real accountability -aside from the odd impeachment – comes on election night. So perhaps the real relevance of the State of the Union address is it can reveal the character of the president himself, and rarely the one hoped for by the Chief Executive. The policy pronouncements and their partisan details are soon forgotten, but the tone remains a little longer in the public memory, to the extent that people care about SOTU. Obama revealed that he really does know what’s best for the middle class and the rest of America, and he has a stack of taxpayer-subsidized plans to prove it, and a veto pen if you disagree with him. The GOP will need to formulate a core of clear policy proposals as they move towards 2016, but wonking back at the President over policy on a January night is a tactic they were right to avoid.

Orrin Hatch wants more STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math – visas issued. In other words, the H1-B visas that are supposed to be for foreign skilled workers to fill gaps in the supply of needed high-skilled workers. There is a current cap, (it is unclear whether the cap includes the L1-A and L1-B visas for executives and employees with specialized knowledge), that is around 115,000 a year. Hatch, induced by tech firms like Cisco, Facebook, Microsoft and many others, wants that cap raised to about 200,000 a year. The big tech guns can’t get the talent they need in America, so the argument goes, and need a streamlined and expanded immigration program that fills their need. Hatch’s colleague Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, disagrees. And studies seem to support the senator from Alabama: there are more than enough qualified Americans, even in the software field, even when grouped regionally as – a San Francisco based firm – did in their study of the problem.

So the evidence suggests the shortage claimed by tech firms may not exist to the extent they claim it does, or at all. It is hardly a leap to conclude that wages is an important factor, as well as a natural tendency to work harder and smarter when you come from a relatively poor country. Oh wait, many H1-B workers had to be trained by their soon-to-be-laid-off American counterparts in order to actually be able to do the work. And it’s not just a question of where you were born that bothers tech owners. Facebook’s Zuckerberg in an interview stated “I want to stress the importance of being young and technical … Young people are just smarter… We may not own a car. We may not have a family. Simplicity allows you to focus on what’s important.” Are you in your late 30’s or older. Are you raising a family? Do you want to work at Facebook? Your chances do not look good, especially if you are born and bred in America. While the nature of working on code and it’s all-consuming demands on one’s time are part of the nature of the software industry, keeping costs down is a big part of their strategy as well.

So do tech firms in fact want an oversupply of labor to ensure wages remain stagnant? And whose business is it? Is it better to allow more H1-B holders and the less visible L holders in to ensure that Facebook doesn’t move it’s main operations to Bangalore, the one in Southern India, for example? The future of work is a fascinating and disturbing topic and is and will be debated by industry lobbyists, academics, and others for years to come, but right here and now it’s Senator Sessions who holds the best argument. You don’t have to come from India or China or Eastern Europe to be the best and brightest, although you might be the cheapest. They are right here in America, in places like Alabama, an enormously competitive and inviting jurisdiction for all sorts of businesses from auto to aerospace to set up shop, and even from Utah, where more than a few grads from say Brigham Young would be most willing to do a great job for companies like Facebook. Software has revolutionized the world, no question. But real people are still sitting at the keyboards and the industry’s push for higher caps on H1-B and L visas should not be a priority. It may be some years before skilled wages rise enough in places like India and China to retain more of their grads, but the US is under no obligation to act as a job placement center for them until that time finally comes.

While the call to Islamic prayer will not be broadcast from the Methodist Church steeple at Duke University, it will resound in the quad outside the chapel where the 700 odd students of Muslim faith – about 5% of Duke’s student population – will pray. There has been some criticism and some reaction among Christians, but Duke’s associate dean for religious life, Christy Lohr Sapp, expressed a viewpoint that is hardly unique in today’s world. “The use of it as a minaret allows for the inter-religious reimaging of a university icon” she stated referring to the Church steeple. It may be infuriating to devout Christians, but it is hardly shocking. Relativism as an ideology and worldview, to use it’s very language, has been steadily increasing its influence among many of the political and cultural elites in the Western world for decades now. As outlined by Msgr. Angel Rodriguez Luño in his essay Relativism, Truth, and Faith, relativism’s view of faith is one that affirms that no single faith, or religious system in the language of relativism, “possesses an absolute value. All are relative to their historical moment and cultural context; hence their diversity and even mutual opposition. But within the ambit of this relativity, all are equally valid, insofar as they are different and complementary ways of approaching the same reality…”

