Minority Retort

In the era of Trump, congressional Democrats should practice “strategic co-opposition.”

Via Washington Monthly

As President Donald Trump takes office and a new Congress dawns, Democrats face what seems to be an insurmountable strategic disadvantage. As the minority party in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, they lack all the traditional tools for keeping an executive in check: no committee chairmanships, no subpoena power, and no control over the legislative agenda.

But Democrats should still take heart: they’ve been here before and won.

In the fall of 2004, Democrats were also pinned to the mat and flailing. President George W. Bush had just eked out a second-term win, edging out John Kerry. The race came down to a single state—Ohio—and a margin of just 136,000 votes. By the time a devastated Kerry conceded the race to Bush, Republicans had also strengthened their hold on the Senate by four seats—to a fifty-five-member majority—and bolstered their control of the House, outnumbering Democrats 232 to 203.

For an emboldened GOP, the new monopoly on Washington was a golden opportunity to pursue a long-cherished conservative priority: privatizing Social Security. “Younger workers should have the opportunity to build a nest egg by saving part of their Social Security taxes in a personal retirement account,” said Bush in his 2004 State of the Union address. Privatization became the top priority of the second-term agenda for Bush, who tasked advisers Karl Rove and Ken Mehlman with crafting a strategy to steamroll the Democratic minority.

But by the summer of 2005, Bush’s grand plan was in tatters. In February, just 35 percent of Americans approved of his handling of Social Security, down from 49 percent at the start of his first term in 2001. In March, Republican pollster Glenn Bolger found that 58 percent of Americans were against the proposed “private accounts.” That fall, the Bush plan died ignominiously. And in 2006, Democrats won back the House and the Senate, upsetting twelve years of GOP domination.

Bush’s Social Security plan did not crash and burn on its own. It was Democrats who steered that plane. As Amy Sullivan chronicled in these pages in May 2006 (“Not as Lame as You Think”), “Day after day, Democrats launched coordinated attacks on Bush’s ‘risky’ proposal. Without a single Democrat willing to sign on and give a bipartisan veneer of credibility, the private accounts plan slowly came to be seen by voters for what it was: another piece of GOP flimflam.”

In 2005, congressional Democrats were burdened with perceptions of being weak, feckless, and disorganized. No one today would say the same of incoming Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, one of the wiliest and most aggressive strategists on Capitol Hill, or of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, now battle hardened after so many years playing defense. Whatever outrages Trump might propose, Democrats in Congress can and do have the wherewithal to mount an effective resistance.

The real questions are how often and when.

Contemplating the unique dangers posed by Donald Trump, and remembering the way Barack Obama was treated by the Republicans for the past eight years, many on the left are calling, understandably, for a strategy of pure and total opposition—anything else smacks of Vichy-like collaboration. But that approach is impractical and, in the long run, self-destructive. Rather, the right approach is one of “strategic co-opposition”—an art that Republicans have, in fact, perfected and that Democrats would do well to mimic.

Continue reading at Washington Monthly

How the Internet wrecked college admissions

The ease of applying to dozens of schools with just one click is problematic for students—and universities.

Via the Atlantic and Washington Monthly

Over the last decade, the internet has made it much easier for students to apply to college, especially thanks to services like the “Common App.” For the nearly 700 schools now part of the Common Application—the nation’s leading standardized online college-application portal—students can browse by name, state, or region, by the type of institution (public or private), and by whether it’s co-ed or single-sex. Clicking on a college takes students to a brief profile of the school and then an invitation: “Ready to apply?”

And now that students can apply to more colleges with the click of a few buttons, they are doing exactly that. In 2013, according to the National Association of College Admissions Counselors (NACAC), 32 percent of college freshmen applied to seven or more colleges—up 10 percentage points from 2008. Almost all of this growth has been online. In the 2015-16 admissions cycle, over 920,000 students used the Common App, more than double the number in 2008–09.

On the one hand, the internet has been good news for college access. Officials at the Common App, for example, say 31 percent of the college applicants who used the portal in 2015–16 were first-generation students. Students and their families are also now smarter consumers of what’s likely to be among the biggest ticket items they will ever buy: a college education. The internet has also been great news for college marketing departments, which can now reach many more students—and more cheaply—than they could via old-fashioned snail mail.

