Trump’s first 100 Days

I could write my own treatise on Trump’s first 100 days, or I could just link to one that already says exactly what I think written by an eminent University of Chicago trained economist and Hoover Institute fellow named  John Cochrane instead.

For today, I choose the latter option. The only addition I would make is that he should look no further than Cochrane when appointing a Chair of the Council of Economic Advisors.

http://johnhcochrane.blogspot.com/2016/11/no-100-days-please.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed:+TheGrumpyEconomist+(The+Grumpy+Economist)&m=1

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In the wake of Orlando – A time to mourn, a time to heal, a time to act

This is not the first mass casualty event connected to radical Islam that Americans have witnessed, but somehow I can’t prevent the inescapable and oppressive feeling that over the last few days I have woken up to a new America, one that is riven with a population that does not even know how to mourn properly given all of our seemingly intractable divisions. With previous acts of terrorism, such as 9-11, Boston, and San Bernardino, we could plausibly point to the external enemy born outside of our shores who were naturally and somehow expectedly inimical to American freedom and our way of life. This tribal us versus them mentality would seem to have its own galvanizing effect fostering feelings of national unity against a common foe. Contrast that to the shocking tragedy carried out by one of our own homegrown malcontents using radical Islam as an excuse for his madness, and one can’t help but feel that our steep descent into mass violence has entered a new and uncertain phase. My own reticence on the tragedy in the wake of its immediate aftermath was borne out of shock, sadness, helplessness, and a feeling that bereft of any facts, it was honorable to keep my mouth shut in an attempt to abide by the old proverb that it is best to not speak unless one can improve the silence. I readily admit to lacking the soaring rhetoric that such a situation requires – then and now.  Alas, there is such a cacophony of noise on the issue that silence itself is hard to find. Silence is currently hiding in caves of ignominy and fear that I wish the mad men that choose to make macabre public displays out of violent aggression would make proper use of.

Consider that my Facebook feed immediately became an onslaught between people on both sides of the ideological spectrum manning their respective barricades, some blaming gun control, others lamenting the lack thereof; some blaming Islam, others quick to defend it; some finding refuge in religion, others saying all religions are flawed and blaming it at large for violence and backward thinking; some offering up prayers, while yet others ridiculed and spurned those same prayers.  Given this palpable discord, one wonders if we can ever find a proper state and stage of national unity and mournful silence and healing ever again. Personally I look at this ugly world and what it is capable of at its worst and I lament what my four children, in their current merciful innocence, will have to face. What senseless acts of barbarism and evil await their paths? Not only is the world full of horror, but the aftermath of horror can be vicious and cruel in an emotional sense. Pain can be debilitating, even more so when one finds no relief and comfort from their fellow man. This war against random and massive violence and bloodshed, whether it be in the form of virulent radical Islam, or in the form of a mental case shooting at schools and churches and minority communities out of who knows what irrational grievance and loathing of his fellow-man, is one that I can’t feel will be complex, multifaceted, and necessarily generational. It is daunting and foreboding. The great paradox of humanity has always been its dual nature – its great capacity for evil has always precariously been balanced by its great capacity for good. Otherwise, what hope do we have for any humanity and goodwill going forward? It is this force for good that gives me some semblance of optimism, and our ability to support one another in times of need is the highest form of goodness and charity.

I feel compelled to break my own refuge in silence in order to do the very least good that I can – which is offer my deepest condolences and sympathies over such a historically large casualty event and for the specific targeting of the gay community. As a Christian who believes in a merciful God who can heal and bring justice, I pray for these things for all involved. Recognizing that at a time such as this, many directly impacted may not be as receptive to that message and have their own hurts and anger for which my offer to prayer will not resonate, I expand on this approach to express a deep-seated and sincere sadness for the tragedy, barbarity, and senselessness of it all. One can never fully identify with the fear and deep emotions that someone in these situation faces, but I am trying to do what I can to enter into the proper emotions and feel deep regret and sincere pain for the feelings evoked by lost loved ones and being subjected to primal fear and tragedy. To be hunted down and murdered by a cowardly loser who discovered faux and fleeting power behind a gun is tragic and worthy of national unity in mourning and caring for those and their families that this injustice was visited upon. I can only hope that these sentiments, publicly spoken, provide succor to someone hurting in this time of need.

