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Archive for October, 2013

Keeping the World’s Best and Brightest

October 31st, 2013

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You think the Obamacare website is difficult to navigate? Try the immigration system.

Suppose you run a business and want to hire your top-performing summer intern – a master’s degree graduate in electrical engineering from India. Good luck. Because just as many of our international competitors are snatching up the highest-skilled workers around the globe, the quirky and outdated U.S. immigration system seems intentionally designed to hold back American employers and entrepreneurs.

Take, for example, Australia and Canada. There, your former intern could likely obtain a visa based on the employment offer and his in-demand skills. But here, that visa would come through in about five years – a wait that repels talent, rather than attracting it.

The reason is that the U.S. sets a strict and meager quota of giving out only 14 percent of each year’s green cards (for lawful permanent residents) based on skills – compared to Canada’s 63 percent and Australia’s two-thirds. That means out of a million green cards our government awards each year, only 140,000 go to immigrants petitioning to come to or stay in the country based on their exceptional economic value. Moreover, about half of those green cards are actually claimed by spouses and children of applicants, not the super-skilled workers our economy craves.

Our immigration policies are so retrograde that we offer the same number of employment-based green cards today that we did in 1990 – the year the internet was invented (with a great degree of help from high-skilled immigrants, incidentally). To complicate matters further, the U.S. immigration system also discriminates against exceptional workers from certain countries. In other words, if your intern was from Iceland, there would be no waiting period for a green card; if she was from China, you’ll wait more than half a decade. That’s because current law establishes hard country caps to prohibit citizens of any one country from claiming more than 9,800 employment-based visas – whether that country is the size of India (1.2 billion population) or Iceland (315,000).

What’s most stunning is that many of these high-skilled immigrants already live here, and then we force them to leave. Our world class colleges and universities attracted more than 225,000 new international students in 2011-12, and that number is increasing every year. Many earn advanced degrees in fields that create jobs and wealth, such as engineering, computer science and advanced mathematics. But after graduation, we force them to return home. There is only one winner when our immigration system prevents a business owner from hiring that ideal employee after graduation – the country who puts the student we educated to work for its economy.

For the last five years, Congress has sought to reform our immigration system in fits and starts. The best opportunity for reform is now with a bipartisan immigration bill that Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and John McCain, R-Ariz., steered through the Senate with deep bipartisan support. This bill addresses the vexing problem of the 11 million undocumented immigrants who are already here in a tough, fair, and practical way. Those provisions have garnered the most headlines. But for the economy, the bill brings U.S. immigration into the 21st century.

The Senate’s plan would exempt those with a Ph.D. in science, technology, engineering or mathematics from green card caps and vastly increase the number of temporary high-skilled visas available. It would move the future flow of immigration into the country from one principally based on family and proximity to one that also recognizes economic value and skills. It acknowledges that immigrants of all skill levels are essential to economic growth, but that those of the highest skill levels are urgently needed. After all, where do we want the next Intel, Facebook, Amazon, Apple or Google to start – here or in another country?

Across America, business owners are dreaming of hiring the best-educated, most exemplary workers they can find to help grow their companies and our economy, and they need Congress to fix our broken immigration system which currently stands in their way. If we want to compete in the 21st century global economy, we need to pass 21st century immigration reform.

The last true overhaul of our immigration laws was in 1986. A lot has happened since then. Our country and our economy need an updated system, and we can’t wait any longer.

This piece was originally published via US News & World Report.

Opposing Obamacare: GOP’s Defining Issue

October 28th, 2013

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After the French Revolution, the statesman and diplomat Talleyrand said of the Bourbon kings, “They learned nothing and they forgot nothing.” The same might be said of congressional Republicans after their disastrous government shutdown adventure.

Obamacare survives. That itself is something of a miracle. Look at how many near-death experiences it has been through. The loss of Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) in 2009 deprived Democrats of the majority they needed to end a Senate filibuster. They managed to circumvent the filibuster by applying a controversial rule that allowed the bill to pass with a simple majority.