But the growing piles of applications are also causing problems—both for colleges and for students. While schools might welcome the rush of national exposure from a broader pool of prospects, they also increasingly face the problem of sorting out qualified, serious applicants—students who not only have the right academic chops but would actually enroll if accepted—from the scrum. And so long as the sheer volume of applications continues to rise, the odds of colleges’ guessing wrong rise too—which, in fact, is what’s happening, with dire consequences.

Continue reading at the Atlantic

Could at-large districts solve Washington’s gridlock?

An institution beset by partisan polarization might benefit from an influx of moderates.

Via the Atlantic and Democracy Journal

By sheer strength of numbers, ideologically moderate Americans should be the most potent force in politics. Since at least 1980, self-identified moderates have outnumbered both liberals and conservatives in presidential exit polls, comprising 41 percent of voters in 2012. Moderates are also a plurality in 25 states, according to 2014 data from Gallup.

Yet this moderate strength seems nowhere evident in Congress. Among House Democrats, the moderate Blue Dog and New Democratic coalitions have shrunk by nearly half since 2010. And among Republicans, the Tea Party’s ascendance has purged most of the GOP’s few remaining moderates. Congressional polarization today, say political scientists Christopher Hare, Keith Poole, and Howard Rosenthal, is at its worst since Reconstruction.

One key step toward reversing this polarization is to replenish the stable of moderates in Congress. Moderates can bridge divides, encourage bipartisanship, and check ideological excesses. And given the vast pools of moderate voters, Congress should have more moderates than it does now to reflect the share of moderates in the electorate. The current political system, however, effectively disenfranchises moderate voters.

There’s one solution that can help reverse that dismal trend: creating more at-large seats in the House of Representatives. If every state with more than two representatives allocated just one seat to an at-large member (while also redrawing its remaining seats), moderates in those states could better exercise their plurality strength as they do in other statewide elections, such as those for the Senate and the White House. And while the remaining geographically determined districts would become somewhat larger as a result, this system would also grant each voter two representatives in the House: one from the voter’s district, and one from the voter’s state.

 

Continue reading at the Atlantic

Lettuce Pray

A consolidated food industry brings you salad and chicken nuggets cheaper—and spreads deadly food-borne pathogens farther.

Via Washington Monthly

In the summer of 2006, consumers across the country began falling sick from a particularly nasty strain of Escherichia coli bacteria, known as 0157:H7. Not all E. coli bacteria are dangerous, but 0157:H7 belongs to the Shiga toxin-producing group of pathogens (known as STEC), which can cause severe, and sometimes fatal, illness. By early October, 199 people in twenty-six states had fallen ill, resulting in 102 hospitalizations and thirty-one cases of kidney failure. Three people died, including a two-year-old boy in Utah.

Government investigators eventually traced the bacteria to fresh spinach harvested from four fields in California’s Monterey and San Benito counties and processed by Natural Selection Foods, one of the nation’s biggest producers of bagged mixed salad. Though a relatively small amount of greens was involved—just one day’s worth of production—the tainted spinach made its way into seven different packing lines and thousands of bags of salad mix processed at one of the company’s two central facilities. It was sold under such well-known brands as Trader Joe’s, Earthbound Farm, and Natural Selection; 15,660 pounds were sold under the label Dole Baby Spinach. The spinach even made it overseas to Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Iceland, as well as to Canada and Mexico.

Apart from the irony—a quintessential health food causes a deadly national outbreak of illness—the 2006 spinach scare was something of a watershed moment for so-called multistate food outbreaks, which began to pick up in tempo around that time.

