By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; January 31, 2019)
In early January, New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez chided CBS News for failing to have even one African-American journalist among its newly selected 2020 election team.
“This (White House) admin has made having a functional understanding of race in America one of the most important core competencies for a political journalist to have, yet, @CBSNews hasn’t assigned a ‘single’ black journalist to cover the 2020 election,” tweeted Ocasio-Cortez soon after CBS released its new election reporting team.
“CBS, your 2020 election team is disgraceful,” was the headline at one Virginia newspaper.
Whether CBS News’ human resource decisions are within Ocasio-Cortez’ lane of responsibility is questionable, but not the concern in this essay. Nor are we concerned with whether CBS News should feel defensive about their hiring decisions. That is a political debate.
The topic for this essay is how CBS News could have easily avoided this controversy.
Best talent and diversity are complementary but independent hiring goals
American business schools are filled with theories, graduate seminars and practicums on the best hiring practices for businesses and organizations to attract the best talent and achieve diversity. Those are complementary goals, but achieving one is no guarantee in achieving the other.
But as revealed in the CBS News case, many organizations still don’t meet both goals in tandem. Surprisingly, the solution is well-known and quite easy — yet, for many reasons, organizations resist this solution.
The solution is to introduce random-selection at critical points in the hiring process as a way to ameliorate the common biases introduced by human judgment.
Humans are inherently and hopelessly biased when it comes to making hiring decisions.
In the age of identity politics and demands to rectify historical injustices based on ascribed characteristics such as race, ethnicity or sex, a variant of random selection —stratified random-selection — offers the most defensible and equitable method for addressing the twin hiring goals.
Stratified random-selection (or sampling) divides a population into smaller, homogeneous groups (called strata) where the members of each group share similar characteristics. A predetermined number of members are then randomly selected from each stratum.
This idea is not new and has been suggested, for example, as one way to make the acceptance process at universities and colleges more representative and fair.
The Atlantic’s Alia Wong wrote an excellent article last year on the proposals to adopt the random-selection process to fix the admissions problems at elite U.S. universities. Though she concluded it is unlikely any Ivy League school is soon going to adopt such a process, her reporting did identify schools in Europe where random-selection has been used with some success (e.g., England’s Leeds Metropolitan University and Huddersfield University; and many universities in the Netherlands).
The Washington Post also recently published an opinion piece supporting the idea of a random-based selection process for the college admissions.
Some HR academics and theorists are suggesting Artificial Intelligence (AI) could be used to eliminate human biases in the hiring process, but recent research has shown AI algorithms also bring race and gender biases into the equation. AI algorithms, after all, are written by humans whose biases end up encoded into the algorithms.
UK computer scientist Joanna Bryson (University of Bath), co-author of the AI hiring algorithm research, warns that AI’s problems in making hiring decisions is a double-whammy: Not only can AI be prejudiced (because of human programmers), but unlike humans, AI is not equipped to consciously counteract learned biases. Or, at least, it is still difficult to program such types of morality into AI algorithms.
Until the time that becomes possible, the easier solution is to incorporate a smidgen of randomness into the process.
A hypothetical example of a random-enhanced hiring process
In the context of a hiring situation, such as the one faced by CBS News, the randomized selection process might go as follows:
(1) A news organization needs to hire 12 people for an anticipated event. The organization wants the new hires to reflect the racial-ethnic diversity of the country (i.e., hiring target percentages). [For the sake simplicity in describing the random-selection process, let us assume an equal number of men and women applicants are processed within each strata.]
According to the U.S. Census (column A in the table below), the following represents the racial-ethnic percentages of the U.S. population: Whites (61%), Blacks, (13%), Hispanic (non-white) (18%), Asian (6%), Mixed-race or Other (3%). From the table, we see how the 12 new hires should breakout for each racial-ethnic strata (column B). Since Mixed-race is such a small category, the organization may combine the strata with the next smallest group (Asian):
(2) The organization recruits, receives and processes 100 ‘credible’ applicants where the applicants meet some predetermined minimum requirements for the new positions. Note: This step has the potential to introduce significant bias into the hiring process, as the applicant pool may not reflect general population characteristics.
(3) Those applicants are separated into homogeneous groups (strata) and a determination is made whether each applicant qualifies for a follow-up interview(s). At this step, that selection could be determined through random selection — depending on the thoroughness of the screening process in Step 2 — or human judgement.
(4) From the follow-up interview(s), a final set of substantively and highly qualified candidates are identified. If one strata does not have any (or enough) applicants determined to be substantively qualified, the organization would need to go back and re-recruit for that strata and repeat Steps 1 through 3.
(5) The final hiring selection would be determined through random-selection — not human judgement. The number selected from each strata would be determined by the target percentages in Step 1 (column B in the table).
The stratified element in this hypothetical hiring process is not absolutely necessary. The stratification merely removes the random component from the race-ethnicity breakout of the final hires. If an organization is confident that its applicant pool is drawn from a broad range of society, it would be defensible to utilize simple random sampling and forgo the stratification of applicants into the race-ethnicity strata.
There will be resistance to random-selection
A commonly heard complaint about using random-selection in the college admissions process is that it goes against the America’s historical ethic of individualism and merit-based advancement. If advancement is random, it must therefore throw individual merit out the window, right?
“Calling the process a “crapshoot” works as a metaphor for the applicant and it’s handy for general conversation, but it’s not truly as random as it seems from the outside. Yes, at some point in the process candidates can look very similar and choosing among them can be a matter of time of day, mood of the admission officer or the overabundance of oboe players. But human foibles and flaws as well as accomplishments and distinguishing features are integral parts of the process and an expression of our belief in being the master of one’s own fate, no matter how misguided that may be.”
Dix’ criticism is well-received but misunderstands the random-selection concept. It is not a “crapshoot” or even random. While the final selection step possesses a random-selection component, every step up to that point reflects the same merit-based ideals Dix assigns to the current college admissions system.
Random-selection hiring processes (or college admissions) will not result in unqualified people filling work positions or college admissions lots.
It will result in the people filling these positions as being more representative of the population from which they are drawn.
The above hiring process is not complicated nor dramatically different from what already occurs in most organizations. The novel addition to the process is Step 5.
If the final set of applicants (Step 4) are highly qualified — and, yes, decisions in Steps 1 through 4 will still include human bias — using random-selection at the last step offers an organization a final line of defense against bad hiring outcomes like that one at CBS News.
Instead of allowing human judgement to bias the entire hiring process, random chance is the final, unbiased judge.
Had CBS News used the random-selection process suggested here, they wouldn’t have faced the criticisms they did from Ocasio-Cortez, et al.
Comments and critiques can be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org
By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; January 27, 2019)
President Donald Trump’s approval rating has entered some dangerous territory if his intention is to get re-elected in 2020.