In other words, under the ideology of Relativism, divine truth reduces to a cultural perspective. Morality reduces to ethics and ethics reduces to aesthetics. Faith, under this view, becomes an accessory to be changed like someone discarding yesterday’s fashions. Think Madonna and her pick-and-choose buffet of spirituality selections. All that remains standing is a quasi- socialist creed that we are all of equal value and our perspectives are all of equal value. And somehow tolerance will emerge from this babble of diversity. The Tower of Babel itself is now seen as a founding myth for linguistic diversity, rather than punishment for man’s hubris. But how tolerance will emerge from a diversity that values violent and regressive creeds equally to the wisdom of Christian and Jewish faiths that helped raise Western Civilization is unclear. Give them time, look at the Church in medieval times, is the response. To compare the Vatican’s policies towards, say, a Galileo with, for example, the Taliban’s reduction of Afghanistan to a near bronze-age society, is of course exactly the type of leveling that relativism engages in. But it’s creed continues and what was a steeple may someday become a tower of babble. Faith is built on divine truth. The Christian and Methodist faith that raised the steeple at Duke did not do so believing their faith was one view amongst many. Let civil rights and the constitution do the work of religious freedom that the founding fathers intended. And let the steeple at Duke University do the work of God that’s its builders intended.

The NFL as a league has tax-exempt status. Should it? Whether income earned at the team and player level is in fact taxed? When the commissioner earns $40 million? Most tax payers would say no, and some economists would say it doesn’t really matter anyway in terms of how it would affect the league’s finances. Major league Baseball’s change from tax-exempt to tax-paying status in 2007 was subsequently deemed tax-neutral by its executives. But that’s an insider’s view of the cost of a change in tax policy. The real question is the ethics portrayed by the league, both in terms of sports and in terms of economics. Cleary, the NFL is a for-profit league and should be taxed and should avail itself as it surely will of expensive counsel, legal and financial, to minimize that tax. But should it’s star players be sheltered when engaging in violent behavior?

While the average tax-paying fan is angry at the tax-exempt status of the NFL given the spoils divvied up among owners (arguably), players, management and expensive legal counsel as well as agents, they also want winning teams. Cheats are scorned, but losers are scorned even more. In professional sports, players and coaches and staff all get paid to win. It’s even an obvious statement to say that college football is essentially professional, if not profitable. And football is a violent game and players do get concussions which may affect their behavior. All true, so what should we expect from our team’s players, and staff? Should they display Olympian ideals, whatever that means nowadays? Or is the anger simply that the average taxpayer feels that the average NFL-er (or any other professional athlete) is overpaid? The NFL seems to be trying, belatedly, to discipline players that are violent, especially in domestic abuse situations, and that may help, but is the underlying issue really that the fan loves the game but is tired of the individual player? What is a good, but not outstanding, linebacker say really worth? Or a better-than-average QB? And how does the owners penchant for overpaying distort the market?

A Winner-Takes-All market is defined as one where the best performers reap an outsized share of the rewards available and the remaining competitors are left with very little of those rewards. The definition comes from Alan Krueger, Princeton economist and departing Obama advisor and his original solution was a progressive consumption tax that would hit luxury goods hard. That would not mean taxing professional football itself at high levels – pro football is hardly a luxury good. It would mean hitting, say, Jay Cutler’s purchase of, for example, a Lamborghini with a steep sales tax. Is that fair? Has Jay Cutler earned the right to buy as many toys as his enormous bank account will allow? Greg Mankiw at Harvard would say yes he has. The innovation that Cutler arguably brings to a national pastime means he’s worth every penny and should not be discouraged from innovating by prohibitive taxes. Sports is professional at his heart nowadays. Whatever pure passion for the game itself exists, and it clearly does, it is framed by the laws of economics. So choose your law, but do not expect amateurs or innocent ethics.

While it would be tempting to think that Republican voters angry with Boehner’s House leadership, would jump at the chance for direct democracy and let their representatives swing, politically, in the wind, to think that might be a mistake. A survey of comments across articles dealing with Boehner’s third term as Speaker reveals a few points in common and clearly one of them is that angry voters merely want their representatives to do their job after being elected, or re-elected, and not betray the promises made on the campaign trail. That simple. Live up to your obligations, live up to what you defended on the stump. And the anger outside the beltway and the actions within the beltway that provoke the anger, like Boehner’s apparent retaliation against those who voted against him as Speaker, boils down to anger over tactics that betray longer term strategic goals. The goals like revoking Obamacare and reversing amnesty for illegals, get promised but hard nosed legislative action to follow through is never as quick or complete as expected by conservative voters. And the self-justifying Congressional tactics are so tainted by evidence that it’s just insider power grabs that it can easily invoke detached skepticism in voters.

