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The Embargo


I think reasonable people can disagree about it. I’ve been back and forth about it myself, but have been persuaded by arguments like this one that the benefits of increased trade go straight to government monopolies. Also, it obviously makes little sense to loosen restrictions while getting nothing in exchange from the regime, not even a promise of a significant reform. President Obama’s move clearly seems misbegotten legacy-burnishing–and ideology, as Elliott Abrams argues on the home page–at the expense of diplomatic and strategic sense. 

Krauthammer’s Cuba Take: ‘Is There No Tyrant in the World Obama Will Not Appease for Nothing?’


Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer lamented the Obama administration’s decision to open formal relations with Cuba on Wednesday, pegging it as part of a broader trend and wondering whether there’s any tyrannical or anti-American regime to whom he won’t grant one-sided concessions.

On Fox News’s Special Report, Krauthammer explained how even President Obama himself once understood that the embargo against Cuba was designed as leverage to push Cuban democratization. “There was not an ounce, there was not an inch, there was not a suggestion of an opening here,” he said. 

The columnist noted that time and again — from Russia and missile defense to Iran and nuclear sanctions — the Obama administration seems determined to surrender in negotiations with autocratic regimes.

“Is there no tyrant or anti-American center in the world that Obama will not appease for nothing in return?” Krauthammer asked. “If you get something in return I’d be willing to listen. I haven’t seen anything.”


Some Links


Web Briefing: December 17, 2014

Ted Cruz: Cuba Relations Thaw ‘a Tragic Mistake’


Texas Republican senator Ted Cruz panned the Obama administration’s decision to open up relations with the communist Caribbean nation of Cuba, saying the move will be regarded as “a tragic mistake” by future generations.

A Cuban-American whose father fled the brutal Castro regime after it took power in the late 1950s, Cruz seemed disgusted by the thaw in relations between the United States and Cuba. 

“This is yet another manifestation of the failures of the Obama-Clinton-Kerry foreign policy,” the senator said on Fox News Wednesday. “This announcement today will be remembered as a tragic mistake.”

Cruz said Cuba had been “struggling, it was gasping for air” economically, relying on a weak Venezuelan government to help prop them up. “Just like the administration did with Iran, right when the administration was feeling the maximum pain it throws them an economic lifeline and continues the brutal repression and dictatorship of the Castro brothers,” the senator said.

The senator explained how Cuba acted as an American enemy throughout history, and that the Obama administration was now trying to “blame America” for the toxic relationship.

“The Castros are the ones who have decided to be brutal, repressive dictators,” Cruz said. “And we should not be taking blame for the fact that we responded to their active acts of war and hostility.”


The Myth of Anti-Corporate Liberals


Over at Mother Jones, Kevin Drum makes fun of the idea that Elizabeth Warren and tea partiers can band together to fight cronyism. His argument: The tea partiers aren’t anti-corporation — or, well, when they are, it’s over “trivial issue” like the Ex-Im Bank and their motives aren’t pure anyway. All they care about is putting grandma in the street, slashing taxes for the rich, and deregulating big banks. He writes:

Sure, the tea partiers opposed TARP and were hazily in favor of just letting all the banks collapse in 2008, but that was little more than a fleeting morsel of emotional outrage. As Kilgore says, tea partiers may say they oppose corporate power, but when it comes time to vote, they can be counted on to support the folks who oppose any and all regulations that might actually rein in the power of corporations generally and Wall Street in particular.

But every once in a while they’ll get themselves exercised over some trivial issue of “crony capitalism” like reauthorizing the Export-Import bank, and suddenly pundits will rediscover the supposedly populist right. Give it a rest, folks. The tea partiers will no sooner find common cause with Elizabeth Warren than they will with Mother Jones. In reality, they couldn’t care less about ExIm or the swaps pushout or any of the other shiny objects that right-wing fundraisers occasionally find useful for replenishing their coffers. On the economic side of things, what they care about are low taxes and slashing welfare. 