I want to be extremely careful not to take a tragedy and move beyond the mourning phase into the action phase too quickly, which is a tendency of society that I lament in this post. However, part of the figurative rush to the barricades is completely understandable, as unfortunately we seem to have listened to this same awful tune multiple times. The collective pain and anger stems from our seeming incompetent and powerless responses, as if we are sitting in some lounge chair sipping on fruit juice while a diabolical disc jockey keeps playing the same horrific tune over and over again. We wring our hands over the song, but we fail to shut off the radio. We don’t move from our chair. We fail to take any action to forcibly remove this acrid conductor. We shout aloud to the powerless birds sitting outside of our window, “who will remove this fiend and shut off this awful song!” Angry and mystified by their lack of response, we remain motionless in the chair.

I don’t presume to have the wisdom to know how to immediately solve this most monumental of societal and moral problem of our times. As I mentioned previously, I don’t believe any quick fix is on hand for this fight against terrorism, either global or domestic, and I believe it will be multi-generational. No doubt the major news publications will be littered with observations and policy proposals from our pundits and politicians in the coming days. What could I possibly add to this onslaught of information? Humbly, I make the following quick observations of my own personal beliefs:

  • We can give up on the notion that we can safely observe and contain ISIS from afar. Their murderous ideology only takes a maladjusted and angry misanthrope with an internet connection to find fertile ground in the U.S. ISIS feeds off of momentum of a caliphate built on physical land. We have to be committed as a nation to the complete annihilation of ISIS on a short timetable. Making it a loser on the ground will make it a loser not worthy of being followed (ironically) by the social misfits that fall prey to its dystopian ideology. This will take more American resources and American forces than is currently planned for or allowed. The bulk of the forces can and should come from Sunni powers, but American commitments and strategy are essential to bringing about this coalition.
  • Counter propaganda must be funded, sustained, intense, fierce, and supported and fronted by moderate Sunni communities making a religious and ideological case for why violent jihad is for the weak, impure, and misguided.
  • The above will take time to make a marked impact. Meantime, the ISIS strategy will shift from holding territory to exporting terror to the West. This is obviously already occurring. Unfortunately, in the short-run this will spawn even more potential threats from lone wolf terrorists until the ISIS poison is eradicated at its source in the Middle East. These individuals may not even have to be in direct communication with their overseas counterparts, making actionable intelligence gathering even more difficult. Basic plans on inciting terror and the appropriate targets (schools, churches, and gay clubs) are already in abundance on ISIS websites. Intelligence tools will necessarily have to become much more robust in picking up on clues and breadcrumbs dropped along the way through web searches, websites visited, and social media posts. It is apparent that much of this and more occurred with the Orlando massacre perpetrator (my choice to not even speak his name is deliberate) including hateful and telling statements and rants made to fellow employees and FBI investigators. These warning signs went nowhere. Remarkably, this individual was still allowed to legally serve as a security guard and purchase and keep weapons, which gets me to my next point below.
  • I am a 2nd Amendment advocate and believe that individuals have a right to protect themselves from harm by owning and maintaining weapons. But surely there must be some common sense reforms that can be enacted and intelligence sharing holes that can be filled in the aftermath of this tragedy. A case in point is when a confirmed potential menace to society wants to purchase a weapon, much less a semi-automatic, he should not be allowed to until cleared through some defined  and safeguarded process of mental health evaluations. Such a model would have to be governed well so that it is not abused by government, which might be able to unilaterally slap the mental health label on anyone with whom it disagrees. Policies that foster connecting the dots between federal agencies and maintaining accurate and timely weapons “no buy” lists seems to be a right policy direction. That being said, I also believe that movements in this direction are but a small palliative and addresses a symptom and not a cause of the cultural malaise that we face. Gun control can’t be a feel good distraction from the true heavy lifting that must occur. After all, the Paris attacks happened in a country with much more restrictive gun laws than America. Perhaps more effective than hopelessly trying to prevent all guns from getting into the hands of creative and committed jihadists would be better strategies for our intelligence forces in fleshing out potential terrorists through sting and baiting operations.
  • I sincerely wish that the media could make a concerted effort to de-emphasize the individuals who enact these horrific crimes. Rather than plastering their faces all over and in effect sensationalizing their exploits, I would rather see a concerted effort to de-humanize them in the process. Infamy can be its own form of toxic draw to the maladjusted, after all. What if the headlines were always something along the lines of, “Cowardly loser who will be forgotten in a short amount of time and who by blowing themselves up achieved precisely 0% of what they were trying to achieve in the long run, unjustly murders 50, bringing eternal and lasting shame upon themselves and their families, and according to many highly renowned Imams, consigned himself to eternity in a blazing pit of fire…” I wonder if a drumbeat of such announcements regularly produced over time might begin to have a lasting impact on the would-be terrorist conscience.
  • My final point to make, at great risk of being considered alarmist, is that I at long last will personally get my concealed carry license. No, this is not to be that guy in Whataburger with a gun strapped to my holster. In the extreme outside event that someone attacks a place that I happen to be, such as a church or shopping mall, then as a relatively good shot with great familiarity with firearms from my Army days, I feel duty-bound to protect my family and serve my various communities in some way. It seems reasonable to me that a madman with a gun firing at innocents is better held down by someone who is trained in firing back. Basic army tactics indicate that covering fire, even when it does not hit the mark, can pin an enemy down, which makes them far less lethal. History favors the prepared.  I am not exactly at the point where I am stock-piling Ramen noodles quite yet, so reserve the heightened scorn for another day.

