The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the immigration reform bill by a vote of 13-5 last evening, bringing a path to citizenship one step closer for an estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants.
All Democrats voted in favor of moving the bill out of committee, joined by Republicans Orrin Hatch, Lindsey Graham, and Jeff Flake. (As the Huffington Post's Elise Foley notes, Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley said he'd have voted in favor of moving the bill to the floor had the margin been close enough for his vote to make a difference.)
Notable succesful amendments to the bill include a mandatory biometric exit system for visa holders at the country's busiest airports, an agreement on H1-B visas to make it dramatically easier for companies to import high-skilled labor, and a severe curtailing of the power of immigration authorities to raid places like churches, hospitals, and schools.
Years ago, Ben Stein published a sweet eulogy for his departed father, the economist Herb Stein. Ben wrote of the pang he felt when he saw his father's obsolete Cadillac land yacht parked in the basement of his apartment building, like a horse awaiting its rider.
I've had a somewhat different experience these past days driving the car of my late father-in-law, Peter Worthington. My mother-in-law kindly lent me the car to help me visit the Toronto hospital where my own father is ailing. And I've noticed a very peculiar thing:
Peter had many great skills, but even in his prime he was a heedless driver. In his later years, he was a speeding menace to society. His bright red Subaru hatchback came to resemble … well, I can't describe it. Better just see the photo.
I took some time this weekend to read through some of our old posts here on the blog, and one thing rang true: my work is never finished, rarely clean and satisfying like deeply edited pieces, and always missing something.
By definition, that's part of blogging. I've written about the farm bill for months, cleaning up the filibuster since the election, conservative renewal since... forever, and about the jobs crisis since I started back in August. I write about it, you guys critique and discuss it, and I eventually revisit the idea.
Over time, ideas are gradually refined and evolved. That's really fun, and part of what makes blogging the best job in the world. (I will stand by that).
But there's a dark side to the practice. My prose is frequently weak, spelling and grammar vary on the day, and it never feels like I have the time to deeply dive into any subject, let alone those that really matter. You'll never see a blogger publish a 10,000 word essay on an arcane subject, mostly because taking the time to write such a tome is a huge risk in an era of pageview journalism.
Mark Krikorian takes up the question at National Review. In an editorial National Review published yesterday, multiple examples are listed of why conservatives are right to be concerned that this bill will set the stage for future waves of unauthorized immigration:
Senator Jeff Sessions (R., Ala.) offered an amendment that would have required the completion of 700 miles of double-layer fencing along the southern border before the bill’s liberalization program could kick in. The committee rejected that amendment.
Senator Ted Cruz (R., Texas) offered an amendment that would have substantially increased the personnel and equipment available for policing the southern border and would have implemented direct accountability procedures — including docking the pay of political appointees and imposing budget cuts — if well-defined border-security benchmarks were not met. The committee rejected the amendment.
Senator Mike Lee (R., Utah) offered an amendment that would have required Congress to conduct a simple up-or-down vote ratifying or rejecting the Department of Homeland Security’s certification that the border-security measures contained in the bill are in fact operational. This was an especially crucial measure: Members of Congress are directly politically accountable to their constituents, whereas members of the permanent bureaucracies and political appointees do not face election. The committee rejected the amendment.
Compared to the relatively smooth Senate procedure for immigration reform, the process in the House of Representatives resembles a confused, three-headed monster that will baffle even relatively informed voters.
In the spirit of knowing how our government thinks it works, here's a brief primer on how to understand the House's path to an immigration reform.
(Rep. Raul Labrador, Getty Images). (Rep. Xavier Becerra, Getty Images) (Rep. Zoe Lofgren, Getty Images)
A comprehensive reform bill is expected to be introduced on June 3, after the House returns from Memorial Day weekend.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the average college graduate from the class of 2013 will enjoy a lovely $30,000 in student debt.
Total outstanding student-loan debt stood at $986 billion at the end of the first quarter of this year, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. That’s up 2.1% from the previous quarter and nearly 50% from the same quarter in 2009.
The average debt load for each borrower receiving a bachelor’s degree this year is about $30,000, according to an analysis of government data by Mark Kantrowitz, publisher at student-marketing company Edvisors. That number has doubled over the course of a recent graduate’s lifetime. Even adjusting for inflation, the average debt burden was half that size 20 years ago.
Other groups put the average debt figure even higher. A poll from Fidelity Investments earlier this week found 70% of graduates had at least some debt, and the average was $35,200. That figure is higher in part because it includes debt owed to family and credit-card balances.
Three senators are heroically attempting to reduce federal government price supports for America's sugar industry. Roll Call's Niels Lesniewski writes:
[Sen. Mark] Kirk is one of three senators leading a push to reduce price-support levels for sugar. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., Patrick J. Toomey, R-Pa., and Kirk will reintroduce their sugar program overhaul as an amendment to this year’s farm bill after it reaches the Senate floor Monday afternoon.
This effort will almost certainly fail, and it won't be the first time common-sense efforts like this fallen short. Why, you ask?
Anne Applebaum reviews Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In and assesses it as a pile of poorly considered, self-contradictory huckster cliches.
[I]t’s absolutely true, only twenty-one Fortune 500 CEOs are females. But is this really a major social problem? Is this an issue that “transcends all of us”? Does the solution require “reigniting the revolution,” and does it mean men and women alike must rethink their lives and priorities? To put it differently, would the world be very different for women—or for men—if two hundred and fifty Fortune 500 CEOs were female?
To the last question, the answer—purely on the evidence of Sandberg’s book—is no.