Since mid-December, near the start of the government shutdown over border wall funding, to today, his average approval rating has witnessed its worst four-week period of decline since the start of his presidency.
Trump’s disapproval number has jumped over four percentage points in just over four weeks (see Figure 1).
Figure 1: Trump presidential job approval
In isolation, this decline would be surmountable. Presidents in the past have experienced similar declines and still won re-election, but what makes Trump’s fall problematic is the low variance in job approval he’s experienced since taking office. In a previous article, I demonstrated the relationship between our country’s growing hyper-partisanship and decreasing variance in presidential job approval. Figure 2 is a graph of this relationship from that article:
Figure 2: Trust in Media and the Variance in Presidential Job Approval
As I wrote then: “As Americans become more partisan and increasingly distrustful of the news media, their opinions become more inflexible regarding the president’s job performance. Why? In the current partisan media environment, Americans are less likely to be exposed to information contradicting their own partisan bias. Without information contradicting their existing view of the president’s job performance, Americans are less likely to change their opinion regarding the president.”
This dynamic poses a significant problem for Trump. If he is to rebuild a winning electoral coalition in 2020, he’ll need a significant percentage of independents and weak partisans to return to the MAGA fold. In the era of hyper-partisan media, however, the evidence says this will be hard to accomplish.
The rule-of-thumb is that an incumbent president’s job approval must be near 50 percent to have a chance at re-election. It’s not a perfect rule, but its seems to work.
Figure 3 (from FiveThirtyEight.com) shows presidential job approval for all U.S. presidents from JFK to now. Both Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush were well under 50 percent approval just prior to losing their re-election bids. In contrast, Obama, Clinton, Reagan, Nixon and LBJ were near or above 50 percent prior to winning re-election. George H.W. Bush is the exception to the rule.
Figure 3: Presidential Job Approval
If the 50-percent-rule holds today, it is difficult — but not impossible — to see how Trump can get re-elected given the erosion of his approval rating since December. He has never experienced an average approval rating over 47 percent, probably the bare minimum needed for re-election, and the path to get there would require a level of sustained approval growth he has yet to achieve.
Through the first two years of the Trump presidency, his longest sustained approval growth occurred between December 2017 and June 2018 when his approval number rose an average of one percentage-point per month. That may represent Trump’s speed limit for any future approval growth. With 21 months until the general election, Trump has more than enough time to regain the public’s support.
However, getting there won’t be easy.
Figure 4 plots the weighted 4-week moving average of Trump’s average spread in job approval (Data from RealClearPolitics.com). This diagnostic plot aims to highlight substantive momentum over noisier short-term changes while still showing the major shocks (‘events’) affecting job approval. The chart’s baseline (zero) is an important threshold as it represents the point above which a president is successfully gaining public approval. Also notable in Figure 4, the color-coded lines represent periods of positive momentum (green), indeterminate periods (yellow) and negative momentum (red).
Figure 4: What moves Trump’s Approval? Momentum and Perturbations
The Trump presidency started in the hole. From the size-of-the-inauguration-crowd controversy, to the worldwide Women’s March, and the administration’s clumsy attempt at implementing a travel ban, Trump was underwater for all but one week during his first three months. In fact, he did not experience three consecutive weeks above the zero-threshold until the aftermath of the Charlottesville protests in August 2017. And his most sustained period of net approval growth occurred during the period leading up to the North Korea summit in June 2018 and the aftermath of the Kavanaugh hearings in the fall of 2018.
The Charlottesville and Kavanaugh periods are interesting because the events themselves were highly partisan and contentious and the media’s coverage was uncommonly negative towards Trump (when isn’t it?).
Both events moved Trump’s approval in a positive and consistent way. But why? The popular assumption is that these events rallied and galvanized Trump’s marginal supporters but did little to help him among independents. The evidence tentatively supports this conclusion.
Among the nine percent of Americans that considered alt-right, neo-Nazi views as acceptable immediately following the Charlottesville protests (according to a Washington Post ABC poll), they were already Trump supporters. The shift in support towards Trump had to come from weak supporters and/or independents.
Likewise, before and after the Kavanaugh hearings, the movement in Kavanaugh’s approval came from shifts among partisans, not so much from independents.
Figure 5: Public approval of Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation
The reaction of New York Times columnist Bret Stephens, once an ardent Never-Trump Republican, may be indicative of the dynamic behind Trump’s approval rise during the Kavanaugh hearings:
“For the first time since Donald Trump entered the political fray, I find myself grateful that he’s in it… I’m grateful because Trump has not backed down in the face of the slipperiness, hypocrisy and dangerous standard-setting deployed by opponents of Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court. I’m grateful because ferocious and even crass obstinacy has its uses in life, and never more so than in the face of sly moral bullying. I’m grateful because he’s a big fat hammer fending off a razor-sharp dagger.
In other words, the potential for Democrats to come across to Americans as bigger a**holes than Donald Trump is Trump’s Hail Mary-path to re-election.
Assuming the White House is tracking these same movements in public approval, is it surprising that Trump continues to focus most of his policy and public actions around conservative red-meat issues such as illegal immigration? Along with the prospect of peace with North Korea, these are the only issues that move needle in his favor.
Unfortunately, by continuously appealing to his base, Trump is doing little to expand beyond them.
It is a strategy doomed to fail.
Yet, Trump’s 2020 campaign manager, Brad Parscale, his 2016 digital campaign guru, continues to publicly claim his candidate is doing well according to their priority metrics going into the 2020 election.
Parscale tweeted in early January 2019:
“Just received my newest voter score tracking from my team. @realDonaldTrump has reached his highest national approval rating since I started tracking,” Parscale said. “The @TheDemocrats have really made a mistake going with their gut over data.”
Color me skeptical.
Parscale insists the public polls favoring Hillary Clinton over Trump prior to the 2016 election have proven their unreliability, as opposed to his internal data, which he claims has been near perfect.
“Our data actually predicted 2016 results within one electoral (vote). In 2018 we predicted the results within a couple house seats and Senate seats perfectly. @realDonaldTrump outperformed in 2018 and we predicted that as well,” Parscale tweeted.
But he is wrong about the inaccuracy of the 2016 national polls. Those polls, just before Election Day, showed that Clinton would win the popular vote by about 2 to 3 percent — which is exactly what happened.
It was the lack of timely state-level polling that deceived the pundits.
As for the 2018 midterms, as demonstrated by my own predictive modelwhich also predicted the House results within one or two seats, Trump DID NOT outperform expectations. The GOP performed as expected. [And, if I may add, my 2018 House prediction was made six months PRIOR to the actual election.]
Despite Parscale’s public optimism, Trump is in very bad shape 21 months out from the 2020 election.
Trump’s long-term trend line in net approval slipped below zero a month before the 2018 midterms and has not since recovered. Indeed, the government shutdown has accelerated this ominous decline.