He’s right that, with a few noticeable exceptions, Republicans and tea partiers aren’t committed to fighting cronyism as much as they should. There are plenty of issues where many Republicans are still defending cronyist subsidies: The Ex-Im Bank, for one, or TRIA, OPIC, and plenty of others. Why is this the case? As I’ve said before, many Republicans are either confused about the fundamental differences between being pro-business and being pro-market or simply don’t value the free market more highly than their loyalties to special interests (bankers, farmers, or whatever).

But the other notion underlying Drum’s piece, that Democrats, and Elizabeth Warren in particular, are anti-corporation, is laughable.

Please. They talk the talk, but when it’s time to vote, they rarely walk the walk. In the end, not unlike a number of Republicans, Democrats rarely miss an opportunity to support big businesses. They support the Department of Energy’s 1705 loans, which mostly go to wealthy energy companies, and they never fail to join Republicans in saving other corporate energy subsidies; they support the reauthorization of OPIC, which mostly benefits large corporations; they support farm subsidies, which mostly benefit large agro-businesses at the expenses of small farms; they support Obamacare, which among other things amounts to a huge giveaway to the insurance industry; they support auto and bank bailouts; and for all their complaints about Wall Street, they managed to write a law, Dodd-Frank, that in some ways protects the big financial institutions that they claim to despise. (I’m forgetting plenty of examples — see here.)

Drum can make fun all he wants of the triviality the Ex-Im fight (he isn’t the first liberal to try), but it’s a perfect example of Democrats’ devotion to special interests. First, if it is such a trivial issue, it should be easy to get rid of. And yet, this year, almost all Democrats in the House are supporting this big corporate boondoggle – even though many of them used to be against it

Elizabeth Warren’s support of the Ex-Im Bank is everything but trivial. The mega-banks that Warren always complains about are some of the biggest beneficiaries of Ex-Im: They get to extend billions of dollars in loans and collect large fees and interest rates without shouldering most of the risk involved. This is exactly the kind of favoritism for Wall Street she says she opposes.

The bottom line is that the institutions of government make it remarkably easy, and tempting, for lawmakers – Democrats and Republicans – to do the bidding of special interests at the expense of everyone else. Only a few lawmakers are courageous enough to fight the temptation, and there aren’t many of them in either party.

Sessions Won’t Contest Battle for Budget Committee Chairman


Alabama senator Jeff Sessions announced Wednesday that he will not contest Wyoming senator Mike Enzi’s claim to the Budget Committee chairmanship, which will make him the most senior Republican senator in the 114th Congress without a committee chairmanship. 

“We have talked and I am deferring to his seniority so that he can lead the Budget Committee as its Chairman beginning in 2015,” Sessions said of Enzi. 

Sessions has for the past six years served as ranking member of both the budget and judiciary committees, but Enzi, who has served as the ranking member of the Committee on Health, Education, and Labor, technically holds seniority over him (the two were elected to the Senate the same year, and the matter of seniority was decided by the drawing of lots) and has laid claim to the Budget Committee chairmanship. In the Senate, where seniority is all important, committee chairman are elected by committee members of the majority party and ratified by the wider conference, and GOP members of the Budget Committee had signaled that they were unlikely to cross Enzi. 

The move will leave Sessions, who was widely expected to take over the Budget Committee — and who is now the next in line to chair the Judiciary Committee — free rein to pursue his own ideological interests and to thwart the agenda of the new Republican leadership. 

The senator has for years now been an ideological maverick, leading the charge against both the 2007 immigration bill, which was supported by the Bush administration, and the bipartisan Gang of Eight bill in 2013. Without a committee chairmanship, he likely to take up more — and similar — fights.

The Obamas: One Time, Something That Wasn’t Remotely Racist Happened to Us at Target


With racial tensions at a fever pitch in the wake of grand-jury decisions in Ferguson and New York City, the president and first lady took a moment to lament their own experiences of racial oppression.

On Wednesday, People published a teaser of an upcoming interview with the first couple: “The Obamas: How We Deal with Our Own Racist Experiences.”

Sample incident, per Michelle:

I tell this story — I mean, even as the first lady — during that wonderfully publicized trip I took to Target, not highly disguised, the only person who came up to me in the store was a woman who asked me to help her take something off a shelf. Because she didn’t see me as the first lady, she saw me as someone who could help her. Those kinds of things happen in life. So it isn’t anything new.