That same year, seventy-one people in five states were sickened by food from Taco Bell, and 183 people in twenty-one states suffered infections from Salmonella bacteria on tomatoes. Over the next five years, the number of multistate outbreaks per year more than doubled, from thirteen in 2006 to twenty-nine in 2010, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Many of these outbreaks were headline-grabbing national food scares involving trusted brands and popular foods: Veggie Booty (salmonella, 2007); Kroger’s ground beef (E. coli, 2008); Nestlé Toll House Cookie Dough (E. coli, 2009); eggs (salmonella, 2010); cantaloupes (involving the Listeria bacteria, 2011); sprouts (E. coli, 2012); Foster Farms frozen chicken (salmonella, 2013); caramel apples (listeria, 2014); Blue Bell ice cream (listeria, 2015); and cucumbers (salmonella, 2013, 2014, and 2015). In the fall of 2015, at least fifty-two people in nine states fell ill after eating at Chipotle restaurants, the paragon of “healthful” fast-casual food. From 2010 to 2014, the CDC reported 120 total multistate outbreaks, or an average of twenty-four per year. By comparison, from 1973 to 1980, the median annual number of multistate outbreaks was just 2.5.

While some of the rise in reported outbreaks is due to better detection—the CDC now uses sophisticated DNA fingerprinting of pathogens and a national system called PulseNet to identify outbreaks—a growing coterie of researchers, as well as the CDC, say that modern industrial food processing is also to blame. According to the CDC’s website, “Changing patterns in global food production … combined with increasing integration and consolidation of agriculture and food production can result in a contaminated food rapidly causing a geographically widespread outbreak.”

In other words, the same hyperefficient distribution system that brings you convenient and affordable salad greens and all the chicken nuggets you can eat can just as efficiently deliver E. coli, salmonella, and other dangerous bugs to your plate. Moreover, today’s industrialized food production processes carry other public health risks. Antibiotic use, for example, which is still endemic in so-called factory farming, is contributing to the rise of drug-resistant super-germs. And the reliance on monoculture—the cultivation of a single species to help standardize production—is leading to a potentially dangerous lack of biodiversity. “Consolidation has eliminated redundancies in the food system in the name of efficiency,” says Mary Hendrickson, assistant professor of rural sociology at the University of Missouri-Columbia. “But redundancies help protect us.” Today’s industrial food system has brought American consumers a wealth of affordable and convenient foods, but this benefit may come with a price that’s not listed on our grocery bills: food that’s not only the blandly uniform product of a few mega-sized producers, processors, and retailers but also isn’t as safe as we think it is.

Continue reading at Washington Monthly

It’s hard to be a moderate politicians. It’s also expensive

Moderate candidates pay a heavy “centrist premium” to win and keep their seats.

Via the Washington Post

It’s tough to make it as a moderate in Congress these days.

Across the country, competitive purple districts have been gerrymandered into oblivion, replaced by seats that are safely red or blue. Activists at both extremes show no mercy toward elected officials who venture to advocate compromise. Even former House majority leader Eric Cantor — hardly moderate — fell victim to a 2014 primary challenge from a tea-party-backed opponent after his immigration stance ran afoul of the GOP’s far right wing. But perhaps most prohibitive: Being a moderate costs far more than being extreme. And the increasing expense means most moderates can’t compete.

Consider the case of Democratic members of the House, where long-standing, self-defined coalitions — New Democrats and Blue Dogs on the one hand and the Progressive Caucus on the other — separate moderates and liberals with reasonable clarity. (Members must apply to join, attend regular meetings and remain in good standing.) In the past three election cycles, self-described moderate lawmakers spent roughly twice as much as their liberal counterparts to win or defend their seats.

In 2014, for example, direct spending by members of the moderate New Democrat and Blue Dog coalitions averaged $2.01 million per campaign, according to an analysis of data derived from OpenSecrets.org, the site of the Center for Responsive Politics. In contrast, members of the liberal Progressive Caucus each spent an average of $1.07 million on their races.

This disparity is even more extreme — greater than 3 to 1 — when all campaign spending is included. Counting spending by opponents and outside groups, the average campaign in a New Democrat or Blue Dog district cost $5.2 million in 2014, compared with an average of $1.57 million in Progressive Caucus districts.

And as ideological partisanship increases, this centrist premium is growing. For every dollar that the average Progressive Caucus member directly spent to defend his or her seat in 2014, the average moderate lawmaker spent $1.93. By comparison, moderates shelled out $1.54 for every campaign dollar spent by liberals by 2012 and $1.65 in 2010.