Can the president recover? If his one percentage-point per month speed limit is accurate, yes, he has a puncher’s chance. But breaking through his 47-percent approval ceiling is more problematic and the early signs are not good.
The lesson of the midterms, in my view, was fairly clear: Trump’s base isn’t enough. The 2018 midterms weren’t unique in the scale of Republican losses: losing 40 or 41 House seats is bad, but the president’s party usually does poorly at the midterms. Rather, it’s that these losses came on exceptionally high turnout of about 119 million voters, which is considerably closer to 2016’s presidential year turnout (139 million) than to the previous midterm in 2014 (83 million). Republicans did turn out in huge numbers for the midterms, but the Democratic base — which is larger than the Republican one — turned out also, and independent voters strongly backed Democratic candidates for the House.
The GOP base is not enough for Trump’s re-election; certainly inadequate if the Democrats maintain their high motivation levels. Short of nominating Hillary Clinton again, almost any fresh-faced Democratic nominee will go into 2020 with higher favorability levels than Trump (I’m not sold on Joe Biden’s apparent reservoir of good feelings among Americans. The reality of a presidential campaign will bring him down substantially).
And unless Trump can once again pull in a winning percentage of weak partisans and independents, he will lose in 2020…bigly.
Comments and critiques can be sent to: email@example.com
By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; January 24, 2019)
When asked by journalist Jorge Ramos about how the U.S. will pay for a Medicare-4-All (M4A) health care system, New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez responded plainly: “ You just pay for it.”
The Fox News-led mockingbirds came out in full force.
Ocasio-Cortez has called for “printing money to pay for her socialist reforms,” said Justin Haskins, the executive editor and research fellow at The Heartland Institute, a pro-free enterprise think tank. “Ocasio-Cortez has suggested the United States create a system of new publicly-owned banks that the government could use to run up the national debt.”
Wait one second. Isn’t running up the national debt how we pay for everything in the first place?
It seems dishonest to suggest the U.S. can’t pay for new social programs on the grounds it will run up the national debt. We are already living in Debtville, USA with our big, shiny bells on.
Isn’t it funny how we always have money to bailout banks, offer generous tax cuts to the Top 1%, and fund trillion dollar military adventures in the Middle East (that never end and are never held accountable by clear performance metrics through which taxpayers can judge their cost effectiveness). The national debt is never a problem then.
If I didn’t know better, I’d think the political establishment only brings out the national debt fear-mongering when someone wants to fund a program that actually helps the majority of people. Something like M4A maybe?
But I don’t want to be too cynical. It is possible our chickens will come home to roost and, if we add substantially more debt to our existing pile, we might experience that economic Armageddon Ross Perot once warned us about.
Maybe the U.S. debt is like that very large man from Monty Python’s Meaning of Life. Perhaps that next dollar of debt will be the last our economy can withstand. Oh sir, its only wafer thin. Just…just one? Alright.
It is possible the debt really matters?
In the near-term, however, the U.S. government is not on the brink of default our economy is still strong, and we are the safest investment bet in the world.
But, do we fully understand what our national debt and annual budget deficits do to our long-term economic prospects?
So far, the budget hawks’ admonishments on these debts have been proven wrong.
Is it possible the national debt and deficit spending don’t really matter? Not a new thought at all. But isn’t now the time to settle the question? If the climate change is the existential crisis many believe it to be, we must understand the impact of additional debt on the U.S. economy, if there is any.
As the cornerstone of the progressive movement’s political agenda, M4A is a nice jumping off point (…a bad choice of words…) for such a discussion
What will M4A cost?
According to one study produced by a university-based libertarian policy center, M4A, the centerpiece of Senator Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign, would cost $32.6 trillion over the first 10 years of implementation.
In explaining the “unprecedented strain” M4A would place on the federal budget, the study’s author, Charles Blahous, aptly noted that the “federal government would become responsible for financing nearly all current national health care spending, including individual private insurance and state spending.”
Stop right there. Framing is everything when discussing the U.S. health care system, so let us give the $32.6 trillion estimate some context.
In 2016, there were about 27.3 million people without health insurance coverage, according to the U.S. Census American Community Survey. This doesn’t include the number of underinsured Americans.
Using the most optimistic health cost inflation assumptions, under our current health care system we will spend $37.5 trillion on health care over the next 10 years. Under the health care status quo, that is what the U.S. will spend for a system that leaves almost 9 percent of the population uninsured.
In contrast, using cost estimates from M4A critics, the U.S. would spend only $32.6 trillion over those 10 years, on a system that would cover all Americans. Their numbers, not mine.
Wait a second. Can that be right? A potential $5 trillion savings if we move to a M4A system? A lot of assumptions would need to be realized, but generally, M4A could save this country trillions of dollars over 10 years.
But the bigger and more defensible point is that M4A will not be anymore expensive than the incoherent, clunky health care system we have now.
It’s the dirty little secret that even the most Democrat-leaning news organizations quickly gloss right over when covering the debate over M4A.
“There are a lot of ways to think about $32 trillion — and one might be that it’s actually kind of a bargain,” wrote Vox’ Dylan Scott soon after the release of the Blahous study.
It is hard to get excited about something that is “kind of a bargain.”
Our current health care system is broken
Few economic sectors have such a clean metric upon which to assess outcome success as does the health care industry. How long do people in your country live? The U.S. does not do well on this measure.
The only conclusion one can draw from the cross-national data is that American doctors are over-paid given their level of service delivery.
Among the world’s 44 most advanced economies, the U.S. ranks 29th in life expectancy, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. This comparison is not data-massaging. It’s a cold, hard fact that the U.S., even with the passage of Obamacare, has failed to comprehensively address.
Well, maybe Americans don’t live as long, but perhaps Americans don’t spend as much on health care as those socialist welfare states in Europe? Of course, we know that is not true. The U.S. spends nearly twice as much on health care (as a percent of the total economy) as other advanced economies, according to Kaiser Foundation researchers Bradley Sawyer and Cynthia Cox.
Figure 1: Health consumption expenditures as percent of GDP (1970–2017)
Another canard also pushed out regarding M4A by the national media, both left and right, is this one:
“(M4A) is a complete Washington takeover of America’s health care system,” claims Wyoming Senator John Barrasso, M.D.
In truth, M4A is the government takeover of the private insurance industry. Doctors, hospitals, drug companies and medical equipment manufacturers would remain very much in the private sector, the veteran health care system not withstanding. Under M4A, the government pays health care providers for services rendered, just as the national and state governments already do under Medicare and Medicaid.
But there are many questions and assumptions still unanswered by M4A advocates…
Is M4A a unicorn riding on a pixie dust rainbow?