So according to FLOTUS, this vertically limited fellow shopper requested her help solely on account of her race — not because, say, Michelle Obama looked like a friendly gal who might be willing to help. Or because she was tall and nearby.

(Also, is there not a potential classist sniff, there at the beginning? “Even as the first lady”! It might well be that the shopper in question did not know who she was, or — because this is America, not Bourbon France — simply did not care. Vive la république, right?)

As for Barack:

“There’s no black male my age, who’s a professional, who hasn’t come out of a restaurant and is waiting for their car and somebody didn’t hand them their car keys,” said the president, adding that, yes, it had happened to him.

You know who else was mistaken for a valet?

​It must be dreary, seeing the world in only two colors.

Putin Voted Russia’s Man of the Year . . .


. . . for the 15th straight year. The poll, conducted by Russia’s Public Opinion Foundation, surveyed 1,500 Russians in 43 different regions. Putin came out the clear winner, receiving 68 percent of the votes.

(To give this survey some context: Runner-up with 4 percent of the votes was Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the outspoken nationalist founder of Russia’s farcically named “Liberal Democratic Party” who has called for a ban on all English words and has speculated that the meteor that hit Russia’s Ural mountain range last year was actually a secret U.S. weapons test.)

As Jonah notes in his column today, Time magazine’s Person of the Year award was originally intended for the person who, “for better or for worse . . . has done the most to influence the events of the year.” If that was the Public Opinion Foundation’s criteria, then Putin deserves his win.

How to Teach ‘Distraught’ Leftist Law Students


There really is nothing new under the sun. 

The Ferguson traffic-jam protests are the romper-room version of the 1992 Rodney King riots. The Rolling Stone rape story was the junior-varsity version of the 1991 Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill confrontation — at least when it comes to public attention, not severity of allegations. And both events occurred during my first year at Harvard Law School, populated then (as now) by a critical mass of angry, self-righteous leftists. 

Yes, I’ve seen it all before — the demand to be relieved of academic obligations (exams now, classroom attendance then) and the demand to either not teach sexual assault at all or to teach it only from particular feminist perspectives. So I enjoyed a particular sense of déjà vu when I read Harvard Law Student William Desmond’s op-ed justifying student petitions to delay exams and read Harvard professor Jeannie Suk’s accounts of requests not to teach the law of rape.

Then, as now, the dynamics are rather simple.

The demands for delayed exams and canceled classes are not so much cries from the heart as they are attempted exercises in raw power. I remember laughing out loud in torts class when students stood up and demanded that class be adjourned so they could engage in “direct action.” I’d just watched them take a long, leisurely lunch where they’d talked about anything but South Central L.A. But I suppose the ideal time for “direct action” was Tuesdays and Thursday at 2:00 p.m. By standing and asserting themselves, these activists weren’t so much attempting to advance social justice as they were attempting to advance their own social standing, rendering themselves a force to be reckoned with on campus. They knew the language of pain and outrage was the language of power at Harvard, and they spoke it fluently. That’s not to say that these students didn’t believe in the cause, or that they didn’t spend some time working to advance it, but it was plain that they really believed the cause was best advanced with themselves in the vanguard.

The demands not to teach rape — or to teach it only from one perspective — often came from the same space. I don’t know of a single teacher heartless enough not to excuse a true victim of sexual violence from a class session that might re-open horrific wounds. But the shrieking arguments I heard were about power, not compassion. Claims of potential suffering were fundamentally pretextual, the true agenda was shaping ideologies and dictating terms. 

I recall one exchange, when in-class leftist protests reached a crescendo, that ultimately did more than anything else to end the controversy. The professor — a man with unimpeachable lefty street cred — responded to a demand for a canceled class with the following statement, “I shall cancel class when you can show me legal precedent for the notion that a lawyer may delay court proceedings — delay the hearing of their own client’s case — simply because the lawyer believes his or her time is better spent at a protest. Find me that precedent, and we’ll have no class. In the absence of such precedent, class shall carry on.”

Classes continued.