 

Continue reading at the Washington Post.

Moving 9-1-1 Out of the Landline Era

If our 1968-vintage emergency-number system were enabled for the newer ways we communicate, it could work a lot better — and cost a lot less.

Via Governing

Among the many services state and local governments provide, few are as popular, as trusted or as essential as 9-1-1. Americans place roughly 240 million 9-1-1 calls each year, says the National Emergency Number Association, and access to 9-1-1 is nearly universal. Nevertheless, the system so many Americans rely on today to report emergencies and other problems stands on the brink of obsolescence.

While Americans are now accustomed to using Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other social-media platforms for the rapid-fire sharing of news and information, most 9-1-1 systems can’t handle the texts, videos, data and images that we increasingly use to communicate.

That’s because in many parts of the country 9-1-1 is still rooted in the landline-telephone-based infrastructure that gave the system its start in 1968. As of November 2014, just 152 counties in 18 states even had the capability for citizens to text to 9-1-1. And only a handful of states — such as Iowa and Vermont — have taken the leap to Internet-enabled 9-1-1, known as “Next Generation 9-1-1.”

But for states that do invest in the transition, the rewards include not just better public safety but cost savings in the long run.

Iowa, for example, recently unveiled “Alert Iowa,” a two-way emergency “mass notification” system — among the first of its kind — that allows Iowans and Iowa’s 9-1-1 to talk to each other using social media, text and email.

“The traditional way of using 9-1-1 when someone has something to report is very closed and one-way,” says Iowa state Sen. Jeff Danielson, who led the effort to enact Alert Iowa. “A citizen calls in, they give the information, they hang up, and nothing more is done. Under mass notification, the dispatch centers can then push that information out on Facebook, Twitter, text and email, engaging the public to give us more information about what’s going on.”

Danielson, who also serves as a firefighter in Cedar Falls, says the two-way system could have prevented such tragedies as the abduction and murder of 10-year-old Lyric Cook-Morrisey and 8-year-old Elizabeth Collins from his district in 2012. “There’s a window of opportunity when children go missing that closes as time goes on,” said Danielson. “If there had been a more rapid way to inform the public of where the girls were and what they were doing, we could have engaged the eyes and ears of the community much better.”

One big advantage of the new system, Danielson says, is that it was centrally deployed statewide rather than individually by Iowa’s 115 dispatch centers. Not only does this enable the rapid dissemination of information and enhance interoperability, it’s cost-effective. “That saves a lot of money in licensing fees, operational software, etc., all across the state,” said Danielson.

In 2009, the federal government issued its blueprint calling for a national transition to Internet-enabled 9-1-1, citing the same kinds of benefits that Iowa now sees. In addition, the report said, a national migration to Next Generation 9-1-1 would mean better interoperability within states, among states and with the federal government, which could be crucial in a large-scale emergency or terrorist attack. The report also found that under some scenarios Internet-enabled 9-1-1 could save as much as $19 billion over 20 years in comparison to the current system.

In Iowa, investment in Next Generation 9-1-1 was the result of a two-year-long campaign by Danielson to reform emergency-number funding. Unlike many states, Iowa hadn’t been adding 9-1-1 user fees to wireless and prepaid phones. “Our entire 911 dispatch center revenue stream was based on landlines,” said Danielson. By equalizing the fees on all users, the state raised $3.7 million.

Some states could find money to invest in 9-1-1 simply by ending the diversion of 9-1-1 surcharges to other purposes. According to the Federal Communications Commission, states spent just 4.5 percent of the 9-1-1 fees collected in 2013 on investments to deploy Next Generation 9-1-1. But the report also found that states diverted more than $183 million — roughly 8 percent of the fees collected — to uses other than 9-1-1, including to their general-fund budgets or to pay down debt.

While overall public faith in government has eroded to all-time lows, states and local governments have been largely fortunate in their ability to maintain their citizens’ trust. But maintaining that trust also requires investment. Where better to invest than in a service as fundamental as 9-1-1?