The potential cost savings from M4A depend on three critical factors: (1) Reduced reimbursement rates to health care providers, (2) Reduced administrative costs, and (3) Lower drug costs.
M4A critics contend these assumptions are untenable. For the sake of brevity, let us just address the first factor, as it is probably the most difficult challenge.
In Sanders’ version of M4A, the biggest assumption concerns reimbursement rates. In his plan, M4A payment rates are assumed to be roughly 40 percent lower than those paid by private insurers. That is, in effect, a revenue and pay cut for every hospital, doctor, nurse, and nurse’a aide in the country.
In our current hybrid health care system, both private and public, when a doctor treats a Medicare patient or an uninsured individual uses an emergency room, those reduced reimbursements are shifted to private, insured patients. Though there are various versions of M4A, the ability of physicians and hospitals to use cost-shifting to lift their incomes would be limited under these reforms.
It is hard to imagine how the physician community would react to any version of M4A. By temperament and training, most physicians might continue to provide care health care to those that need it, even with a significant pay cut. And there will be tough questions about how medical specialties, such as cardiac surgeons, would need differential treatment under M4A? Any government attempt to alter compensation differentials in the medical profession could have a significant impact on whether medical students choose general practice instead of higher-paying specialties.
If hospitals close due to M4A, will these hospitals be replaced by new ones with different cost structures that are financially sustainable?
With potentially lower reimbursement rates, some doctors will quit and some hospitals will close. And though some of those doctors will be replaced by doctors willing to work at lower rates and new hospitals will open with business models that better contain costs, these questions will still need answers before M4A becomes reality.
M4A critics ask tough questions about what will happen under M4A. Yet, these same critics discount the power of the American free enterprise system to address the inevitable gaps, flaws and inequities that will arise when M4A is implemented. If capitalism does one thing well, it identifies unmet demand and exploits it for private gain. Why wouldn’t that happen under an M4A system?
Still, some fear any diminution of the medical profession under M4A will create a higher propensity for lower-quality doctors to emerge. But do we know that will happen? Even with a 40 percent pay cut, doctors will still be making elite incomes.
What evidence suggests the marginal decrease in physician incomes will lower the quality of the physician pool under M4A?
No such evidence exists.
Still, M4A critics will offer up other doomsday predictions, such as:
The arrows slung at M4A could just as easily be directed at the current U.S. health care system — a private playground that protects the profit margins for special interests such as pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, medical equipment companies, and physician lobbyists. Democrats and Republicans, alike, gladly take campaign donations from special interests with the explicit expectation that they will not let Congress undermine the current health care business models.
That is how the system works, for better or worse.
M4A advocates have not answered the big questions
The most recent public opinion poll on M4A sponsored by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation shows a majority of Americans (56%) support M4A, at least in principle.
But as someone that has worked with public opinion data his entire career, those numbers are more reflections of recent media dialogues on the subject than predictors of future support. Until a real plan is elucidated and put before the American people, favorable public opinion is a thin reed to lean on.
For M4A to become an actual public policy, important questions need to answered. Questions such as:
(1) When health care access becomes universal, what will happen to utilization rates? People that currently ration their health care will suddenly have affordable access to it. What will that do to cost and delivery models? Demand load will certainly change under M4A and cost estimates will need to realistically account for this.
(2) Similar to the effect of lower reimbursement rates for physicians and hospitals, will presumed reductions in drug and medical equipment costs (which are revenues from the corporate perspective) reduce the incentives for private research and development?
But even these two questions are predicated on understanding the costs associated with M4A. This political obsession with costs may be submerging the more important questions, such as from SUNY-Stony Brook economist Stephanie Kelton, who, if you haven’t heard of her or the Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) she helped pioneer, you will soon enough.
On Twitter recently, she asked a simple question about M4A: What happens to output and employment if we spend substantially less on healthcare *and* we raise taxes to “pay for” it?
M4A, by intent, takes 18 percent of the U.S. economy and aims to shrink it (while providing broader health care service). When the economy gets smaller, it is called a ‘recession’. Will there be an M4A recession? If so, how deep and how long?
The U.S. built its health care system around an employer-based, private insurance model. That goes away under M4A. Companies will be happy, potentially, with no longer administering employee health care benefits. Will they layoff the human resource employees dedicated to employee health insurance? Why wouldn’t they?
How does a country eliminate an entire industry — the private health insurance industry? Do all or some of their employees get rolled into Medicare’s administrative payroll? How is that choice made and who makes it? What will be the aggregate effect on U.S. employment?
Once companies and households presumably save a lot of money under this new health care system, what will they do with it? Spend it on something else? Save it? Blow it?
Will the short-term costs of transitioning to M4A be more than compensated by a long-term investment in other economic activities?
By focusing on how we will pay for M4A, we ignore the more important debates on the goals, fairness and morality of the various health care delivery models. Independent of the costs, what should a ‘good’ health care system look like?
If Modern Monetary Theory is correct, the money will be there if, in the legislative process, a good health care system is designed and put into place.
Has Modern Monetary Theory made, once again, the Democrats the party of big ideas?
I am not an economist and will never claim to understand the difference between Keynesian and neo-Keynesian economics or what an IS-LM model tells us about interest rates and assets markets.
All I ask from economists is that they can tell me what I’ll pay for gasoline and milk next month and if my health insurance premiums will go up again.
So, if you want to learn about Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), don’t look at me. You are better off going here, here and here. And if you want a quick counterpoint argument to MMT, ZeroHedge.com offers mean-spirited ones here and here. And for auditory learners, here is Prof. Kelton’s recent appearance on the Jimmy Dore Show: [Video]
Modern Monetary Theory recognizes that the government has infinite capacity to spend and that the constraint on spending is always inflation never insolvency. One of the many myths that crop up about MMT is that it allows an infinite size deficit. This is false. MMT has always stated that the limit to spending are the real resources available. This is just another way of saying spending can be inflationary.
The current orthodox view explains the Government Budget Constraint(GBC) this way:
Fiscal deficit = Government spending + Government interest payments – Tax receipts must equal (be “financed” by) a change in Bonds (B) and/or a change in high powered money (H)
The current orthodox view is that the GBC must be financed by printing money and/or borrowing money from the public. In contrast, the Modern Monetary Theory view is that a currency issuer can issue currency and bonds and the GBC is just an accounting identity. It is nothing to worry about.
I live by the rule: If I don’t understand something, I must reject it. And that is where I am at with MMT right now.
For one, I am drawn to ZeroHedge’s criticism: “Since under MMT the central bank is responsible for financing government programs through printing money, it falls to the institution with authority over tax and budget policy — the U.S. Congress — to make sure prices are stable by raising taxes and moving the budget deficit into surplus.”
“But it is extremely difficult to imagine Congress responding to an overheating economy by legislating tax increases. If anything, the opposite is easier to imagine: When households are being hit with price increases, the natural inclination of an elected representative might be to increase their disposable income by lowering taxes, not raising them.”