“The GOP’s Mexico Derangement”

Mexico

Bret Stephens has a biting critique of the GOP in his recent Wall Street Journal op-ed. Stephens, as ever, is able to criticize the party that he aligns with most often with eloquence and forcefulness that I admire. The GOP’s myopia and fixation, to say nothing of the lack of economic soundness and adherence to liberty, small government, and plain moral decency – was a primary source of frustration of mine with the party long before the rise of Trump. The combination of stances on immigration, free trade, and Trump are the main reasons I will be casting a Presidential Libertarian ballot this election season.

Some of the piquant highlights of the article, in which Stephens addresses common canards leveled against Mexico and Mexican immigration are as follows:

Mexico is a failed state. Mexico’s struggles with drug cartels—whose existence is almost entirely a function of America’s appetite for dope—are serious and well known. So are its deep-seated institutional weaknesses, especially the police forces that collude with the cartels and terrorize rural areas.

Then again, Mexico’s 2014 homicide rate of about 16 murders per 100,000 means that it is about as dangerous as Philadelphia (15.9) and considerably safer than Miami (19.2) or Atlanta (20.5). Are these “failed cities” that you don’t dare visit and that should be walled off from the rest of America?

Mexico steals U.S. jobs. Donald Trump recently resurrected this chestnut by inveighing against Nabisco and Ford for shifting production to Mexico from high-cost Illinois and Michigan. Never mind that one reason Ford made the move was to take advantage of Mexico’s free-trade agreements with the European Union and other countries, meaning that opposition to free trade is the very thing that drives business abroad. Then again, Mexico is the second-largest purchaser of U.S. products; the Wilson Center’s Christopher Wilson has estimated that “six million U.S. jobs depend on trade with Mexico.” That is especially true for border states. ‘Mexico is the top export destination for five states: California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and New Hampshire, and is the second most important market for another 17 states across the country.’

Illegal immigrants are a drain on the system. This whopper should be sold at Burger King, since illegal immigrants pay billions in state and local taxes, along with about $15 billion a year to Social Security—the benefits of which they are unlikely ever to get back. Entire U.S. industries, agriculture above all, depend on illegal migrants, without whom fruits and vegetables would simply rot in the field.