p>This is all ridiculously obvious, but it matters a lot. It matters because voters have the responsibility to remain committed to the causes that motivate them to take the time and trouble, and sometimes resources out of their own pocketbooks, to try and effect a change in how their society functions. You lose the anger, you lose the commitment, and nothing changes. So it is fascinating how, in an article published a little over a year ago in The Atlantic, Theda Skocpol breathlessly reveals to the magazine’s shocked readers how “at the grassroots, volunteer activists formed hundreds of local Tea Parties, meeting regularly to plot public protests against the Obama Administration and place steady pressure on GOP organizations and candidates at all levels.” For Skocpol, exercising your constitutional right, nay duty, to free expression in a public forum is conspiracy. The kind of expression that is political speech about ideas and laws and how your country is run. The best kind of expression. The headline of that article was Why the Tea Party isn’t Going Anywhere. It barely rises to the level of irony that what is denounced by Skocpol is, in fact, a great, and sometimes lacking, virtue of the American political system: ground-up, grassroots activism, whether you like their causes or not. Speaker Boehner is starting to understand how real that anger is.

It’s interesting how closely linked the EPA is to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Do you want information on what constitutes a wetland, perhaps because you may just have one on your own property? Why the ACE has a Regional Supplement “which provides technical guidance and procedures for identifying and delineating wetlands that may be subject to regulatory jurisdiction under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, or Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act.” That’s especially interesting seeing this coming April, just in time for spring flooding, the EPA will come out with updated rules that will define which specific waterways the agency can regulate, cleaning up the details, if you will, of a Supreme Court ruling that was left, perhaps intentionally, vague. While it might be a touch paranoid to expect to hear the rumblings of an ACE convoy coming up your driveway in order to disembark, identify and delineate a possible wetland lurking somewhere on the land that you bought and paid for, the rule changes do mean that the EPA, and it’s partner the ACE, will have the regulatory power to define, and enforce, how your land, or at least the wetter part of it, is to be managed. And that will mean resources to do all that delineating and accompanying paperwork, and a part of your taxes going to fund those resources and all that additional paperwork.

Rep Lamar Smith, R-Texas, raised the warnings last summer and seems to be leading the charge against the proposed rule changes and the additional paperwork and cost they would almost certainly impose on private property owners as well as businesses. A series of EPA maps – whether they are detailed enough is debated by EPA spokespeople – gave the game away according to Smith, who fears that property rights will become even more conditional and subject to further EPA regulations. Will the Government’s considerable surveillance systems be used to map out the nation’s waterways, including small streams and temporary wetlands? Spy satellite data bases being cross referenced to nail down whether your land should be ground surveyed by Army Corps Engineers? It seems exaggerated, but hardly impossible. And if the EPA rule changes do lead to a rush to further survey and classify private property across the USA, you can be sure that a rush of legal challenges will also follow, perhaps ending up again on the doorstep of the Supreme Court. Whatever challenges to the EPA’s authority that SCOTUS then takes up will be, yes, a watershed decision. That’s because any EPA rule changes that broadly define streams and wetlands will be a further step towards including private land in the public commons. Clean water matters a lot, but a power grab by bureaucrats is an expensive, aggressive, and inefficient way of achieving, and especially enforcing, measurable progress on clean water. Let’s hope, against hope perhaps, that the EPA rule changes coming this April are reasonable and flexible.

Wisconsin Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald’s father Steve, was Sheriff of Dodge county in Wisconsin, having moved his family from Chicago. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s father Llew Walker was a reverend, a Baptist Minister in fact, having moved his family from Colorado to Iowa, and finally Wisconsin. And yes, the sheriff’s son is not bothered at all by a potential shoot-out, that would be political and civic please, with unions and Democrats over right to work legislation in Wisconsin. The reverend’s son, however, with his hand on a potential FEC filing, wants to avoid unseemly conflicts and get good things done, like cutting taxes. How embarrassing that such internecine clashes would so quickly emerge.