Here’s my message to the self-proclaimed courageous leftists of today (Yes, Mr. Desmond actually claims he’s showing courage. I could introduce him to some peers who have a different definition of that term): We know your game. I suspect you likely truly believe in the cause, but we also know you truly believe in you, and this is one way you punch your ticket. 

And knowing your game, be assured that while you gained some notoriety, some of us will take you less seriously in the future. There are serious and tough-minded leftists out there. I know and respect several. But you’re not in their number, not even close.

First H. W.’s Socks, Now RNC Fundraising on Dick Cheney’s Cowboy Hat


Donors to the Republican National Committee looking to add to their collection of signature clothing items of leading Republicans, can now get their hands on (and head under) a Dick Cheney cowboy hat. The fundraising push comes on the heels of the popularity of a similar one involving colorful socks signed by George H. W. Bush earlier this year.

The RNC kicked off its effort this afternoon in an e-mail by Liz Cheney, the daughter of the former vice president, to supporters, saying that contributors of $72 or more will receive the limited-edition hat with an engraved medallion bearing Dick Cheney’s signature.

“People often tell me how much they love my Dad’s cowboy hat — well, I do too,” reads the e-mail. “It symbolizes freedom of the American West, the freedom we all hold dear. So when we thought about the best way we could help the RNC elect our next Republican president, we decided to create something that made a similar statement.”


Here’s Cheney donning his signature headwear with Liz.

The H. W. Bush socks giveaway proved to be a success for the RNC when they launched the effort in April, helping to raise $3 million.

South Florida Congressman: My Constituents ‘Are Outraged’


President Obama’s decision to normalize relations with Communist Cuba has infuriated Cuban immigrants in Florida, says newly elected Republican congressman Carlos Curbelo.

His district, which was represented by Democrat Joe Garcia before Curbelo won election in November, makes up the tip of Florida, south of Miami, and is home to a large share of Florida’s Cuban Americans.

“People are outraged, people are hurt,” Curbelo tells National Review Online. “It’s a new low point for this administration.”

Cuban-American voters, who traditionally supported Republicans in Florida and on a national level, have drifted toward the Democratic party in recent years; the president’s decision could alienate voters in a crucial swing state.

Curbelo laughed at one of the reasons President Obama offered for his decision, the suggestion that a growing Cuban-American population signals a need to change U.S. policy. The hundreds of thousands of Cubans who fled the country did so because they opposed the Castro regime, not because they wanted to cooperate with it, he says.

“The reason we have had a policy change now is because the president believes in peace through weakness,” he says. “As alarming as it is, it comes as no surprise — this is a president that has doubled down on a weak foreign policy where our enemies are rewarded and our allies are abandoned.”

The Obama administration’s shift sends a troubling message to foreign adversaries, he says — hold an American hostage long enough and get back three criminals who were actively working against the U.S. Unlike Alan Gross, the American aid worker who was released today after years of imprisonment for unlicensed work bringing Internet access to Cuba’s Jews, the three Cubans sent back to Castro’s government today were plotting against American citizens, Curbelo notes.

There will be five Cuban-American members of the House and three in the Senate when Congress returns next month, all of whom Curbelo expects to move forward in opposing the president’s latest move.

USAID Chief Who Promoted Cuban Democracy Resigns


United States Agency for International Development administrator Rajiv Shah announced his resignation Wednesday morning, Foreign Policy reports.

Shah told his staff of the decision Wednesday morning, but wouldn’t comment on future plans. Among other things, Shah used the post to promote democracy in Cuba by “launching a now-defunct social media site to encourage Cuban youths to revolt against the Castro regime, attempting to co-opt Cuba’s vibrant hip-hop scene and an HIV prevention workshop that served as a front to recruit political activists — all activities that many aid experts say compromised the global perception of USAID as a humanitarian arm of the U.S. government,” according to FP.

The announcement comes on the same day that President Obama announced that his administration is moving to normalize relations with Cuba.

Obama: We Got Back One of the Most Important Spies We Ever Sent to Cuba


The unexpected White House decision to normalize relations between the United States and Cuba had another surprise nestled within it: A U.S. intelligence agent held for two decades by the Castro regime, apparently unknown to the American public, was also released.

