In his weekly “Stories I’d Like to See” column, journalist and entrepreneur Steven Brill spotlights topics that, in his opinion, have received insufficient media attention. This article was originally published on Reuters.com.
1. The business of super PACs:
With super PACS having altered the dynamics of federal campaigns, it’s time for a look at how they’ve changed the fortunes of political consultants, pollsters and others who feed off of campaign money. With the cash flow this Republican primary season shifting from political organizations run by the candidate to independent—or at least ostensibly independent—entities, giving them much more money than the campaigns themselves, has the talent followed the dollars? Wouldn’t pollsters or ad-makers rather work for an organization with $100 million to spend than one with $10 million? And how do the people who run these super PACs get paid? How do the IRS rules governing the finances of non-profit entities apply to super PACs? Can someone like Karl Rove take a cut of the tens of millions he’s raised and dispensed for America’s Crossroads the way private equity funds take management fees? Who decides how much Rove or other super PAC executives or staffers make? Articles like the one in Sunday’s New York Times have pointed out the overlaps among staffers. So who ferrets out conflicts if, for example, someone running a super PAC steers business to his or her ad agency or consulting or polling firm?
2. Rick Santorum’s father and a Mexican laborer: A tale of two immigrants
I doubt that I’m the only one who doesn’t know the basics of America’s immigration laws and rules, despite the fact they have become a staple of current political debate. For example, whenever I hear Rick Santorum talk about how his father, Aldo, was an immigrant from Italy who came to the United States in 1930, I wonder if he came in legally and, if so, under what rules. I assume Aldo Santorum couldn’t simply pick up and come here today from Italy, right? (I wondered the same thing about Rudy Giuliani when he ran for president in 2008.)
My curiosity was piqued by a recent editorial in The Washington Post that took President Obama and all of his would-be Republican opponents to task for saying that illegal immigrants should “get to the back of the line” in applying for citizenship. In fact, the Post pointed out, when it comes to most illegal immigrants, there is no line—and no possibility of applying for citizenship. As the Post explained, “a large majority of the 11 million illegal immigrants are unskilled or low-skilled Mexicans [who] have no relatives over age 18 who are either U.S. citizens or permanent residents in possession of green cards,” and that would make them ineligible for visas, let alone citizenship status.
So what exactly are the rules? Which countries and what kinds of people get preference, and who gets no chance at all of “getting on the line” to pursue the American dream? How come? And what were the rules when the parents or grandparents of the politicians who rail the most about closing our borders came here?
3. Textbooks and money:
A recent editorial in the “Bloomberg View” section of Bloomberg Businessweek described the Neanderthal state of the American textbook market: high prices, little innovation and market domination by a few big companies. All this adds up to an industry in which prices have doubled the pace of inflation since 1986 and kids still lug brickloads of print books in their backpacks. The opinion piece keys off of the recently announced entry of Apple’s iPad into the market. But as it glumly concludes, Apple’s announcement that it is working with the incumbent publishers on a pricing model that is not likely to save anyone any money means that “Apple seems less intent on disrupting the textbook cartel than on joining it.” That’s because Apple seems set on partnering with the incumbents to publish their digital products only through the Apple store and have them be readable only on Apple’s expensive iPads.
The essay then offers up the idea that digital texts should instead be published only on open platforms so they can be read on all devices. The federal government, it suggests, could force this by threatening to cut off crucial education aid to states that don’t require those open platforms.