Well, not really. As Senator Fitzgerald sees it, there is a limited legislative window available to get right to work legislation passed and assure employers that Wisconsin is an appealing jurisdiction to open or expand a business in. As Governor Walker sees it, tax cuts are a better way of achieving the same goal, without the noisy protests that will inevitably ensue, both inside and outside the state legislature. Both points of view make sense, but the suspicion that Walker may be preparing a bid for the GOP nomination casts doubt on the reasons for his approach. While a smooth legislative session that achieves measurable, if discrete, goals might be a way to avoid gridlock, sometimes gridlock is not only unavoidable but necessary. In a conflict as fundamental as right to work legislation vs. union rights, a legislative stalemate, (even if it is a manufactured one given the GOP majorities in Wisconsin), can be the precursor to more fundamental change. And change is always resisted by whatever groups or institutions feel threatened. It might not play well for Governor Walker’s supposed presidential ambitions to show his state in legislative turmoil, or at least engulfed in noisy protests, but it may pay off in the longer run in terms of added jobs, something most people in Wisconsin would support. Will the sheriff’s son have his way? That depends on how effectively the reverend’s son can convince his own party. Both want Wisconsin to work, in the broadest sense of the word. Let’s see if they can work something out.

Wishing a happy and healthy New Year to all. 2014 had been stuffed with political changes and dramas and a control shift in the Senate. Another year dusted and a new year with another whole round of changes. We hope 2015 is a good one!

The Spanish-American War lasted 13 days short of 4 months. The Teller Amendment passed the Senate a few days before the war began in April of 1898 by 7 votes, the same number as the number of conditions imposed by it’s legislative successor, the Platt Amendment, on Cuba 3 years later in 1901. Over a century later, what was attempted, and what was prohibited within Congress still affects America. As Obama seems to be readying the ground for another executive action on one of his favorite tactics, a quick military retreat from various spot around the world, in this case from Guantanamo Bay, or Gitmo, the ghosts of those actions over a century ago still live. The Teller Amendment placed the brakes on annexation of Cuba before the U.S. went to war. It may have been mainly motivated by Henry Teller’s defense of the beet sugar industry in his home state of Colorado against a feared avalanche of Cuban cane sugar should the island have indeed been annexed.

Both the Platt Amendment and the 2nd occupation of Cuba during the period 1903 – 1906, revolved around the American preoccupation over what direction a new Cuban government would take. Their worries about a revolutionary neighbor were well founded if a little premature, to say the least. It would take the Russian Revolution and the full emergence of the Soviet Union to create a worldwide framework in which a revolutionary Cuba would no longer be just a mid-sized Caribbean nation turning towards left-wing politics, but rather a key player in the strategic life and death struggles of the Cold War. Did Eisenhower, did the Kennedy brothers in October of 62, curse Henry Teller and his beloved beet sugar industry? Likely they did, but Cuba has never presented easy solutions to the US Congress and Executive, unlike Puerto Rico, which despite a few radicals and the bullets they fired inside the Capitol Buildings, seems to be perfectly comfortable with its status.

Cuba, unlike Hispaniola who asked to be annexed in the 19th century and arguably Puerto Rico, wanted their own government from the start. And boy did they get it. But from the start, the entanglements between American and Cuban interests were as dense as, well, a tropical sugar plantation. Batista’s coup, or golpe de estado, was planned, where else, in Florida in the 30’s after a half-dozen or so interventions earlier in the century by the US in the island’s chaotic affairs. If to John Quincy Adams, Cuba had represented an apple which would gravitate towards America once freed of the shackles of Spanish rule, to others it may have appeared at times like a forbidden fruit mistakenly savored by American business interests. which ended up owning a majority of the islands sugar industry by the 20’s, Teller’s worries notwithstanding. But the arms length dominance backfired in the late 50’s and what would have almost certainly never occurred under annexation, became a nightmarish reality: a communist, Soviet-backed nation 90 odd miles off the Florida coast.

Guantanamo existed, in that context, as a suddenly vital outpost, because of the close connections almost immediately established by Castro and Guevara with the Soviets. The Soviet Union is gone, precisely because of America’s commitment to a military presence around the world, as well as the unsustainability of a command and control marxist economy over the longer run. Russia nowadays is far from an ally, but is no longer committed to supporting left wing insurgencies around the globe. And Cuba remains marxist, remains under the grip of the Castros, remains denying even basic freedoms to the overwhelming majority of its citizens. So a retreat from Guantanamo is a victory for the Cuban regime, which will be played as a glorious vindication of Fidel and Raul’s policies and applauded by sympathizers in academia and the media and elsewhere from the comfort of their democratic, first world abodes. And the average citizen of Cuba will still be waiting for something better. Whether they say it out loud or not.