Today, the Cuban government released imprisoned American aid worker Alan Gross, while the U.S. released three Cuban spies and agreed to loosen sanctions on the country. Critics of the announcement suggested this amounted to a lopsided deal, but the president noted that the U.S. had gotten something else, too.

“In exchange for the three Cuban agents, Cuba released one of the most important intelligence agents that the United States has ever had in Cuba, and has been in prison for nearly two decades,” Obama said. “This man — whose sacrifice has been known to only a few — provided America with the information that allowed us to arrest the network of Cuban agents that included the men transferred to Cuba today, as well as other spies in the United States. . . . This man is now safely on our shores.”

Rubio Challenges Pope Francis: ‘Take Up the Cause of Freedom’


Senator Marco Rubio (R., Fla.,) suggested that Pope Francis should “take up the cause of freedom” in support of the Cuban people.

“I would also ask His Holiness to take up the cause of freedom and democracy,” Rubio, a Roman Catholic, told reporters at the Capitol when asked if the pope’s role in the Cuban negotiations influenced his view of the deal.

“I think the people of Cuba deserve the same chances to have democracy as the people of Argentina have had, where he comes from — as the people of Italy have, where he now lives,” Rubio continued.

The Florida lawmaker said that it was his understanding that the pope only weighed in on the release of American aid worker Alan Gross, who was officially released on humanitarian grounds.

The Fruits of Transnationalism: Europe Let a Court Delist a Terrorist Organization


The European Union remains a salutary reminder that countries that value their sovereignty should be wary of transnational courts. While much focus on this issue has centered on prosecution of American personnel, we should also remember that transnational courts hold great power over other decisions as well. A great example has occurred recently in the EU in relation to the terrorist organization the LTTE, more popularly known as the Tamil Tigers, the Sri Lankan group that invented suicide bombing as we know it.

Back in 2006, the European Union declared the LTTE a terrorist organization in an attempt to dry up funding for the group, following the lead of the U.S., the U.K., and India. This helped the Sri Lankan government to a military defeat of the LTTE in 2009. Sri Lanka has begun to move on from the 30-year long war and has returned to peace, with rebuilding occurring in previously war-torn areas. However, the Indian government believes that pro-LTTE forces are trying to regroup and fundraise clandestinely for a renewed campaign.

Enter the European Court (not the European Court of Justice — there are several transnational European courts with confusing names). Earlier this year, it annulled the EU’s designation of the LTTE as a terrorist group, on the basis that the initial designation relied too heavily on Wikipedia and media accounts. Given that the LTTE attacks and methods were well-known, it is somewhat odd to read a ruling that complains that, essentially, the designation was based on common knowledge.

Yet irrespective of the Court’s rationale, the question remains why the Court has such a say in foreign policy. While the European Union has a “Common Foreign and Security Policy,” the treaties that established that were explicit that the European Court has no competence to give judgment in this area. The power of the European Court to issue such a judgment appears to be based on a technicality, which is ironic given that the judgment itself was based on a technicality.

What we are seeing in actions like this from the European Court is a further example of the transnational-progressive power grab so eloquently described by John Fonte over a decade ago. The technocrats of the European Court have asserted a power over foreign policy that does not exist in the EU founding treaties. What that means for the poor people of Sri Lanka appears to be irrelevant, just as the bureaucrats of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change can reach an agreement that satisfies their own preferences but could delay the adoption of wealth-supporting energy infrastructure in the developing world, keeping billions in poverty.

Yet transnational soft power like this does run up against the realities of hard power. The U.S., U.K., and India all retain their designations of the LTTE as a terrorist group, and if the resolve is there, the main flows of potential funding will still be cut off. Yet David Cameron is under significant pressure within the U.K. owing to the dynamics of the South Asian diaspora there, as well as pressures within the EU that have led to the rise of UKIP. That means that President Obama is the last line of defense against renewed funding for the LTTE. Indeed, the president could delist the LTTE by executive fiat. The fact that Samantha Powers did not object to a U.N. High Commission on Human Rights inquiry into the armed struggle, which will almost certainly focus on the government’s role (such is the way of these things) does not inspire confidence. I should stress that the Sri Lankan government was by no means a saint during the three decades of war, but the fact is that Sri Lanka now has peace. Sri Lanka may well decide it would have a better ally than the U.S. in China.