According to MMT, however, the Federal Reserve will still be able to use interest rates to attack high inflation, along with Congress’ ability to raise taxes or impose price controls. So, ZeroHedge may have set up a straw man version of MMT for its criticisms.
My non-economist reading of MMT is more basic. For one, it feels more descriptive than theoretical. MMT offers (perhaps) a more realistic lens through which to describe how the economy actually works. We’ve been told large government budget deficits increase interest rates (which then crowds out private investment). However, economic studies show a limited — but non-zero — connection between budget deficits and interest rates in the U.S. (Two summaries of this connection can be found here and here).
Though a healthy skepticism towards MMT’s leniency towards large and growing budget deficits is in order, it does appear (at least in the U.S.) as if MMT maps well to the government budget deficits and low-inflation economic growth we’ve experienced in our nation’s recent history.
My lingering reservations towards MMT aside, I can’t ignore how this theory has energized idea generation, particularly among progressive Democrats. Medicare-for-All, a Jobs Guarantee program, and a Green New Deal are all ideas that could (literally) change the world.
Not so fast…there is still the problem of the Democratic Party establishment
Three House Democrats — Tulsi Gabbard, Ro Khanna and Ocasio-Cortez — voted against Nancy Pelosi’s House rules package that included the PAYGO rule — which states that new expenditures can only be financed with funds that are currently available rather than borrowed.
That is the absolute antithesis of MMT.
Sure, the PAYGO rule can be waived, but guess who controls that decision? Nancy Pelosi.
For all of the ideas bubbling within the Democrat’s progressive caucus, none of them will see the light of day under the party’s current leadership.
But the post-Reagan political equilibrium has eroded and the country is at a pivot point. This nation will either step back from real change or decide to embrace it. Whatever happens in 2020, it will not be an easy decision, regardless of who sits in the White House, to choose the unknown over the status quo’s certitude.
But ideas are back, replacing the tortuous triangulations and gaslighting methods politicians have mastered when discussing policy in public over the past 25 years.
Wiffle-waffling politi-speak is out.
The Democrats of the 80s were devoid of ideas. They were just anti-Reagan and didn’t want to be associated with Jimmy Carter. There were no FDRs or LBJs — instead, they had Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis.
The Republicans had the big ideas: Cut taxes and reduce government regulations to spur investment and growth. Break the power of unions and their influence on wages. Privatize government functions. Confront the Soviets by outspending them.
Democrats were so happy when Bill Clinton, a Democrat, finally put them back in the White House, they looked the other way when his brand of neoliberalism proved to be nothing less than a complete capitulation to the anti-government, free market idolatry of the Reagan years.
He was a Democrat. That’s all that mattered. As for ideas? Clinton farmed that task out to the Wall Street investment banks.
It worked for him. Not even ten years out from his presidency, Bill and Hillary were already quarter-billionaires with dreams of even greater power and wealth once Hillary finished out her eight-year presidential term.
As for ideas? Bill Clinton talked a lot. He sounded like he knew stuff. But I believe the motto shared by Bill and Hillary Clinton was: Just win baby— ideas are for losers. It worked for them, for awhile.
But times have changed. Ideas matter again.
Big ideas supported by core beliefs and principles that can be clearly stated are the new thing. Puffy and vague stump speech platitudes can’t compete.
With Bernie Sanders, Tulsi Gabbard, Ro Khanna, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, big ideas are back — but maybe this time its the Republicans playing catch-up.
Comments and critiques can be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org
By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; January 23, 2019)
President Donald Trump has pinned the argument for building a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border on the existence of an immediate and worsening crisis.
“There is a humanitarian and security crisis on our southern border that requires urgent action,” said President Trump during his January 8th Oval Office address.
As for evidence, President Trump used his speech to focus on drugs, crime and human trafficking: “Thousands of children are being exploited by ruthless ‘coyotes’ and vicious cartels and gangs…Every week, 300 of our citizens are killed by heroin alone, 90 percent of which floods across our southern border…In the last two years, ICE officers made 266,000 arrests of aliens with criminal records.”
“The crisis is not going away,” the Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen tweeted after President Trump’s speech. “It is getting worse.”
Coming out of the speech, the Trump administration’s latest argument for the ‘Wall’ almost entirely ignores actual illegal immigration numbers — because if it did, the facts would not support the ‘crisis’ argument.
Southwest Border Apprehensions are a Proxy for Illegal Immigration
No single statistic can capture the myriad and complexity of issues underlying illegal immigration into the U.S. For one, most illegal immigrants do not travel across our Southwest border.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) reported in August 2018 that “there were 52,656,022 in-scope non-immigrant admissions to the United States through air or sea Ports of Entry (POEs) with expected departures occurring in FY 2017; the in-scope admissions represent the vast majority of all air and sea non-immigrant admissions.”
Among those in-scope admissions, DHS determined there was an overstay rate of 1.33 percent, or 701,900 overstay events. In comparison, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reported there were 303,916 Southwest border apprehensions in that same period.
Border apprehensions covary with broader national immigration trends even if they don’t account for every case of illegal immigration.
To be sure, as an endogenous function of three broad forces — immigration enforcement effort, attempted illegal entries, and the availability of alternative paths for illegal entry —the border apprehensions series is a biased volumetric estimate of total illegal immigration.
Nonetheless, with statistical adjustments, researchers still use it as an instrument for assessing illegal immigration over time because it tracks closely with periods in U.S. history when illegal immigration was known to be high (e.g., mid 1980s and late 1990s; see Figure 1 below).
As to the question posed earlier in this essay — is there an immigration crisis in the U.S. today? — if we look at Southwest border apprehensions as a proxy for illegal immigration overall, the U.S. is experiencing levels today comparable to the early 1970s, a time when illegal immigration did not register as an important issue among Americans.
Evident about Southwest border apprehensions is that it has varied significantly in the last 55 years and most of that variation appears related to economic conditions, immigration policy changes, and periods of strong immigration enforcement efforts.
An Historical Perspective
As he signed the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), the country’s most impactful immigration legislation in the last 50 years, President Lyndon Johnson remarked:
“This bill we sign today is not a revolutionary bill. It does not affect the lives of millions. It will not restructure the shape of our daily lives.”
He was wrong on all three counts.
The INA was revolutionary, it affected millions of lives, and it fundamentally restructured American life through its impact on illegal immigration into the U.S.
The INA eliminated national origin, race, and ancestry as the basis for immigration.
When the INA took affect in 1968 until 1986, the year the INA was supplanted by the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), Southwest border apprehensions increased from 96,641 to 1,615,844 per year. In relative terms, apprehensions went from the equivalent of 0.1 percent to 0.7 percent of the U.S.population.