Republicans won control of the House of Representatives in the 2010 midterm election by promising to repeal Obamacare. The House has now voted 46 times — 46 times! — to repeal Obamacare, only to see the votes ignored by the Democratic Senate.

In 2012, the Affordable Care Act was upheld by the Supreme Court by a vote of five-to-four — but only after Chief Justice John Roberts defined healthcare not as a constitutional right, but as a benefit that can be taken away at any time. The court described the Affordable Care Act as a decision “entrusted to our nation’s elected leaders, who can be thrown out of office if the people disagree with them.”

This month, Republicans shut down the federal government rather than pass a budget that included funding for Obamacare. The result? A wave of public anger over Republican tactics, plus damage to the economy. Meanwhile, Obamacare is still the law.

So what have Republicans learned? Nothing. “We fought the fight. We didn’t win,” Speaker John Boehner (R-Oh.) said. “We lived to fight another day.”

For Republicans, opposition to Obamacare has become a defining issue,  like antiwar sentiment was for Democrats during the war in Iraq. Of course, people were being killed in Iraq. But look at what Representative Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) said about Obamacare: “Let’s repeal this failure before it literally kills women, kills children, kills senior citizens.”

Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said the message to seniors is, “You’re going to die sooner. When you restrict the ability of primary caregivers in this country to do what is best for their senior patients, what you’re doing is limiting their life expectancy.”

The antiwar movement had an explicit and feasible objective: End the war. President Barack Obama got elected on a promise to do just that. And he did.

Do Republicans have any reasonable prospect of ending Obamacare? They think so — even after all those near-death experiences. They take hope from all the problems this month with the rollout of the Healthcare.gov website.

Representative Greg Walden (R-Ore.), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, put it this way to the New York Times: “If the website glitches are just the tip of the iceberg, it’s only a matter of time before the law sinks and takes with it those Democrats who wrote it, voted for it and are proud of it.”

What Republicans are trying to do is create a wave of public anger against Obamacare that will sweep the GOP into office, starting with next year’s midterm election. They want 2014 to be the reverse of 2006. In 2006, a wave of public anger over the war in Iraq swept Republicans out of power in Congress, presaged Obama’s presidential election win two years later — and ended the war. In 2014, Republicans expect a wave of public anger over Obamacare to sweep Democrats out of power in Congress, presage the election of a Republican President in 2016 — and end Obamacare.

Right now, Republicans are getting their wave of public anger, but it’s aimed largely at them. Public support for Obamacare has actually been increasing in the post-shutdown polls.

Yes, there are serious problems with the federal website, but they don’t affect most Americans. A majority of people still get health insurance from their employers, and another third get it from the government (through Medicare and Medicaid). This will not change, though Republicans warn that employers may try to avoid paying healthcare premiums by reducing workers’ hours. And 40 percent of the uninsured live in states like California, which have their own healthcare exchanges — that have been working pretty well.

Nonetheless, public awareness of problems with the federal website has been growing. Time magazine reports that 46 percent of Americans believe the exchanges are working “not too well” or “not well at all.” The administration has hired a new contractor who promises to have the federal website fixed by the end of November.

Nervous Democrats also have been pressuring the Obama administration to extend the penalty-free deadline for enrollment. The administration has now agreed to extend it for six weeks, until the end of March. Some Democrats are calling for a yearlong extension. They are clearly worried about the November 2014 midterm.

Meanwhile, Republicans are doing everything they can to publicize the problems and discourage people from signing up. The administration is aiming to have seven million people signed up by the end of 2014. The Obama administration estimates that 700,000 people have applied for private insurance plans using the federal and state exchanges, although many of them have enrolled in Medicaid, which is a public program. Republicans have started their own website where frustrated applicants can report problems with Obamacare.

Republicans in Congress have shifted strategies from trying to kill Obamacare outright to investigating problems with the new law. Does anyone really think those investigations are aimed at saving or improving the law? More likely, they are aimed at driving down public confidence.

The GOP’s political strategy here is pretty simple: Do everything possible to discourage young and healthy people from signing up for Obamacare. If the new insurance plans are dominated by the old and the sick — people who are desperate to get coverage — then insurance premiums will skyrocket. And a wave of public anger is certain to follow.