In any event, this speculation should not detract us from the main point here, which is that we once again have an example of the way in which the transnational elites can use institutional power to direct policy the way they like it, and there’s very little even a major country that is trapped within those institutions can do about it. We join transnational institutions at our peril.

Duneboggle: Chris Christie Literally Creating Malarial Swamps In New Jersey


In a new development in the war at the shore, one of the more widely ridiculed objections to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s dune-building plan — that dunes cause swamping and prevent drainage — turns out to be less wild than dune supporters claim. This is what the area behind Absecon Island’s dunes looked like after last week’s nor’easter flooded a town that already has Christie-style dunes in place:

To the left the dune barrier can be clearly seen; to the right is the boardwalk in Ventnor. In the last decade, Ventnor has built a wall of dunes to the specifications Christie’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have in mind for the entire Jersey Shore.

During last week’s very typical storm, Ventnor experienced heavy flooding. Neighboring Margate, the city that has launched a court battle against the Duneboggle, stayed relatively dry. In both cities, the only flooding came from rising bay waters and faulty rainwater drainage — the same pattern that has held through every recorded storm on Absecon Island including Hurricane Sandy. No flooding at all came over the beaches from the ocean, which is the only avenue of water damage the dunes (or “berms”) in the Corps of Engineers’ Absecon Island Coastal Storm Risk Reduction Project would deal with. The project contains no funding or planning to remediate bayside flooding or improve drainage in flood-prone areas.

“This USACE project is not a back bay or localized flood control or prevention project, it is a hurricane and storm damage reduction project based on ocean wave impacts,” a DEP spokesman told National Review Online after last week’s bayside flooding. “This project would surely be helpful to those residents in Margate or Ventnor or other towns if Sandy struck directly at them from the ocean side as it did in Mantoloking, Brick, and others during Sandy. The flooding shown in your Ventnor photos was bay side flooding, not ocean front flooding.”

Asked to cite a storm that flooded Absecon Island from the ocean rather than the bay, the spokesman replied, “Not engaging in a guessing game with you.”

A Ventnor resident reports that the swampy patch shown above evaporated after a few days, though a part of town further toward Atlantic City still had a large amount of water behind the dunes as of Sunday, and the water was draining away from the ocean.

The Duneboggle raises important concerns about property rights, local governance, and 2016 presidential hopeful Christie’s attitude toward both. However, there are also practical matters of geography and science. New Jersey’s barrier islands are not hard land. They are essentially sandy promontories amid swampland, something non-shore-residents (or “shoobs” as they are called on Absecon Island) and recent arrivals, who experience the place as a care-free paradise, cannot fully appreciate. As recently as the 1970s, Margate was still prone to heavy infestations of mosquitoes and something worse: the greenhead horsefly (Tabanus nigrovittatus), a bloodsucking salt marsh pest whose population has happily diminished as development of the island has continued. But according to a report cited in Alfred Miller Heston’s Absegami: Annals of Eyren Haven and Atlantic City, 1609 to 1904, Absecon Island’s marshes and dunes in their natural state were so pestiferous that Jonathan Pitney’s original plan to establish Atlantic City as a spa resort collapsed:

So numerous were the mosquitoes and greenheads in August, 1858, that horses, covered with blood, laid down in the streets, and cattle waded out into the ocean to escape the torture. Children scratched and squalled from the poisonous stings on limbs and faces. Excursionists begged the conductors to start homeward ahead of schedule time. Men and women converted their handkerchiefs into masks for their faces and a smoking fire was built in front of every house. Before bed-time the windows and doors were opened, and a board placed on top of the chimney, and a dense smoke sent through every chamber, to drive out the mosquitoes. After the house had been thus thoroughly smoked, the board was removed and the people re-entered.

This reporter grew up in Margate but has not lived there for more than 20 years. I have experienced many types of nasty critters around the United States, including roach-sized ants, mouse-sized roaches, cat-sized rats, and even coyotes. I would take all of them over greenheads.