 

The Opportunity Index

How well is your state helping you succeed?

istorians in Texas mark January 10, 1901, as the day modern Texas began—the day when the Lucas No. 1 well struck oil at the Spindletop field near Beaumont. As the authors of the Texas Almanac write, “The gusher spewed oil more than 100 feet into the air until it was capped nine days later. With that dramatic fanfare, Texas’ economy was wrenched from its rural, agricultural roots and flung headlong into the petroleum and industrial age.”

Since that fateful day at Spindletop, the mystique of Texas—as the land of big dreams, big wealth, and unlimited opportunity—has become as outsized as the state itself. As a mecca for corporate America, Texas is now home to more than fifty Fortune 500 companies, including such corporate behemoths as ExxonMobil, AT&T, Dell, Lockheed Martin, Hewlett-Packard, and, of course, Texas Instruments. The state also boasts an outsized share of the nation’s millionaires, trailing only California, New York, and Florida in the share of residents whose net worth tops $2 million or more. In the exclusive Houston neighborhood of River Oaks, where the median home price is $3.5 million, sprawling colonnaded estates fit for J. R. Ewing average more than 7,500 square feet of living space.

Without doubt, Texas is doing great by its corporate citizens and their executive elite. Texas Brags, a Web site run by the office of Governor Rick Perry, puts it with typical Texas swagger: “Texas is a land of ongoing success and endless opportunity.”

But when it comes to the people of Texas versus its companies, the promise of opportunity rings hollow for many.

Right off I-45 in Houston—across the freeway from the Lamborghini dealership—is Remington Ranch, a subdivision of cookie-cutter tract homes built mostly in 2005 and 2006 and now a casualty of the housing crash. Of the thirty properties for sale one day this fall, fifteen were in foreclosure. The schools that service this neighborhood—Ralph Eickenroht Elementary, Bammel Middle School, and Andy Dekaney High—receive among the worst possible ratings from GreatSchools.org. At Eickenroht, for example, third-grade math scores in 2011 were 24 percentage points below the state average.

In the rest of Harris County, where Houston is situated, neighborhoods like Remington Ranch are much more typical than ones like River Oaks. With a population of more than four million, Harris is the largest county in Texas and the third-largest county in the United States. The Houston-based nonprofit Children at Risk says that as many as 27 percent of children in Harris County were living in poverty in 2010, while more than 19 percent lacked health insurance. Statewide, the Kaiser Family Foundation says 24 percent of Texans were uninsured in 2011, which is worse than in Mississippi. Education is a problem too. In 2011, 24 percent of Harris County schools failed to meet federal standards for Adequate Yearly Progress under the No Child Left Behind Act. Only 19 percent of Texas students go on to finish college.

Nevertheless, it’s the state’s business-friendly image that has garnered the lion’s share of public accolades and fueled the state’s reputation for opportunity and economic growth.

Chief Executive magazine, for example, has ranked Texas the nation’s “best state for business” nine years running. Texas has also dominated CNBC’s “America’s Top States for Business” ranking since its launch in 2007, placing first in three of the last seven years and second in 2013. According to the running tally of these accolades maintained by the state, Texas also won the 2012 “Governors Cup” from Site Selection, “the magazine of corporate real estate strategy and area economic development.”

It’s certainly possible to overstate the impact these rankings and public recognition have had on the public policy choices Texas has made. But it’s also likely no coincidence that the “winning mix of low taxes, reasonable regulatory structure, fair court system and world-class workforce” that Texas Brags credits for the state’s success tracks almost precisely with the factors most praised by CNBC and other business-oriented press. Indeed, the most heavily weighted factor in CNBC’s rankings is the “cost of doing business”—that is, the rate of state and local taxes, as well as the cost of utilities and worker wages. As one CEO told Chief Executive, “The regulatory and tax environment in Texas makes it my first pick.”

But imagine if Texas—and every other state—got the spotlight not just for their success in growing business but for their ability to grow opportunities for their citizens, and at all levels of the income ladder. If states were graded not just on the basis of their corporate tax rates but also on the strength of their investments in education, how would Texas—and neighborhoods like Remington Ranch—be different?