After enactment of the IRCA, apprehensions dropped significantly, only to rebound to near all-time highs in the mid and late 1990s as the American economy rebounded from the 1990–91 recession.
With the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, however, border security enforcement once again became a salient issue with policy makers, and apprehension numbers fell accordingly.
Figure 1: The Five Era’s Defining Illegal Immigration into the U.S. since 1960
Figure 1 shows that year-to-year fluctuations in Southwest border apprehensions (the red-dashed line) can be divided into five distinct eras:
(1) The 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act–era (Policy) — a period when national-origin quotas were repealed, and a visa system for family reunification and skills was initiated.
(2) The Reagan Economic Boom-era (Economics) — a period when U.S. employers’ demand for low-wage, low-skill workers increased substantially
(3) The IRCA-era (Policy) — a reaction to the rapid influx of low-wage workers from Mexico and Central America in which laws were enacted to sanction companies for knowingly hiring illegal aliens. The IRCA also provided amnesty to illegal aliens already living in the U.S.
(4) The Clinton Economic Boom-era(Economics) — another period of increased illegal immigration concurrent with a fast growing U.S. economy and a high demand for low-wage workers.
(5) Post-9/11-era (Enforcement) — the most recent period marked by enhanced enforcement of U.S. borders (not just the Southwest border) on the basis of national security. This period has witnessed a prolonged and steady decline of Southwest border apprehensions up through 2017.
These five eras appear to account for most of the variation in Southwest border apprehensions.
Still, it is unclear if the U.S. is facing an illegal immigration crisis today that warrants the investment into a physical barrier. In fact, history suggests the U.S. is not facing an existential crisis related to illegal immigration, but instead is suffering the aftermath of years under ineffective immigration legislation.
Suspect number one is the 1986 IRCA.
The IRCA was a law designed to stop illegal immigration while at the same time legitimizing those who had entered the U.S. illegally prior to 1986.
“The mass legalization of then-illegal immigrants was traded for the promise that a new program of employer sanctions would destroy the incentive for further mass immigration. That hope proved vain; but if it had never been entertained, IRCA would never have passed,” wrote author Jack Miles in The Atlantic eight years after President Ronald Reagan signed IRCA into law.
Immediately after IRCA become law, there was a significant drop in border apprehensions as illegal immigration enforcement increased and companies dependent on undocumented immigrants had to adjust to the new realities imposed by IRCA. This transition period lasted no more than three years.
In reality, few companies were ever sanctioned for hiring illegal immigrants and, after the initial dip, Southwest border apprehensions rose steadily between 1989 and 2001.
In this time, a surge in what would be labeled ‘McJobs’ became evident. These were low-wage, relatively low-skill jobs required to maintain basic economic necessities — such as food-chain delivery, construction, sanitation, security, etc. — as the U.S. economy transitioned from a manufacturing-based to a service-based economy.
The Bill Clinton presidency offered optimism for working-class Americans during this transition, but planted instead the seeds of economic inequalitywe live with today. The cheap and plentiful supply of labor provided by undocumented immigrants was critical to this transition.
However, with the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. in 2001, the American immigration conversation, previously centered on economics, turned its focus to stopping potential terrorists from entering the country.
As such, no new law was needed to reduce the influx of illegal immigrants. Instead, the ramping up of border enforcement defined the period from FY2001 to FY2011. In that time, the number of border agents along the Southwest border rose from 9,239 to 21,444 agents — a 132 percent increase.
Concurrently, the number of Southwest border apprehensions declined by 65 percent. Whether this decline was the result of a deterrent effect is difficult to assert given that border apprehensions had been already declining between FY2000 and FY2001. Nonetheless, the decline in border apprehensions since 2000 has occurred sans any new legislation and there is no disputing that CBP enforcement efforts have risen in this same period.
But U.S. immigration levels are not solely a function of public policy or aggressive enforcement. The relative strength of the U.S. economy vis-a-vis the Mexican economy has also been a powerful determinant border apprehensions (see Figure 2).
Figure 2: Relative Economic Conditions between U.S. and Mexico are Related to Southwest Border Apprehensions
In the above chart, the years in the lower left-hand quadrant (relatively strong Mexican economy / fewer Southwest border apprehensions) are predominately during U.S. recessions (1969–70, 1973–75, 1980, 1981–82), while the years in the upper right-hand quadrant (relatively strong U.S. economy / more apprehensions) are from strong U.S. economic growth periods.
Explaining Southwest Border Apprehensions
Economics, immigration policy, and enforcement are the primary drivers of border apprehensions. But, relatively speaking, is one factor more important than the others or are they similar in their influence?
(Note: Crime, personal security and political oppression are also potential drivers of border apprehensions, but in the time period for the following analysis — 1960 to 2017 — I could not find a reliable measure on these factors that also correlated strongly with border apprehensions. These factors may still be, and probably are, relevant.).
To answer these questions, I obtained annual apprehension data from the CBP from 1960 to 2017 and merged it with macroeconomic data for Mexico, U.S., El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua over the same time frame. Many variables and models were tested, but only the following were used to obtain the results in Figure 3.
Dependent variable: Number of annual SW border apprehensions (relative to the size of the U.S. population) (Variable name: SWB_APPS_AS_PCT_POP).
Gap in the leading economic indicator growth (4-year moving average) between the U.S. and Mexico (positive values indicate U.S. has healthier economy than Mexico) (Variable name: GAP).
Step intervention variables for the 1986 IRCA, the 1965 INA and the 9/11 terrorist attacks where the years prior to the intervention are coded ‘0’ and ‘1’ for the year during and years after the intervention (Variable names: Reform1986, INA and Nine11).
Temporary intervention variable for the three years (1986–88) during which U.S. businesses transitioned to the new immigrant hiring rules established by the 1986 IRCA (Variable name: Reform1986_TRANSITION).
Time counter where ‘0’ equals 1960, ‘1’ equals 1961, etc. (Variable name: TIME).
Indicator variables for the Reagan and Clinton administrations where ‘0’ equals ‘No’ and ‘1’ equals‘Yes’ (Variable names: REAGAN, CLINTON).
Interaction variables for GAP and INA, GAP and Reform1986, and Nine11and TIME (Variable names: GAP_INA, GAP_Reform1986 and Nine11_TIME).
A more thorough interpretation of the linear model estimation results (AR1corrected using the Cochrane-Orcutt procedure) is available upon request (send email to: email@example.com).
However, the summary findings are still instructive.
Almost half of the variance in Southwest border apprehensions is accounted for by the linear model (adj. R-squared = 0.49). While not all of the variables achieved statistical significance, the relationships were in the expected direction.