While Fox New’s Greg Gutfeld is obviously right about the media’s sensationalizing the police protests, it is not a trivial issue and is one that needs to be covered. While BBC World and other international, as well as local and domestic media head to any protest with an andrenaline-charged glee as if they were heroically uncovering a dark truth, there is a problem and it is especially a problem because police are dying. The point is not merely to place the issue in context, although inflaming an issue does tragcially endanger law enforcement and other first responder’s lives is irresponsible to say the least. The problem is the perception among parts of the African American community that they are being targeted is a reality, and needs to be covered, even if the perception is not always accurate and encourages the breakdown of law and order. How to do that in a way that does not justify the looting is not easy, but saying the issue should take a back seat to Ebola or ISIS does not solve what is a real problem.

In a nation of over 300 million, that a policeman has to shoot to defend himself, or herself, is statistically inevitable, perhaps even on a daily basis. It’s what happens afterwards that causes the real problems. Don’t like a grand jury ruling? Go shoot a police officer seems to be the sickening response. That it is a few lone psychotic, violent individuals that actually pull the trigger seems not to matter at this point. The evidence, for example, seems clearly to suggest that Michael Brown charged the officer and had fought with him, trying to gain control of his firearm. That does not matter to his rioting defenders. What is being indicted on the streets is the rule of law. And the violence entrenches opposing sides, with police logically more reluctant to respond to calls and protesters looking for any excuse to trash and burn, and lone wolf crazies, looking to shoot the men and women who place their lives on the line to uphold the law. In order to avoid sensationalizing the issue, should we, for example, ignore the lives of the two police officers in New York who were gunned down as they ate lunch in their squad car?

Greg Gutfeld would never say that of course. So it seems a little late to quibble about media bias. Of course there is bias, much of it anti-police. Of course it endangers lives of first responders. Of course it can have dangerous implications. Moving forward, enacting police reforms that do not shackle their ability to do a dangerous, often thankless job will be necessary, whether it seems an impossible task at the current time or not. The other part of the solution is making rioters understand that the rule of law is the only way forward and that rioting and looting will be punished. That, of course, is already being done. And inbetween the gleeful sensationalism, those stories also have to be told. I’m sure that Gutfeld would say that’s exactly what he’s doing, but he knows that freedom of the press comes with the risk of excess. The best answer to sensationalism, especially dangerous sensationalism, is to take on the same story being sensationalized and tell it in a better way.

The holiday season brings thoughts of joy and gratitude, and there’s no better time to express our thanks and sincere appreciation to the Political Derby Community for your amazing dedication and contributions.

We wish everyone and their families a very happy and safe holiday.

It’s good to know that Sony Entertainment is following Japan’s pacifist policies in swiftly obliging North Korean interests and canceling the release of The Interview, the comedy about assassinating the Stalinist state’s leader. Nice move. North Korean cyber terrorists are clearly behind the hacking of Sony Entertainment and the 9/11 style threats to any theatre that showed the film, an impossible threat to carry out according to security experts, convinced the corporation to run for cover. It’s main stars Seth Franco and James Rogen are practically in hiding, and the First Amendment Rights so valued by Hollywood, especially in matters like explicit sex and on-screen violence, are somehow missing in action from the quick retreat. It is hard not to sympathize with the perhaps irrational fear that Rogen and Franco must be feeling, but if you are going to do a brutal comedy about North Korea, you would be silly not to expect some sort of screeching response from the regime.

As a post-modern exercise in the absurd, the script when we actually get to see it might be amusing, but as a political fact that produces reactions, it is something more real, more sweaty and in your face. Hopefully Franco, Rogen, and others associated with the film will change their minds and stand up for their creation, whatever its artistic merits. If they don’t they will raise the suspicion that their film was an adolescent prank that blew up in their faces, an awkward turn of phrase given the admittedly absurd threats. Freedom of thought carries, or should carry, the burden of responsibility, and hopefully that responsibility leads the thinker to certain limits on their expression. And if the thinker chooses to stretch those limits, they also bear the responsibility for at least being conscious of the effects their thought, expressed in speech or art or any other form, produces in society at large. It is seems to be common currency for the last few decades to label that burden of responsibility as self-censorship or repression, or some form of archaic taboos. The creators of The Interview should bear that responsibility with enthusiasm and spunk in the face of yet another seemingly psychotic threat from the regime in Pyonyang.

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