Continued at the Washington Monthly…

 

A Matter of Degrees

In the future world of “credentialing,” do you still need college?

Imagine you’re a twenty-five-year-old high school graduate. You’re married, you have two kids, you work full-time as an office manager for a local company. You’ve taken a few classes at your community college nearby but haven’t finished your degree. With a family to raise, you want to earn more money, perhaps working with computers, your passion. You think of yourself as the creative type, and your friends tell you there’s a good living to be made in Web design. What do you do?

One option is to enroll at DeVry University, where an associate’s degree in Web design will cost you roughly $39,000 in tuition and five full semesters—at least two years—of class time. You could also go back to your local community college and pay much less, about $2,000, for an eight-course certificate in Web design basics.

Or you could simply log on to openbadges.org, and, from the comfort of your home, learn what you need to know, at your own pace—for free.

Web browser maker Mozilla launched openbadges.org in 2011 to promote what they call “digital badges” to anyone who can demonstrate that they’ve mastered a specific skill. Much like Boy Scout merit badges, participants can earn their way up the badge ladder. Aspiring Web designers, for example, can earn a badge as a “Code Whisperer,” an “Editor,” a “Div Master,” or a “Super Styler,” depending on their ability to demonstrate their coding skills and to build their own Web projects. At the top are the “HTML Basic” and “I am a Webmaker” badges, stepping stones for becoming the Eagle Scout of the Mozilla digital badge world: a “Mozilla Webmaker Master.”

Each badge earned gets you an icon to display on your digital resume or as part of your online profile, which you can show to prospective employers. More than 1,000 groups and employers, including NASA, Disney-Pixar, the Smithsonian Institution, the New York City Department of Education, and Microsoft, are now offering or honoring badges recognizing a wide variety of skills. At the annual summit of the Clinton Global Initiative this summer, former President Bill Clinton endorsed the idea of badging and urged more employers to participate.

While badges are gaining steam, they are actually just one example of many new so-called skills-based credentials that are cropping up in different industries—from Web design to retail to manufacturing—thanks to employers’ and students’ growing disenchantment with traditional college degrees.

From an employer’s perspective, traditional degrees aren’t always all that useful, even though most jobs today require the high level of skills that post-secondary education is supposed to confer. While degrees serve as a kind of baseline measure of a job candidate’s reliability—this person showed up for class (most of the time) for X number of years—they don’t reveal much about an applicant’s actual skills. Because they really only measure the amount of time a student has spent in a classroom, rather than the skills a student has acquired, degrees confer little beyond the selectivity of the college that granted them.

From the students’ perspective, earning a college degree is increasingly prohibitively expensive. It’s also often impossibly time-consuming, especially for the growing number of prospective students who are also trying to juggle family and a full-time job. But as long as traditional degrees are the only admission ticket to better-paying jobs, people with aspirations, who often have valuable on-the-job skill sets but no degree to prove it, can find themselves unable to move up in life.

With all this in mind, a new movement has arisen that is championing alternative avenues to credentials and traditional college degrees. In some cases, companies are bypassing traditional higher education entirely by creating new credentialing systems from scratch, like those Mozilla badges. In other cases, companies have begun partnering with traditional institutions of higher education, such as community colleges or local four-year universities, that are willing to offer their workers college credit for the skills they learn on the job.

Ultimately, these innovations could be a significant boon to students. Particularly for those at the bottom of the economic ladder, the benefit could be better access to cheaper and faster post-secondary education—a must in the changing job market. But these innovations could also threaten the business model of traditional colleges and universities that are unwilling to adapt.

Continued at the Washington Monthly…

Storefront Coyotes

Meet the con artists who “help” immigrants with their visa problems—and who will get rich if Congress passes a “tough” immigration reform bill.