There is a name for such a strategy. It’s called sabotage.

This piece originally published via Reuters.

A Deal on Social Security Hiding in Plain Sight

October 23rd, 2013

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Starting this year, seniors new to Social Security can expect to be pickpocketed. While Congress was fighting over default, the Congressional Budget Office quietly moved up its projected date for Social Security insolvency to 2031. In that year, without a fix to the program, recipients will take an immediate and draconian 23 percent cut in benefits.  So a majority of new retirees today will face a meaningful cut in payments in their lifetime.

We need to fix this, and the newly created budget conference appointed at the conclusion of the debt ceiling crisis is the place to do it. It may seem impossible for a dysfunctional Congress to touch the “third rail” of politics given its disappointing performance in all areas. But a deal on Social Security may not be as far-fetched as it seems.
First, there is more agreement on Social Security solutions among Democrats and Republicans than meets the eye. And second, a deal to fix Social Security may be the only way to make progress on every fiscal issue that concerns Democrats and Republicans—from sequester to the debt ceiling—providing an incentive for both parties to act.

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The Middle Class Gets Wise

October 21st, 2013

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Perhaps we underestimate ourselves. Five years after the Lehman collapse triggered the deepest recession in eight decades, the middle class may be solving the vexing problems of income inequality and stalled wages on its own.

Faced with unemployment and dim job prospects, Americans made one significant change that should alter their fortunes and those of the middle class for decades: they went back to school. During the recession, there has been a sharp surge in the number of Americans who are getting a college degree. Read the rest of this entry »

Post shutdown: Time for recriminations

October 18th, 2013

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Recriminations!

It’s a familiar ritual in Washington every time a party loses a battle or a candidate loses an election. Only this time, it could lead to something more serious: A split in the Republican Party.

The most severe recriminations are aimed at the Tea Party. Why did they take on a fight they were certain to lose? And without any endgame or exit strategy? Don’t they understand how politics works?

Here’s the answer: No.

Or rather, they do understand how politics works — and they reject it. The United States has a Constitution that divides power. The only way anything gets done is through deal-making and compromise. It’s been that way for 225 years.  (See the movie Lincoln for a good example).

The Tea Party doesn’t play by those rules. To them, compromise means selling out. They won’t make deals. It’s got to be either victory or defeat. In this case, it was defeat.

But it was a glorious defeat, and they are proud of it. It was their Alamo.  “We’re going to start this all over again,” Representative John Fleming (R-La.) told the New York Times.  Representative Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) said to the Washington Post, “We are waiting around for another battle over Obamacare.”  After all, six weeks after the Alamo disaster, the Texas army routed the Mexicans at the Battle of San Jacinto.  Their battle cry: “Remember the Alamo.”

Soon we will start hearing “Remember the Shutdown!”

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Even al Qaeda Operatives Deserve Their Day in Court — and Justice

October 18th, 2013

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This week, the Obama administration indicted yet another terrorist in federal court, much to the expected grumblings of senior GOP lawmakers. On Monday, al Qaeda operative — and one of the FBI’s Most Wanted – Abu Anas al-Libi arrived in New York City to stand trial for his involvement in the 1998 bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. He unwillingly turned up in Manhattan after American special operations forces nabbed him in a daring raid in Tripoli.

In the expected Pavlovian response, senior Republican senators  Lindsay Graham (R-SC), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), and Saxy Chambliss  (R-GA) criticized the move, arguing al-Libi should bypass the federal court system for a one-way trip to Guantanamo Bay and its military commissions. Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), the senior Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, went a few steps further, calling the decision to arraign al-Libi in federal court ” despicable.”

Despicable? Hardly. But more importantly, this reflexive reaction ignores the records of the federal courts and the record — or lack thereof — of the military commissions.

Intelligence gathering is certainly one important aspect of the counterterrorism business, but ultimately the U.S. needs to prosecute and incarcerate these individuals instead of merely placing them in legal limbo — and our federal court system remains the most effective way to bring terrorists to justice. Here are three reasons why:

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