This week, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg urged Congress to issue more H-1B visas for highly skilled foreign workers. The US needs "an immigration system that brings the best, brightest, and hardest workers to our shores," he said. His words echoed an editorial published last year by Bloomberg News headlined "Help The US Economy With Visas for the Best and Brightest."
Unfortunately, the phrase "best and brightest" has a slippery history. It's best known as the ironic title of journalist David Halberstam's book about the architects of the Vietnam war. And it applies in a similarly upside-down way to foreign tech workers, who, according to a study released yesterday by the Economic Policy Institute, demonstrate no more talent in important areas than similarly educated Americans, and in some cases may be less qualified.
On Tuesday, US Attorney General Eric Holder told America to expect a decision "soon" on how he'll respond to the recent legalization of pot by Colorado and Washington state. To which the rest of the country has basically said, "Whatever, dude." The same day, legislative committees in New Mexico and Hawaii approved bills to decriminalize marijuana possession and Oregon lawmakers introduced a legalization bill. Yesterday, Rhode Island legislators held a hearing on a bill to—surprise!—legalize and tax marijuana.
In California, where Holder's Justice Department has spent months trying to shut down respected medical-pot dispensaries, a Field Poll (PDF) released yesterday showed that 67 percent of state voters oppose the move. A 54 to 43 percent majority now backs fully legalizing the sale of cannabis and regulating and taxing it like alcohol.
Sometimes a bright idea can be too bright. Today's gas stations and parking lots are often ten times brighter than they were 20 years ago. The ubiquitous glare confuses wildlife, degrades our mental health, and occludes our view of the universe—all because we think that it makes us safer. But does it? Not necessarily, as Paul Bogard, the author of "End of Night: "Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light," points out:
In 2008, PG&E Corp., the San Francisco-based energy company, reviewed the research and found "either that there is no link between lighting and crime, or that any link is too subtle and complex to have been evident in the data."
The data actually speaks more clearly about how light pollution makes us less safe. A recent American Medical Association report (pdf) concludes that the disrupting effects of nighttime lighting on our bodies' circadian rhythms may contribute to "obesity, diabetes, depression and mood disorders, and reproductive problems." Moreover, artificial light causes our bodies to suppress the release of melatonin, elevating our risk of contracting cancer, and especially breast cancer.
Eight in ten kids born in the US today will never see the Milky Way, according to Bogard. Of course, we have it easy at night compared to songbirds, sea turtles, and countless other creatures whose mating and eating habits have been thrown off by our glare.
None of which is to say we ought to start driving without headlights or getting around Manhattan with flashlights. But why not take a cue from the City of Lights? Starting in July in Paris and other parts of France, window lighting and lights on building facades will be turned off after 1 a.m., saving the annual equivalent of 750,000 households worth of energy. Now there's a truly bright idea.
A few years ago, the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer informed hundreds of tech workers at its Connecticut R&D facilities that they'd soon be laid off. Before getting their final paychecks, however, they'd need to train their replacements: guest workers from India who'd come to the United States on H-1B visas. "It's a very, very stressful work environment," one soon-to-be-axed worker told Connecticut's The Day newspaper. "I haven't been able to sleep in weeks."
Established in 1990, the federal H-1B visa program allows employers to import up to 65,000 foreign workers each year to fill jobs that require "highly specialized knowledge." The Senate's bipartisan Immigration Innovation Act of 2013, or "I-Squared Act," would increase that cap to as many as 300,000 foreign workers. "The smartest, hardest-working, most talented people on this planet, we should want them to come here," Sen. Marco Rubio, (R-Fla.) said upon introducing the bill last month. "I, for one, have no fear that this country is going to be overrun by Ph.D.s."
To be sure, America's tech economy has long depended on foreign-born workers. "Immigrants have founded 40 percent of companies in the tech sector that were financed by venture capital and went on to become public in the U.S., among them Yahoo, eBay, Intel, and Google," writes Laszlo Bock, Google's senior VP of "people operations," which, along with other tech giants such as HP and Microsoft, strongly supports a big increase in H-1B visas. "In 2012, these companies employed roughly 560,000 workers and generated $63 billion in sales."
If you smoke marijuana in California, there's a chance you may have to wait a week or more before you can drive legally. A bill introduced last week by state Senator Lou Correa, a Democrat from Anaheim, would make it illegal to get behind the wheel if your blood contains "any detectable amount" of cannabis—a drug which, unlike alcohol, can persist in the blood of its users for a week or more after the psychoactive effects have worn off.
"This bill would effectively outlaw EVERY driver who has within recent hours or days used marijuana," California NORML director Dale Gieringer told the East Bay Express.