Figure 3: Economics, Policy and Enforcement Drive Southwest Border Apprehensions
Using standardized coefficients (not shown in Figure 3) for comparisons of the independent variables, it is apparent that the importance of economic factors have varied over time, being most predictive of apprehensions during the INA-era (1965 to 1985). However, apart from the Clinton administration years, periods of relative economic strength in the U.S. after 1985 are not as predictive of border apprehensions as expected by theory and the research literature.
Why? It could be that IRCA, with its threat of sanctions on companies hiring illegal immigrants, altered the dynamic between the U.S. and Mexican economies and illegal immigration. However. few companies have ever been sanctioned under IRCA and it is doubtful that such sanctions would change the incentives for Mexican and Central American migrant workers thinking about attempting illegal entry into the U.S.
Instead, the variability of the Mexican economy since 1960 seems a more likely suspect (see Figure 4). There was significant variation in Mexico’s GDP growth between 1982 and 1995 with the Mexican economy shrinking by around 30 percent in 1982, 1986, and 1995. At the same time, there was significant growth in between those years. Such extreme variation could make individuals and families less likely to pull up roots and make the trek to the U.S. Whereas, in the 1960s and 1970s, when Mexican GDP growth was generally positive and stable, long-term decisions were perhaps easier to make.
Figure 4: Mexico’s Annual GDP Growth since 1960
Changes in the U.S. economy could also be playing a factor in the reduced importance of economic factors on border apprehensions (see Figure 5). The high growth periods of the 1960s and 1980s have been replaced with longer periods of slower growth in the U.S. economy. This change could be, again, altering the decision calculus among potential immigrants.
Other factors in the linear model showing a significant relationship to border apprehensions are the years following the 9/11 attacks (a negative relationship) and the transition years immediately after passage of the 1986 IRCA (also a negative relationship).
Significant variation remains unexplained by our linear model and, admittedly, incentives for asylum seekers and political refugees to make the trek to the U.S. are not explicitly represented among the variables tested.
Still, the original intent of this essay was to add some comparative context to illegal immigration in order to assess the validity of President Trump’s claim that the U.S. is “facing a crisis on the southern border.”
This claim is simply hard to justify given the trends in the aggregate data. Unquestionably, there are too many individual cases of human trafficking, drug smuggling, and inter-border gang movements to say there is not an illegal immigration problem.
But are these types of illegal acts associated today with historically high levels of illegal immigration along our Southwestern border? The answer is an emphatic ‘No.’
Comments and critiques can be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Figure 1: Public opinion on gender differences in political leadership
Why is the number of GOP women in the U.S. House dropping?
Perry Bacon Jr. from FiveThirtyEight.com highlighted last year some of the barriers preventing more Republican women from winning elections and staying in office, not the least of which is that Republican women tend to be more moderate (or are perceived to be more moderate) than their Republican male counterparts. And as Republican voters have drifted right ideologically, women Republicans have found it more difficult to survive the nomination process. Likewise, a significant percentage of incumbent Republican women (usually moderates) have voluntarily left office knowing their re-election chances were increasingly doubtful.
Other possible reasons for the GOP’s lack of elected women include:
(1) The Democrats being viewed as the party of women’s rights,
While all of the barriers are potentially true, they do not dictate that Republican women will vanish from the political landscape.
Successful parties adjust to changing electorates. The Democrats moved to the right under Bill Clinton and the Republicans will inevitably adjust in the current political environment.
And even if the Republicans don’t move towards the center, its not like there aren’t strong conservative women out there capable of running for Congress. This is not a supply problem. The GOP has an old, white men leadership problem.
What holds the Republican Party back from nominating more women is a Republican hierarchy that fails to appreciate the competitive necessity of introducing more diversity into the party’s primary races.
To be sure, simply nominating women is not, in and of itself, a solution to the GOP’s gender (and diversity) problem. For the sake of argument, let us assume in the 2018 midterms the GOP had nominated a woman in races where there was a male nominee,And assume also that this would have added one percent to the GOP’s vote total in those races. Across the 435 U.S. House races in the 2018 midterms, that would have changed the outcome in the GOP’s favor in only six House races (CA21, FL26, ME2, NJ3, OK5, VA7).
New York Representative Elise Stefanik calls the GOP gender problem a “crisis”
Former head of candidate recruitment for the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, resigned from that position after the 2018 midterms out of frustration that the Republican Party, by policy, does not get involved in the primary process (unlike the Democrats).
Stefanik will instead work through her leadership PAC to recruit, train and cultivate women GOP candidates during the primary races.
“If that’s what Elise wants to do, then that’s her call, her right,” NRCC chairman Tom Emmer (R-MN) told Roll Call last November. “But I think that’s a mistake. It shouldn’t be just based on looking for a specific set of ingredients — gender, race, religion — and then we’re going to play in the primary.”
But Republican leaders like Emmer, thinking Stefanik’s efforts represent a capitulation to identity politics, are actually ensuring identity politics’ role in electoral politics.
For Republicans, the first line of defense in combating the divisiveness of identity politics is to have leaders drawn from all backgrounds. Now is not the time to become more white and more male.
Just as Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi cannot be the face of the Democratic Party much longer, Mitch McConnell and Lindsay Graham cannot be the brand leaders for the Republicans anymore.
Nikki Haley. Mia Love. Joni Ernst. Elise Stefanik. Kristi Noem. Kirstjen Nielsen. Kim Reynolds. The talent pool is out there for the Republicans. Seek their counsel. Learn from them. Put them in leadership positions so they are part of the GOP’s public face.
And it’s not about gender or youth. Bernie Sanders is not young yet still relevant. It is about fitting in and being able to lead within the current zeitgeist.
And this environment trends female and puts a premium on empathy, trust and honesty. And that does not necessitate the systematic exclusion of men, who are fully capable of such qualities. But it does mean the Republican Party must address its gender crisis.
A little over a week ago I caught up on some YouTube podcasts to which I subscribe. One of my favorite podcasts — along with The Jimmy Dore Show and the CrazyRussianHacker) — is MoFreedomFoundation, a channel (and website) started by author Robert Morris dedicated to current affairs, international politics and ‘pro-sanity propaganda.’
“We promise to do a better job covering these issues than any cable news channel” is the MoFreedomFoundation’s pledge.
Not hard to do, unfortunately.
Morris’ latest podcast — “Islamic Terrorism is Over” — was particularly interesting and inspired me to do a quick data analysis to see if I could confirm (at least tentatively) his central hypothesis:
Since 2014, as oil prices have declined, the financial sponsors of terrorism — oil-rich Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia and UAE — have seen their cash reserves decline and have therefore had less to use for funding terrorist activities (e.g., ISIS).
Here is the MoFreedomFoundation podcast spelling out that hypothesis and the empirical data supporting it:
“Almost three years ago I predicted that due to falling oil prices radical Islamic terrorism would quickly start to fade away — and that is exactly what happened,” starts Morris. “It was always Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states that funded all that death and destruction. Now that they have less spare money, everybody else gets less.”