If there is a drain, it’s Mexicans going home—roughly one million returnees between 2009 and 2014, according to the Pew Research Center, outpacing the number of Mexicans moving north by about 140,000. That owes something to growth and stability in the Mexican economy, which is largely a function of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

This makes Mr. Trump’s opposition to Nafta all the more misjudged. Without it, Mexico could easily have become Venezuela, run by an Hugo Chávez-like strongman, that would have posed a real threat to U.S. security, as opposed to the one in Mr. Trump’s imagination.

 

Do the Chinese have an unfair advantage?

According to Donald Trump, the United States loses to China, Mexico, Japan, and just about everyone else in the world. The redress he proposes is a 45% tariff on Chinese goods that he would likely expand to others he lumps in as having unfair advantages over us and a border wall. Has any nation ever made itself great (or great again) through isolation from immigrants and trade wars? Before we jump off into the chasm of a 45% tariff on the Chinese (and others) perhaps we should think about the actual impact of an increase on our goods, particularly the low-cost goods that benefit the poor. As Daniel Henninger lays out in a recent Wall Street Journal Editorial, the tariff is one of Trump’s few actual policy proposals. Henninger elaborates powerfully on the perils of Trump’s proposal in what I have copied below:

At the core of the Trump campaign is one policy idea: imposing a 45% tariff on goods imported from China. In his shouted, red-faced victory speech Tuesday, he extended the trade offensive to Japan and Mexico.

Some detail: Combining the value of goods we sell to them and they to us, China, Mexico and Japan are the U.S’s Nos. 1, 3 and 4 trading partners (Canada is No. 2). They are 35% of the U.S.’s trade activity with the world. The total annual value of what U.S. producers—and of course the workers they employ—sell to those three countries is $415 billion.

Wal-Mart has 1.4 million U.S. employees in stores filled with foreign-made consumer goods. With a 45% price increase, many won’t be working for long.

Mr. Trump says the threat alone of a tariff will cause China to cave. Someone should ask: What happens if they don’t cave? Incidentally, unlike Mexico, China has between 200 and 300 nuclear warheads and 2.4 million active-duty forces. Irrelevant?

As with anything Trump does, the tariff proposal is a naked calculation to rile up the easy to excite masses that are befuddled by economics. His supporters may not recognize this, but all of this is really in the same vein of support as those that support Sanders.  People with pitchforks want to believe that all of their wage stagnation must be the result of some faceless enemy in a foreign land or a Mister Burns character at J.P. Morgan. They will inevitably fall into the trap of rallying behind either Sander’s envy and class warfare or Trump’s foreigner warfare. On the latter, these same individuals will grab their pitchforks once again and demand price controls once their prices down at Wal-Mart also increase 45%. They will fail to see the increase as the predictable result of their own actions. It is a vicious cycle to find succor and assistance from government men with no scruples and who possess the knowledge that true arbitrary power is created on the backs of those ignorant souls willing to make deals with dark power for fleeting and ephemeral gains. This information and knowledge asymmetry is how individual liberties are willingly ceded by voters to those who make pandering promises who know what power they can gain.

I want to turn to the canard that the Chinese have an unfair advantage in trade with Americans. I have always been puzzled by a complaint that if the Chinese manipulate their currency to an unnatural low point that we should in turn punish them. If the Chinese do manipulate their currency (and it is highly debatable whether they do), then the logical conclusion is that in doing so what the Chinese government is actually doing is using Chinese taxpayers to subsidize American consumption. In other words, currency manipulation would necessarily mean Chinese citizen oppression by the Chinese government to support our low prices and consumption habits here. One might disdain this from a sense of humanitarianism and fellow feeling for the Chinese, but what it shouldn’t be is a cry of unfair advantage for the Chinese. We should be thankful for the good fortune that Chinese government ineptitude provides us with cheaper goods! Cafe Hayek states this much more effectively than I just did, so I copy the comments from a recent blog post in the form of a letter to a former student:

Dear Mr. Hester:

Thanks for your reply.

You say that I am “naïve to forget about” the “unfairly low prices which the Chinese ruling elite impose on us.”