For more than a decade, Loma International Business Group, Inc., operated out of the seventh floor of the elegant stone building in downtown Baltimore known as “Baltimore’s First Skyscraper.” Loma’s owners, Manuel and Lola Alban, seemed to fit in well with the lawyers, accountants, and government officials who also had offices in the building. Manuel Alban advertised himself as an attorney, and the couple purported to offer legal services to immigrants, particularly from Honduras and El Salvador, who were looking for help in dealing with their immigration status. Over the course of a decade, the Albans filed immigration paperwork for more than 600 clients, charging each hundreds of dollars for their work.

In June 2011, a federal judge shut down Loma for deceptive practices. According to a complaint filed by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Manuel Alban was not an attorney, nor were the Albans authorized to provide immigration services, as they claimed. Moreover, more than half of the immigration applications they filed were rejected or denied, often because they filed the wrong form or failed to pay a fee. Collectively, the Albans bilked their clients of tens of thousands of dollars.

The Albans succeeded by using word-of-mouth advertising and preying on their clients’ vulnerability. “Since most consumers have limited English skills,” said the FTC’s complaint, “they place their trust in the Albans to select, prepare, and file the necessary English language immigration forms.”

They also succeeded by exploiting the Byzantine complexity of the immigration system, which is too intimidating for most laypeople to navigate on their own. Jackie Vimo of the New York Immigration Coalition, a nonprofit advocacy group, calls immigration law “second only to the tax code for complexity.” She says her group “strongly advises against” clients applying for an immigration benefit on their own, because the stakes for immigrants are so high. Says immigration lawyer Rachel Van Wormer, “You put the wrong things on your form, and you could be deportable.”

Talk of immigration reform is moving closer to reality, and the legislation that emerges from Congress will determine whether the treacherous path that immigrants already face becomes more dangerous still. While politicians jockey to craft a “tough” bill that piles on hurdles and paperwork for immigrants, unscrupulous entrepreneurs like the Albans are likely salivating over the opportunities.

Continued at the Washington Monthly…

Three Ways to Bring Manufacturing Back to America

The much-ballyhooed “in-sourcing” trend is real enough. But it won’t amount to much unless Washington acts.

Via Washington Monthly

In January 2012, President Barack Obama convened nineteen CEOs and business leaders at a White House forum to tout a potentially promising new phenomenon: instead of “shipping jobs overseas,” U.S. companies were bringing them back. “[W]hat these companies represent is a source of optimism and enormous potential for the future of America,” Obama said. “What they have in common is that they’re part of a hopeful trend: they are bringing jobs back
to America.”

Anecdotally, the record is impressive. A number of major companies—including some of the same firms that first took flak for “offshoring” jobs to China—are now expanding their manufacturing operations stateside. General Electric, for example, says it has created 16,000 new U.S. jobs since 2009, including jobs at a new locomotive plant in Fort Worth, Texas; a solar panel factory in Aurora, Colorado; and an engine manufacturing facility in Pennsylvania. The company’s recent revival of Appliance Park, in Louisville, Kentucky, as a maker of high-end refrigerators, was the subject of high-profile coverage, including a recent piece in the Atlantic.

Other companies that have seemingly caught the “reshoring” wave are appliance maker Whirlpool (which rejected sites in Mexico in favor of Tennessee), and iconic brands like Intel, Canon, Caterpillar, and DuPont. All of these firms have reported expanding or building new U.S. facilities in the last few years. In December 2012, computing giant Apple announced it would bring some Mac production back to America, investing about $100 million to do so.

So given these recent wins, can “insourcing” save America’s economy?

No. And yes. On one hand, insourcing is unlikely to be the magic elixir for a job market that’s only slowly gaining steam more than three years after the official end of the Great Recession. Only some jobs are coming back, and not in nearly large enough numbers to reverse the overall decline in U.S. manufacturing employment. While manufacturing gained about 530,000 jobs between January 2010 and December 2012, America is still 7.5 million manufacturing jobs down from its last peak in 1979. Even if reshoring picks up steam, manufacturing employment is unlikely to recapture the heights of the 1950s, when more than one in three employed Americans worked the line.

Nevertheless, policymakers should encourage insourcing as much as possible, even if net job growth might be a fraction of what’s been lost. At stake is something much broader—America’s future capacity for innovation.

Continued at the Washington Monthly…