Tags: New Jersey , Chris Christie , Environmentalism

Robots and Immigrants


Machines are getting better and better at taking on tasks that until recently could only be performed by humans. Whether you welcome the prospect of labor-saving automation, as I do, or you dread it, few would dispute that it is one of the central facts of economic life in this century. Claire Cain Miller, writing for The Upshot, rounds up the usual suspects, led by Erik Brynjolfsson, co-author of The Second Machine Age, to make the case that while automation has long been seen as an economic boon for flesh-and-blood workers, who can increase their productivity by letting machines serve as beasts of burden, there is at least some reason to believe that things are changing — that instead of enhancing the productivity of all workers, automation might render at least some workers obsolete, or squeeze their wages even more than they’ve already been squeezed.

But which workers will be at greatest risk of obsolescence as technological progress marches on? While Miller observes that some white-collar jobs might in theory be displaced by automation in the years to come, and some already find themselves under pressure, she makes it pretty clear that it is less-skilled workers who are most vulnerable. Elsewhere, in Dancing with Robots, Frank Levy and Richard J. Murnane, two of the leading experts on the impact of automation on the labor force, find that “the spread of computerized work is increasing the importance of education.” This is almost a truism of the ongoing conversation about automation, and for good reason. So what I find odd is that Miller’s otherwise very thorough article never mentions that a disproportionately large share of less-skilled U.S. workers are immigrants, and that we’ve spent the last several years debating whether or not it is wise to welcome more less-skilled immigrants into the country. ​

For example, Miller notes that the average skill level of the U.S. workforce appears to have stagnated. Yet she gives no indication that this stagnation has occurred despite the fact that native-born adults have higher levels of educational attainment than their counterparts in earlier generations. The reason is that U.S. immigration policy, from our overemphasis on family unification over skill-based immigration to inadequate interior enforcement, has been lowering the average skill level of the American workforce. According to 2012 data from the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), 40 percent of foreign-born adults fall in the lowest two levels of literacy as compared to 14 percent of native-born adults. For numeracy, the picture isn’t much brighter: 48 percent of foreign-born adults fall in the lowest two levels, while the same is true of just 27 percent of native-born adults. So it should come as no surprise that “the American work force has gained skills at a slower rate than in the past.”  Given the scale of the less-skilled immigrant influx, it is a minor miracle that the average skill level of the U.S. workforce hasn’t deteriorated.

For Miller, the most worrisome sign about how automation might impact the labor market is that the labor market is already functioning poorly for many workers:

More than 16 percent of men between the ages of 25 and 54 are not working, up from 5 percent in the late 1960s; 30 percent of women in this age group are not working, up from 25 percent in the late 1990s. For those who are working, wage growth has been weak, while corporate profits have surged.

Like Miller, I find these numbers alarming. Yet it is important to note that labor force participation is much higher for those with higher levels of education than for those with lower levels of education. The share of adults with less than a high school education who are not in the labor force was 59.9 percent in 2013; for those with a bachelor’s degree, it was 24.6 percent. Many of the immigrants that President Obama celebrated in his recent address will find themselves displaced as (to draw on a few examples from Miller’s article) machines administer sedatives to elderly patients and as robot bellhops help meet the needs of patrons. Or Miller might have cited the so-called “lettuce bot,” which is quickly mastering a task that once required many human hands, or the more prosaic ordering machines that many European quick-service restaurants are using to economize on labor.

There will, of course, be non-routine manual tasks that only humans can perform for some years to come. But as workers are displaced from other sectors and job roles, the competition for these positions will likely intensify. Is it urgently necessary that we increase the number of workers who will be competing for these positions even so? To be sure, this strategy might encourage employers to rely on less-skilled labor rather than to invest in labor-saving technology. I’m not clear on how this, on balance, will improve the negotiating position of less-skilled workers, and thus how it will foster wage growth.

Assuming that increased automation has a more deleterious impact on labor market outcomes for less-skilled workers than for high-skilled workers, increasing less-skilled immigration seems profoundly unwise. For one thing, it will increase the number of U.S. workers threatened by economic marginalization. For another, it will have an impact on the children of less-skilled immigrants, as less-skilled workers facing severe wage pressure will struggle to provide their offspring with the resources and the foundational skills they will need to successfully pursue post-secondary education. If I’m wrong, I’d like to see someone carefully explain exactly why I’m wrong.