Please.  Low prices in America – especially if they are made artificially low at the expense of non-Americans – are no imposition on Americans; they are a blessing to Americans.  (Do you think that we earthlings would be made richer if our rulers adopt policies that require us to start paying more for the light and heat that we have until now imported from the sun at the low price of $0?  If not, why do you think that we Americans would be made richer if our rulers adopt policies that require us to start paying more for the goods that we have until now imported from China at low prices?)

Also, Chinese low wages are largely the consequence of the Chinese people being enslaved, tyrannized, and impoverished for decades by an unspeakably cruel Maoist regime.  Do you honestly believe that this terrible history gives the Chinese people today an unfair economic advantage over Americans?  If so, you must regret that we Americans were denied the advantage-rich experience of being forced to live in a collectivized, starvation-ridden society ruled by murderous despots.  My gosh!  If we, too, could today boast the horrifying recent history of China, then we, too, might be as poor as the Chinese and, hence, we, too, would enjoy – as do today’s Chinese – all the splendid “advantages” bestowed by such an impoverishing history!

Sincerely,
Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
and
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030

 

The World Turned Upside Down

world-turn-upside-down.jpg

These days, I tend to read the rolling ticker tape of depressing global news like a dispassionate automaton. Inputs come in and update the ledger in my mind, and information is then stored away as bland factual data in the back shelves for whatever future use I might find. The world has been in a funk for quite some time. Between the financial crisis, the constant economic travails of the European Union – is Greece going to stay in or are they out? – the resurgence of a revanchist Russia, a defeatist Iranian nuclear deal, and the idealistic dreams of the Arab Spring crashing into a million broken pieces and spawning the rise of ISIS and millions of migrants pouring out across the globe. I could go on, but the long list is not the point of this post. The point is, geopolitics has given us plenty of reason for gloom in the last few years. Our existing leaders seem helpless, prostrate, and often hapless before such events. And yet, despite all of this, recent events and revelations seem to have finally shaken me from my desensitized slumber. Untypically, I find myself with emotions of angst and awe while learning about two world events this week: the Iranian release of American hostages and the bombshell revelation by a UK judge that based upon all of the evidence he had at his disposal, he believes it highly likely that President Putin ordered the murder of a former FSB officer residing in London.

When I first heard the news that five longtime American hostages were being released, I was elated and began to think, despite my long-held severe skepticism, that perhaps the Iranian nuclear deal might be causing a welcoming thaw in relations between America and Iran and that it just might begin to amend their insidious behaviors of the past. Alas, as the details of the hostage release started coming out, joy soon turned to anger at how the Obama administration with John Kerry as its clawless cat’s paw once again displayed shocking feats of feckless foreign policy. In return for obtaining five innocent victims of Iran’s churlish behavior, the U.S. agreed to drop charges against seven Iranians that were accused of flouting sanctions related to the Iranian nuclear program. In addition, Iran is to receive from America $1.7B in an out of court settlement related to a 1970s weapons sale worth $400M in which the Shah of Iran apparently wired the money to America for a weapons transaction but in which the theocratic revolution of Iran disrupted the actual delivery of the weapons. The $1.7B settlement is intended to be principal plus foregone interest on cash. I guess we should be thankful that this administration isn’t actually sending weapons, but the real question is what kind of moral hazards for the future have we set up with such a pusillanimous approach to Iran?