I am not the first person to notice that Lean In does not propose any concrete changes to corporate or public policy in order to accommodate women in top jobs, with a single exception. When she was at Google, Sandberg had trouble finding a parking place at the company headquarters one day. Heavily pregnant, nauseous, she barely made it to her meeting. The next day “I marched in—or more like waddled in—to see Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin in their office.” Finding Sergey “in a yoga position in the corner,” she announced that the company needed pregnancy parking, “preferably sooner rather than later.” He agreed immediately.
Two major unions of law enforcement personel who handle immigration, numbering roughly 20,000 people, have united against the proposed immigration reform. The New York Times reports on the announcement:
The labor alliance also raises the influence of the federal officer who leads the union that represents most deportation agents, the National Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council. The officer, Chris Crane, has emerged as a star witness for the opposition to the overhaul and a troublesome adversary for Obama administration officials working to promote it.
Mr. Crane first wrote to Congress on May 9, saying the Senate bill was tailored to meet the demands of “special interests,” and calling it “a dramatic step in the wrong direction” on public safety and interior enforcement. He said the proposal would give administration officials too much discretion in choosing which immigration laws to enforce. Mr. Sessions helped circulate Mr. Crane’s letter.
I get the concerns, but to be frank, it's a little rich to see a public sector union cheered by conservatives for seeking to protect its own status quo.
The European Union is sponsoring research by Nikola Kezic, a Croatian researcher, into using bees to detect landmines, and that's pretty cool.
His team has been working in a net tent filled with the insects and several feeding posts containing a sugar solution -- some of which contain traces of TNT. The bees -- which have already been trained to associate food with the smell of TNT -- gather mainly at those feeding posts containing TNT. The movements of the bees are tracked from afar using thermal cameras. Bees have the advantage of being extremely small and so don't run the risk of setting off the explosives in the same way that trained mammals such as dogs or rats do.
Behold, a Tom Friedman post on Syria that makes a ton of sense. Syria's drought is being woefully undercovered, especially when it comes to its part in sparking the revolution.
[B]etween 2006 and 2011, some 60 percent of Syria’s land mass was ravaged by the drought and, with the water table already too low and river irrigation shrunken, it wiped out the livelihoods of 800,000 Syrian farmers and herders, the United Nations reported. “Half the population in Syria between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers left the land” for urban areas during the last decade, said Aita. And with Assad doing nothing to help the drought refugees, a lot of very simple farmers and their kids got politicized. “State and government was invented in this part of the world, in ancient Mesopotamia, precisely to manage irrigation and crop growing,” said Aita, “and Assad failed in that basic task.”
Young people and farmers starved for jobs — and land starved for water — were a prescription for revolution.
In his final columns, Peter Worthington recalls the Eritrean war of independence in the 1980s, and ends with a characteristic Worthington flourish:
One battle in 1988 — the largest on the continent since the Second World War — was the turning point for victory: The Battle of Afabet (also known as Nadew).
It was one of the rare decisive battles that change the course of history. It is often compared with Dien Bien Phu that defeated the French in Indochina, and Kursk, the largest tank battle of WWII where the Russians beat the Germans.
Until reminded of Eritrean celebrations, I’d more or less forgotten that I was there for the battle of Afabet — walking among dead bodies, witnessing the pillaged Ethiopian army headquarters where Canadian food aid for refuges had been diverted to army kitchens for soldiers.
The achievement of Isabel Wilkerson's amazing The Warmth of Other Suns is to transmute sociology into memoir.
The migration of 6 million black Americans from South to North over the half century from 1915 to 1970 is a fact so large that it is hard to hold all its aspects in mind: the effect on the region left behind, on the destination cities, on the migrants themselves, on their descendants, and finally upon the character of the American nation as a whole. In a beautifully written work that steps beyond the social science analysis that has predominated to date, Wilkerson helps us to understand the life behind the statistics. The story she tells is her own story too, for she is a daughter of the Migration herself.
It's a telling tic that we often use "urban" as a synonym for "black." Yet until somewhere close to the halfway mark of the 20th century, black Americans were overwhelmingly a rural people: a brutally exploited agricultural labor force, held first as slaves, then as peons. Then, abruptly, they self-reinvented, a process nicely symbolized for Wilkerson by the first election a black mayor of a northern city: Cleveland's Carl Stokes in 1967. Soon followed Newark (1970), Detroit (1972), Atlanta and Los Angeles (1973), Chicago (1983), Philadelphia (1984), and New York City (1989). In every case, these first black mayors were children of the Great Migration: next-generation immigrants whose parents offered them a new life.
A sad story in the New York Times, which reports on the shocking decline of the High Plains Aquifer, the lifeblood of farmers from the South Dakota and Wyoming all the way down to west Texas. (I frequently refer to the Ogallala Aquifer, which is the largest in the High Plains system.) Two years of severe drought, coupled with the massive water demands for growing irrigated corn, have taken their toll on the source of the plains' Garden of Eden.
Vast stretches of Texas farmland lying over the aquifer no longer support irrigation. In west-central Kansas, up to a fifth of the irrigated farmland along a 100-mile swath of the aquifer has already gone dry. In many other places, there no longer is enough water to supply farmers’ peak needs during Kansas’ scorching summers.
And when the groundwater runs out, it is gone for good. Refilling the aquifer would require hundreds, if not thousands, of years of rains.
This is in many ways a slow-motion crisis — decades in the making, imminent for some, years or decades away for others, hitting one farm but leaving an adjacent one untouched. But across the rolling plains and tarmac-flat farmland near the Kansas-Colorado border, the effects of depletion are evident everywhere. Highway bridges span arid stream beds. Most of the creeks and rivers that once veined the land have dried up as 60 years of pumping have pulled groundwater levels down by scores and even hundreds of feet.