Daily Archives: August 6, 2008

A friend sends me this, which I urge you to read in full (the point of the story is in the details).

Ex-UI researcher faces deportation

Katarzyna Dziewanowska grew up in the “gray communist life” of Poland. But it was in America where she found a truly nightmarish experience with a bureaucracy. After nearly 14 years as a researcher at the University of Idaho, Dziewanowska has been denied permanent residency by U.S. immigration officials, who say she worked without authorization for eight months. She did that, she and her attorneys say, on the advice of the UI, and she quit working for a time when the university advised her to do so.

But her appeals have fallen on deaf ears with immigration officials. She’d like to take the case before an immigration judge, but that could take months or years. In the meantime, she can’t work and has no legal residency status. Because it is a family application, her husband – a UI researcher studying a promising treatment of retroviruses – can no longer receive grants. Her son can’t apply for a free-tuition program through his employer.

“She has no legal status,” said Michael Cherasia, her former attorney. “She’s not able to legally work. Certainly she can’t continue to do her research. (Agents) could come to her door any morning, arrest her, detain her and ship her out of the country.”

As I say, read the whole thing. Look at what she was researching. Look at her standing in her field. Look at why she now faces deportation.

One thing to say, no doubt, is that Dziewanowska broke the rules. By their lights, the authorities did nothing improper. Also, it seems odd to me that she and more particularly her employer did not see fit to hire a lawyer until it was too late. This is America. You do nothing without a lawyer. But this does not subtract much from the insane disproportion of the outcome–from her point of view, from her family’s, and not least from that of the US. What made me groan out loud was the meaningless glitch that ordained it: an application was rejected twice because a photo was not up to specification, in the second case because of glare on a lens of her glasses. From this, the rest followed. Two “rejections”, no appeal, life squashed. You have a problem with that?

I refuse to give up on a carbon tax. In a new column for National Journal (the link expires at the end of next week), I explain why, and criticise the approaches of both Obama and McCain to energy policy.

Much the most important part of [their] programs is the seemingly brave commitment both have made to a long-term cap-and-trade regime for control of carbon. This could indeed be, to use Al Gore’s favorite word, a “transformative” undertaking. Obama sets a goal to reduce carbon emissions to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. McCain’s goal is a bit less ambitious–a cut to 60 percent below the 1990 benchmark by 2050. Both are promising, in effect, a wholesale restructuring of the U.S. economy around the goal of carbon abatement.

Let us assume this is desirable. Do they mean it? Do they understand what these commitments entail? (If they do, they certainly aren’t spelling it out to voters.) Is there any chance that either goal will be met?

You have to wonder. The country’s mood on global warming has changed–most people now seem to take the danger seriously–but public opinion on energy policy has two contradictory strands. People are worried about rising temperatures and changing climate; but they are also worried about expensive gas. If you are serious about reducing carbon emissions, expensive gas is not a problem; it is an unavoidable part of the solution.

Politicians of both parties take it for granted that the American voter cannot tolerate an explicit tax on carbon, which would be the best way to curb greenhouse gases. This supposedly immovable resistance is why the presidential candidates advocate a system of tradable emission permits instead. But if cap-and-trade binds tightly enough to make a difference, it will necessarily make carbon-releasing fuels more expensive. The system cannot work any other way: It can succeed only by attaching an implicit tax to carbon.

Do Obama and McCain think voters are too stupid to see this? When fuel gets more expensive, won’t voters object just as strenuously as they would have if a carbon tax had been imposed in the first place? You cannot hope to transform the economy and have nobody notice–can you?

And another thing: In setting their bold targets for 2050, Obama and McCain know they will not be held accountable for failing to meet them. Any such failure is 42 years away and somebody else’s problem. Politically, their best bet may be to take credit for seeming to confront the problem while deferring real action and its unpopular consequences another four or eight years.

Europe’s politicians have already worked out their own way of seeming bold on climate change while actually doing nothing: It is called the Kyoto Protocol. America’s promised cap-and-trade system could easily go the same way. Willingness to advocate an explicit carbon tax–or at any rate, to spell out the equivalent consequences of a binding cap-and-trade system–is the real test of whether either candidate is ready to confront this issue. So far, both are failing that test.

On the question of America’s diminishing skills (see my earlier column, blog post), here is a reading by Peter Wood  (via Arts and Letters) on why students are turning away from science.

The precipitous drop in American science students has been visible for years. In 1998 the House released a national science-policy report, “Unlocking Our Future,” that fussily described “a serious incongruity between the perceived utility of a degree in science and engineering by potential students and the present and future need for those with training.”

Let me offer a different explanation. Students respond more profoundly to cultural imperatives than to market forces. In the United States, students are insulated from the commercial market’s demand for their knowledge and skills. That market lies a long way off — often too far to see. But they are not insulated one bit from the worldview promoted by their teachers, textbooks, and entertainment. From those sources, students pick up attitudes, motivations, and a lively sense of what life is about. School has always been as much about learning the ropes as it is about learning the rotes. We do, however, have some new ropes, and they aren’t very science-friendly. Rather, they lead students who look upon the difficulties of pursuing science to ask, “Why bother?”

Success in the sciences unquestionably takes a lot of hard work, sustained over many years. Students usually have to catch the science bug in grade school and stick with it to develop the competencies in math and the mastery of complex theories they need to progress up the ladder. Those who succeed at the level where they can eventually pursue graduate degrees must have not only abundant intellectual talent but also a powerful interest in sticking to a long course of cumulative study. A century ago, Max Weber wrote of “Science as a Vocation,” and, indeed, students need to feel something like a calling for science to surmount the numerous obstacles on the way to an advanced degree.

At least on the emotional level, contemporary American education sides with the obstacles. It begins by treating children as psychologically fragile beings who will fail to learn — and worse, fail to develop as “whole persons” — if not constantly praised. The self-esteem movement may have its merits, but preparing students for arduous intellectual ascents aren’t among them. What the movement most commonly yields is a surfeit of college freshmen who “feel good” about themselves for no discernible reason and who grossly overrate their meager attainments.

Later in the article, by the way, Wood refers in passing to Larry Summers’ exit as president of Harvard–”pushed out … for speculating (in league with a great deal of neurological evidence) that innate difference might have something to do with the disparity in numbers of men and women at the highest levels of [the sciences]“. This reminds me to link belatedly to a recent post by Alex Tabarrok: “Summers Vindicated (Again)”. A new study of the mathematical ability of boys and girls has been widely reported as finding no difference between boys’ ability and girls’. I remember thinking, as I skimmed some of those reports, that Larry would have to revise his opinion. Obviously I should have smelled a rat. Alex explains that the reports were wrong, and the study in question (despite its title, and the evidently successful efforts of the authors to downplay the fact) actually bears out what Larry said. A revealing episode in more ways than one.

Clive Crook’s blog

This blog is no longer updated but it remains open as an archive.

I have been the FT's Washington columnist since April 2007. I moved from Britain to the US in 2005 to write for the Atlantic Monthly and the National Journal after 20 years working at the Economist, most recently as deputy editor. I write mainly about the intersection of politics and economics.

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