As much as we must celebrate the positive and join in the elation that five innocent people are going home to be reunited with their loved ones, we must also cringe at the pyrrhic price that has been paid. Economists use the term “moral hazard” for something in which short-term expediency and gains creates an incentive to perform dangerous acts in the future.  Hostage taking is what the Iranians do. It is the foundational act of their theocratic regime (for more on this topic, I highly recommend reading Mark Bowden’s Guests of the Ayatollah).  Thus, we have shown Iran that America will reward them for hostage taking in the future, so we should expect much more of these events to occur. Jumping back to the $1.7B,  the casual observer might be mistaken into thinking that this seems like appropriate justice. Iran paid for something that we never delivered. In addition,  the Obama administration has indicated that the timing of this is coincidental and not connected to the negotiated release of hostages. The counter argument is that one can’t add up the sum of money that could presumably be awarded out of justified lawsuits Americans have or could have pursued against Iran over the past thirty years as a result of highly justified complaints from the 60 Americans held for over 400 days at the outset of the regime, the Americans that have been held hostage in recent times plus those that are still being held (Robert Levinson and Siamak Namazi were not released in the swap), plus Americans that have been harmed or killed due to proxy terrorism funded by Iran, including the 1983 Beirut bombings and the 1996 Khobar Towers bombings. In essence, we have ceded billions of taxpayer dollars in a suit that could easily have been justifiably been dismissed or withheld in light of all other lawsuits or atrocities that Iran has never paid up on. The real challenge is negotiating with a pariah state. How exactly does one negotiate with a nation that funds terrorism abroad, takes hostages as a regular course of action, and which advocates for the annihilation of Israel? The answer is simple: one can’t, unless of course one is willing to make terrible foreign policy decisions that ensure that those same acts will continue to pay off for Iran going forward. Echoing Prime Minister Netanyahu, if Iran wants to be treated as a normal nation, then first make it act as one.

Another event that drew up less of a well of anger and more of awe and wonder was the recent revelation that President Putin most likely ordered the murder of a Russian living abroad in London. The 1950s-esque cloak and dagger saga has been years in the making, as the Litvinenko murder occurred back in 2006. What is new is news emanating from an inquiry in the UK by a British judge in which a decade long gathering and review of evidence makes the connection between the murder and the top of the Russian oligopolistic kleptocracy led by Putin irrefutable. Add this act to the growing list of the growing Russian government menace that spreads its poison both internally and externally: the apartment bombing in Chechnya that brought Putin to power that was later connected to FSB agents as the individuals who actually planted the bombs, the murder of journalists who investigated the Chechnyan bombings, the blatant murder in broad daylight of opposition politicians such as Boris Nemtsov, and the invasion of Ukraine, the critical aid being lent to prop up Bashar Assad in Syria. The depressing fact here is that America’s weakness and retreat from the global space has facilitated Russia’s rise and Cold War II. One can hope that this revelation wakes up Western powers to just who they are dealing with in Putin.

Finally and to add insult to injury, I read this morning a report that the American baseball National League is discussing in earnest a decision to implement the Designated Hitter as early as 2017. I guess the flip side of this is I will no longer have to bemoan my beloved Houston Astros recent move to the American League since both leagues will mirror one another. Still, I will go to my grave believing that baseball should be played on grass, in the open skies of daylight, and the pitcher should hit. The world has indeed been turned upside down this week.

As I wrote this, one bit of optimism peeped in when Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings 100 Days, 100 Nights came on my radio. It lifted the spirits after recounting these depressing global events. Give it a listen.

 

Misogyny – the reason refugees may not be able to have nice things

Cologne
The shattered windows of a book shop are boarded over the day after populist right-wing riots in Leipzig, Germany. Photo: Getty Images

Typically, I have supported much more open forms of immigration and of harboring as many refugees as are willing and able to come, with the need to factor in safety and security given the volatile and chaotic situation stemming from Syria and the broader Middle East (previous thoughts on this outlined here). My argument has traditionally been that immigration is largely beneficial across the economic, cultural, and moral spectrums. I have also sympathized previously with the position of Angela Merkel in her unique role within Europe of welcoming millions of refugees with open arms into Germany. My sympathy arises out of the pure charity of the act, even if I had a harder time sympathizing with the prudence of the direction. It is in the very least an act of leadership without equivocation, which is more than the rudderless policies of many of her European counterparts, whose lack of decision in any direction is at least equally problematic.

