Midfield General

No One Cares About Third Place

In soccer or in war, a bronze medal isn’t worth much.

The team that lost this week is trying to beat the other team that lost this week. It's Brazil versus Netherlands -- honestly, I may have that wrong -- and at this point, even Brazilian supermodel Adriana Lima is barely interested. #becausefutbolwhocares

Ah, the curse of the consolation match. No young wannabe Maradona dreams of playing in the game that determines who comes in third in the ho-hum run-off that's played a full day before the World Cup Final! And yet, here we are. They're gonna turn the cameras on and everything.

A run-off for third place makes sense in American Youth Soccer Organization. But in the World Cup? At the very least, it offers a reason to hand out a few more, if slightly smaller, trophies. And, granted, coming in third is far better than coming in second from a purely psychological perspective: third-place finishers are lucky to get a medal. But does it really make sense on an international stage, with the reputation of countries and continents on the line? We already know that Brazil isn't the powerhouse it used to be. Do we really need to know at this point if Brazil is better than the Netherlands? Must we separate the chaff from the chaff?

Even those who compete in third-place competitions are on record: "This game should not take place," said the coach of Bulgaria's fourth-place team back in 1994. Twenty years later the same words are still relevant. "This match should never be played," said the coach of Netherland's team this week. "Teams don't want to play for third place," Dutch coach Louis van Gaal whined. "I've been saying this for ten years."

Which brings me to a question that's been asked for ten centuries. From a geopolitical balance-of-power perspective, does anyone care who comes in third? Is there a war in history where a country took home (at least, what was left of home) the proverbial bronze medal?

After President Bush declared Mission Accomplished in the Iraq war, did he announce a run-off between Al Qaeda and Moqtada al-Sadr?

When the Allied forces beat the Axis powers, did some neutral country -- Andorra, say, or the Mutawakkilite Kingdom of Yemen -- demand to know where it ranked (literally) in the new world order?

In the Peloponnesian War, after the Spartans battled the Athenians, did everyone wonder how the Olympians fared?

And in the words of John Belushi, "was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?  Hell no!" But only because we still had to determine whether the Italians would defeat Costa Rica at the Alamo.

So on the question of global bronze medals and whether they have the power to shape history, I doubt it. History is written by the winners. It's hard enough for losers to get a fair shake. For third-place finishers to get the attention they're due, even revisionist history would need one more level of revision.

But I'll still watch today's consolation game. #becausefutbol. And #becausememphis.  And #becauseadrianalima.

And because I suspect if Brazil loses again, they may just go to war.

Lars Baron/Getty Images


Immigration Reform Is Happening

With the federal government paralyzed by partisan bickering over undocumented immigrants, states and cities are leading the way.

With all the mudslinging and acrimony in Washington over unaccompanied minors and unauthorized immigrants, you might have missed it. Immigration reform has already happened -- in fact, hundreds of times. With the federal government incapacitated, states, cities, and municipalities have stepped into the fray.

In 2013 alone, 45 of the 50 state legislatures passed over 400 laws and resolutions on everything from law enforcement and employment to education and public benefits. Among this flurry were a few in the Arizona SB 1070 style -- bills making life more miserable for undocumented immigrants. These laws ranged from blocking access to health care and schools to criminalizing common activities such as driving cars or buying homes. But the majority are actually designed to find ways to integrate undocumented immigrants -- funding English language and citizenship classes and providing access to medical care and other social services.

Remember the 2008 presidential campaign debate angst over driver's licenses? Eight states passed laws opening up the DMV to undocumented immigrants. Four more gave unauthorized students the right to pay in-state tuition, bringing the number of states opening up their colleges and universities to all residents to 15. Several others established "trust laws," which ensure police won't pass undocumented migrants along to immigration authorities unless charged with or convicted of the most serious crimes. California -- granted, an outlier -- decided that undocumented immigrants can even practice law.

Cities, too, have embraced migrants. New York's City Council just approved the creation of municipal identification cards that can be used to open bank accounts, use clinics, sign leases, or borrow books from public libraries. Affecting upwards of half a million New Yorkers, the Big Apple joins Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New Haven, Connecticut, among others, in providing IDs to its residents -- regardless of the color of their passport. And while the cameras have been trained on communities such as Murrieta, California, where residents have lined the streets to protest the arrival of migrant kids, more than 30 cities -- some in red states, some in blue, and home to 25 million Americans -- have joined the "Welcoming America" network, embracing rather than rejecting new entrants. In others, citizens and officials have taken matters into their own hands, including Dallas County's promise to shelter 2,000 of the undocumented children who have crossed the border so far this year.

These shifts reflect many undercurrents, starting with basic values. As immigration policies increasingly kick out children and tear families apart, it sits uneasily with the Sunday school lessons urging compassion and hospitality. In fact some of the most active voices for comprehensive immigration reform have come from those of the cloth, including leading evangelical churches and the Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Other seemingly unlikely supporters of local change have been cops. Over 100 prominent police chiefs, along with the Police Foundation -- a nonpartisan, nonprofit research organization -- have come out against what have become known as 287(g) programs that deputize local officials to enforce immigration laws. The added responsibilities, these police chiefs have found, both stretch finite resources and are often counterproductive to their core public-safety mission. Scared of drawing attention, unauthorized workers, parents, and siblings are reluctant to report crimes or serve as witnesses, breaking down the trust fundamental to community-policing models that have proved effective in keeping city streets safe.

And the economic repercussions of punishing anti-immigration laws have quieted some of their would-be champions. Pronounced has been the fallout from omnibus anti-immigrant legislation -- laws, adopted by 11 states since 2010, that require officers to check immigration status and criminalize basic activities by undocumented immigrants, including working, signing contracts, or moving about without identification.

In Arizona, for instance, the number of undocumented immigrants fell by an estimated third in the wake of passing SB 1070. Concurrent Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that agricultural employment, the rate of business creation, and housing prices all plummeted, both in absolute terms and more tellingly vis-à-vis neighboring states, which did not implement similar legislation. One study by economists at the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Alabama, led by Samuel Addy, estimates Alabama's business losses in the billions of dollars. In nearly every state that adopted less-than-friendly migrant policies, businesses -- particularly those in agriculture, construction, hospitality, and food preparation -- have struggled to find workers.

These outcomes complement what other academic analyses repeatedly show -- that immigrants create jobs, boost tax revenues, and make communities safer. One study using U.S. census data and American Community Survey data finds that for every 1,000 immigrants in a county, 46 manufacturing jobs are created or preserved. It also found that local housing wealth increased by nearly $100,000 for each new immigrant. This is in part because immigrants are much more likely to file a patent or start a business than native-born Americans.

Unfortunately, this local legislative dynamism can't solve the United States' national immigration problems. Migration, as the movement of people across borders, is inherently a federal issue. The lack of a coherent, comprehensive immigration policy is increasingly costly -- as the recent request by President Barack Obama for $3.7 billion to stem the humanitarian crisis of tens of thousands of kids crossing the U.S. southern border attests. In fact, many of the 253 state-level immigration resolutions boil down to pleas for the federal government to act. What the local activism does reflect is a general shift in the legislative direction from one of exclusion to one of accommodation -- a change the federal government should follow.

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images