Obama Will Drop Terrorism Sanctions against Cuba


President Obama is ordering Secretary of State John Kerry to review Cuba’s place on the list of state sponsors of terrorism.

“This review will be guided by the facts and the law,” Obama said during his Wednesday announcement. “A nation that meets our conditions and renounces the use of terrorism should not face this sanction.”

The State Department has listed Cuba as a sponsor of terrorism since 1982:

Cuba has long provided safe haven to members of Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA) and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).  Reports continued to indicate that Cuba’s ties to ETA have become more distant, and that about eight of the two dozen ETA members in Cuba were relocated with the cooperation of the Spanish government.  Throughout 2013, the Government of Cuba supported and hosted negotiations between the FARC and the Government of Colombia aimed at brokering a peace agreement between the two.  The Government of Cuba has facilitated the travel of FARC representatives to Cuba to participate in these negotiations, in coordination with representatives of the Governments of Colombia, Venezuela, and Norway, as well as the Red Cross. There was no indication that the Cuban government provided weapons or paramilitary training to terrorist groups.

Senator Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) noted that history in his denunciation of Obama’s decision to normalize U.S. relations with the regime.

“Cuba, like Syria, Iran, and Sudan, remains a state sponsor of terrorism,” he said in a Wednesday statement. “It continues to actively work with regimes like North Korea to illegally traffic weapons in our hemisphere in violation of several United Nations Security Council Resolutions. It colludes with America’s enemies, near and far, to threaten us and everything we hold dear. But most importantly, the regime’s brutal treatment of the Cuban people has continued unabated. Dissidents are harassed, imprisoned and even killed.”

Rubio on Cuba Deal: ‘Unilateral Concessions in Exchange for Nothing’


Florida Republican senator Marco Rubio slammed the Obama administration’s plan to normalize relations with the Communist Caribbean nation of Cuba after the Castro regime released American prisoner Alan Gross, claiming the White House’s refusal to ask for any concessions from the Castro dictatorship is “absurd” but “par for the course.”

The son of Cuban immigrants, Rubio appeared on Fox News Tuesday to explain that the long-standing U.S. sanctions were put in place not to punish Cuba, but to push the regime to pursue democratic reforms. 

“I think the people of Cuba have a right, if they are free, to choose any economic system they want,” the senator said. “Nothing the president will announce today is going to further that goal. . . . It’s absurd, and it’s part of a long record of coddling dictators and tyrants that this administration has established.”

“They’re creating no economic openings,” Rubio later said. “There are no concessions on freedom of speech, no concessions on elections, no concessions on the freedom to have alternative political parties — what democratic concessions?”

The senator called the deal “par for the course with an administration that is constantly giving away unilateral concessions — whether it’s Iran or, in this case, Cuba — in exchange for nothing.”

Rubio: Obama’s Cuba Deal Is ‘a Terrible Setback’ For The Oppressed


Senator Marco Rubio (R., Fla.,) promised to “make every effort to block” President Obama’s ability to “appease the Castro brothers” by normalizing relations with them.

“I intend to use my role as incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Western Hemisphere subcommittee to make every effort to block this dangerous and desperate attempt by the president to burnish his legacy at the Cuban people’s expense,” Rubio said in a Tuesday statement. 

Cuba released captive American aid worker Alan Gross Wednesday, while three Cubans who’d been imprisoned in the United States were released in exchange.

“The United States and Cuba have agreed to establish diplomatic relations and open economic and travel ties, marking the most significant shift in U.S. policy toward the communist island in decades,” according to the Associated Press.

Rubio denounced the deal as an act of appeasement. “Appeasing the Castro brothers will only cause other tyrants from Caracas to Tehran to Pyongyang to see that they can take advantage of President Obama’s naiveté during his final two years in office,” he said. “As a result, America will be less safe as a result of the president’s change in policy. When America is unwilling to advocate for individual liberty and freedom of political expression 90 miles from our shores, it represents a terrible setback for the hopes of all oppressed people around the globe.”


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