However, the recent events categorized by hundreds of police reports filed across multiple German cities of grotesque sexual assaults perpetrated by, as many police reports and video footage attests, men from Middle Eastern and North African origin indicates the great pitfalls of such an open arms policy. As much as the idealist in me wants to believe that moral clarity, charity, and human brotherhood will prevail, the realist in me has to reason that millions of people unaccustomed (and in many ways inimical) to Western culture and values can’t possible be absorbed in such a large volume without deleterious consequences. The great negative consequences of such an action are not only the awful attacks on women, but the unfortunate right and left-wing populism that it will drive people across the globe to embrace. A lack of prudence in refugee acceptance will inevitably lead to harmful overreactions that will do lasting harm. The component in these events most at odds with Western society is an apparent culture that openly avows and practices misogynistic views and life practices, which surfaces in a complete lack of regard for over 50% of the world population and relegating them to mere chattel status. Such events on this scale (one report indicates over 600 allegations have been made by women) could not have possibly occurred spontaneously, pointing to a premeditated and coordinated plan to do evil and harm. There must be more to this than an outlier event of drunken men misbehaving. Indeed, as Bret Stephens reports in a recent Wall Street Journal editorial, a recent World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report presents with remarkable clarity the lack of esteem men from Muslim majority nations hold for women. As quoted in the article, “..the report ranks the status of women in 142 countries. Bottom of the list: Yemen, Pakistan, Chad, Syria, Mali and Iran, all Muslim-majority countries. A 2013 Pew survey of Muslim views on women’s rights found that only 22% of Egyptians and 14% of Iraqis thought that women should have a right to divorce their husbands, while fully 92% of Moroccans and 87% of Palestinians thought a wife must always obey her husband.”

These are astounding revelations and statistics, and they can’t possibly align with Western culture and values. The question then becomes, how could we reconcile our moral obligations that happen to benefit our society economically and culturally as it relates to refugees? How about taking up the Stephens’ recommendation to allow women, children, and the elderly in with open arms as the immediate first step? I would add to the Stephens formula that we could still focus on family unification (male entry), but prioritizing those that are clearly being persecuted and which we can clearly get a sense that the man of the house is not a misogynist, which could be made manifest by a spouse that is well educated, works outside of the home, daughters that are educated, etc, and professions from the man that they value women in society.

This is an intractable situation with no easy answers, so would love to get others’ thoughts on the matter.

Quote of the Week – Dealing with Populism

Populism

Taken from this week’s edition of The Economist – Playing with fear. 

“Part of the answer is to draw on the power of liberal ideals. New technology, prosperity and commerce will do more than xenophobia to banish people’s insecurities. The way to overcome resentment is economic growth—not to put up walls. The way to defeat Islamist terrorism is to enlist the help of Muslims—not to treat them as hostile. The main parties need to make that case loudly and convincingly.”

“Breaking up to Stay Together – Iraq in Pieces”

Iraq
Courtesy of Washington Post

A recent Foreign Affairs article by  poses a tremendously thought provoking question of whether Iraq should break apart based upon sectarian lines – Sunni, Kurdish, and Shia. The article provides a great amount of helpful historical context as well as great insights into how poisoned the relationships between Shia, Sunni, Kurds, secularists, and assorted minorities (mostly decimated by this point) have become.

Mr. Khedery quotes the first monarch of Iraq, King Faisal, in what seems to be a prescient observation,

With my heart filled with sadness, I have to say that it is my belief that there is no Iraqi people inside Iraq. There are only diverse groups with no national sentiments. They are filled with superstitious and false religious traditions with no common grounds between them. They easily accept rumors and are prone to chaos, prepared always to revolt against any government.

I have to believe that such a formal partition would be quite chaotic and bloody, with renewed and fueled hatreds as the groups try to stake out new boundaries and access to oil resources. In addition, protection of the rule of law and the safety of minorities during such a chaotic transition stage would be very difficult. Still, such a partition seems inevitable in time. If Iraq is to remain a national polity, it seems it will do so under a federalist shell with tremendous political power devolved to de facto autonomous regions.

Give me your huddled masses, but…

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Fleeing Terror, Finding Refuge – National Geographic

I believe in general that America needs a more open form of immigration laws that allow for more immigrants, spanning from refugees seeking asylum and low-skilled workers through employment visa programs that allow more cross-border commerce and freedom of movement as well as more economic based paths to lawful work and citizenship granted through programs such as the H1B visa. This presents an opportunity to both tackle economic as well as moral benefits. As it relates to refugees, finding ways to alleviate suffering and finding ways to grant asylum is the moral obligation of a free and prosperous society, and if those of us on the right side of the ideological spectrum want to claim our nation is founded upon Judeo-Christian values, then we should be able to put our money where our mouths are and facilitate goodwill, charity, and the safety of persecuted populations in any form as they seek asylum on our shores.

That being said, in the face of the Paris attacks, where it is known that at least one attacker used Syrian refugee status to slip into France, it is in fact appropriate to pause and urge restraint while we collectively create sound and comprehensive strategies that allow us to vet and prioritize refugees while starting to deal with the root problems that create the mess in the first place. After all, one of the chief raison d’etre of government should be to protect and ensure the safety of its citizens. This should be one of its chief aims. The recent swath of governors rushing to close off their states may be a bit hasty and rash in my opinion, but it reflects the genuine and well-founded concerns of U.S. citizens. I believe that American citizens at large and those in the middle ranging from center-left to center-right can serve as the basis of a persuadable coalition to support refugees in this time of global crisis. However, the moralizing hectoring of President Obama to take on refugees that is completely decoupled from sound strategies to ensure America’s safety or to address the actual root of the problem and chaos in the Middle East will naturally leave much of the nation’s citizenry skeptical that this same President will implement sound strategies to vet incoming refugees and keep American citizens safe. With Obama’s moralizing, I am reminded of a quote from one of my favorite novels,  Augustus by John Williams, in which one of Augustus’s key advisors, Gaius Maecenas, admonishes one of his friends that, “It seems to me that the moralist is the most useless and contemptible of creatures. He is useless in that he would expend his energies upon making judgments rather than upon gaining knowledge, for the reason that judgment is easy and knowledge is difficult. He is contemptible in that his judgments reflect a vision of himself which in his ignorance and pride he would impose upon the world. I implore you, do not become a moralist; you will destroy your art and your mind.”

A more responsible strategy would in fact be to couple refugee resettlement plans with clarity in how we are going to join and lead a global coalition of the willing to eradicate (not contain) ISIS, promote the reform of Islam at large, and promote the peace and stability of Syria and Iraq. Plans to deal with refugees and support of refugee areas in countries closer to Iraq and Syria such as Jordan and Turkey should also be part of this strategy. We should also be willing to prioritize refugee status for communities that suffer the most at the hands of ISIS and the Assad regime, including Yazidis, Christians, moderate Sunnis that have fought on the side of moderate forces, and secularists. The ability to vet inbound refugees with whatever means we have at our disposal, admittedly a difficult task, coupled with enhanced intelligence capabilities with monitoring of metadata that Obama has done much to gut, should also be part of the mix.

So by all means, bring in the huddled masses. Accepting the battered refugee is an action that lives up to America’s finest ideals and follows a precedent of accepting refugees during the Bosnian conflict and the Iraq War, not to mention European refugees that came in large numbers during both World Wars. In times where America was at our worst were times of not accepting enough of those in need, such as Jews fleeing the depravations of the Holocaust and broad European pogroms perpetrated on them in the early 20th century. I would also argue refugees do much to add to the unique fabric and narrative of American diversity and the American story. Grateful refugees and their descendants make some of the finest citizens this country has ever known. However, given the safety imperative is the highest responsibility of any government, let’s craft the refugee plan alongside comprehensive strategy that includes in the long-run eliminating the source of the cancer itself rather than simply addressing its symptoms as well as a plan for vetting incoming refugees and ways to prioritize them. Once that plan is laid out to the American people, then fears can be allayed and the support of the majority of American citizens will follow.

 

Jaw-jawing: John Kerry on Syria

From The Economist Espresso: Jaw-jawing: John Kerry on Syria

http://econ.st/1KBfUEv

This should be interesting. What seems to be lacking in Syria is any strategy. Even if we could pick apart or alternatively defend an isolationist strategy, we seem to be trapped in one of arbitrarily and weakly supporting a handful of rebels, but not enough to have a material impact. Thus, ours is a policy best summed up as hopeless pusillanimity. Meantime, thousands are being slaughtered, ISIS continues to grow, millions are being displaced, and now the Russians are reenacting a modern-day Cold War. We won’t long be able to pretend that this calamity will stay within the confines of the Syrian borders.