As Morris points out, this is not a thesis heard too often in the mainstream news media. Why?
“Every media and government organization in the world profits from fear and they really don’t want to document the fact that one of the biggest justifications for their budgets is in the process of disappearing.”
In fairness, I have heard or read this argument a few times recently within the climate change activist community where a number of researchers and journalists are using the link between oil money and terrorism to justify a more rapid transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.
Author Nathan Taft, from the Fuel Freedom Foundation, writes: “When you pay at the pump, your hard-earned cash isn’t just going to oil companies — it also fills the pockets of terrorists and hostile regimes that harbor dangerous ideologies.”
There you go. When you fill up the Volvo, you aren’t just preparing for a two-hour drive to Aunt Velma’s, you’re helping finance the car bomb industry — in case you need another good reason not to visit Aunt Velma.
When ISIS controlled meaningful amounts of territory, it also controlled oil and gas fields, where it was able to generate significant revenues for their activities.
But we know from leaked U.S. State Department documents from 2009 that Saudi Arabia was — and likely still is — the “world’s largest source of funds for Islamist militant groups such as the Afghan Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba.”
According to the report signed by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, “Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.” The report also identifies Qatar, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as other significant sources of terrorism funding.
Keep in mind, the Saudi incentive for much of its terrorism funding is in keeping Iran’s hands full. ISIS was causing Iran to bleed resources in order to keep afloat the Bashar al Assad regime, one of the few Iranian allies in the region. Likewise, ongoing Saudi support for Islamist militants in Yemen fighting Houthi (Shia) forces compels Iran to dedicate resources to that war than they might otherwise prefer to use elsewhere.
[There is actually little evidence that Iran has a major financial or military commitment in Yemen. At least, nothing compared to what Saudi Arabia and UAE are committing.]
Morris describes the website well: “TheReligionOfPeace.com website claims to provide a comprehensive list of terror attacks across the world, (though) the vast majority of the incidents come from active war zones like Iraq Syria and Afghanistan.”
The website is “one of the most bigoted and anti-Islamic news sources you can find,” concludes Morris.
Yet, oddly enough, the TROP database strongly correlates with the terrorism death and incident counts in the GTD. Therefore, for this brief analytic exercise, I felt comfortable sticking with the TROP data.
Figure 1: GTD Terrorist Incident and Death Counts since 1970
Along with the TROP database on terrorism deaths, I obtained oil price data (and other economic data) from the online data repository (FRED) maintained by the Federal Reserve (St. Louis). Figure 2 shows the terrorism death counts and oil prices (West Texas Intermediate Price Index, 1994 = 100).
Figure 2: Terrorism Deaths and the Price of Oil (2002 to 2018)
Like the GTD database, TROP shows three terrorism-related death spikes from 2001 to 2018 (blue line). The first, of course, is 9–11 (on the far left of the chart). The second is prior to and during the 2006 Iraq War surge. And the third spike occurs with the rise of ISIS in Syria starting in 2014.
The red line shows how oil prices have varied since 2002. They rose rapidly and consistently immediately after 9–11 and peaked right before the 2008 world financial crisis. Prices fell to near 2002 levels, but recovered over half of its losses from the financial crisis by the Autumn of 2014, only to decline again to near 2002 levels (in constant terms) by early 2016. Oil prices had been recovering since then, but have fallen precipitously since October 2018.
Sometimes the eyeball test is all you need. And, in this case, it helps but isn’t quite enough. What jumps out to me are three distinct periods where terrorism deaths and oil prices appear tightly (and positively) linked.
The first is from early 2002 to July 2007. After that, the two series move in opposite directions from late 2007 until late 2010, when they start moving in the same direction again. As ISIS became a significant factor in Syria in mid-2014, an extreme spike in terrorism deaths occurs and is not reflected in oil prices. However, after the initial noise generated by ISIS, around late 2014 the two series move in a strong lock-step fashion until late 2015.
To more formally test the relationship between terrorism deaths and oil prices, I estimated a simple linear regression model (I also tested a Poisson regression model — which is more appropriate for count data — and found similar results to the linear model. For simplicity of interpretation, I am reporting the linear model here).
Along with oil prices, I included statistical controls for serial autocorrelation (terrorism deaths lagged by one time period) and the expected impact a strong world economy might also have on the cash reserves of oil-producing Gulf states. Though originally collected at the monthly level, the data in the following model are at the quarterly level.
Other variables tested but found to be insignificant predictors of worldwide terrorism deaths were: Number of U.S. Troops Deployed to Iraq/Afghanistan/Syria, OPEC Oil Production, OPEC Oil Supply, U.S. Dollar Value Index and U.S. DoD Terrorism/War-related Budget.
Methodological Note: Including a lagged dependent variable, as I did, can sometimes soak up significant explanatory variance causing other independent variables, that may be still be significant predictors of terrorism deaths, appear insignificant. For the exercise here, however, I was comfortable with that risk given that oil prices remained statistically significant across the various tested models despite the presence of the lagged dependent variable. I am therefore confident in saying: “Oil prices and terrorism deaths are significantly and positively related (in this time period).”
The linear model tested was a follows:
The parameter estimates and statistical tests shown in Figure 3 were generated in the SPSS software package. The ‘Model Summary’ table indicates 74 percent of the variance in terrorism deaths can be accounted through our simple three-variable model. Not bad.
The third tables shows the parameter estimates and indicates that the oil price variable (WTI PRICE INDEX lagged 4 quarters) is significantly and positively related to terrorism deaths (b = 2.27, p = 0.028). In other words, for every 1-point increase in the WTI crude oil price index, there are 2.27 additional terrorism deaths per quarter. Keep in mind that the WTI Oil Price Index ranged between roughly 100 and 1000 points during this period with a standard deviation of 172. A one-standard-deviation increase in oil prices therefore could result in 390 additional terrorism deaths.
Also note that lag structure for oil prices. Apparently, it takes four quarters (one year) for an oil price level to impact terrorism deaths, suggesting this is the length of time between a decision to sell oil assets, distribute funds to militant groups, and operational activities by the militant groups.
Figure 3: SPSS-generated linear model estimates
Do we really believe oil prices are closely linked to terrorism levels?
Honestly, I was very skeptical going into this statistical exercise, despite the strong anecdotal evidence (such as the 2009 U.S. State Department Report) and the visual evidence from the time-series charts.
I still believe the relationship is more complicated than oil price and the amount of discretionary money in Saudi pockets. For one, while the Saudis are still almost entirely dependent on the sale of oil for their cash reserves, there are other investments in their portfolio (which is why I included worldwide GDP growth in the model).
Geopolitical strategic interests, independent of oil prices, also drive Saudi money (and the money of other oil-producing Gulf states) into the bank accounts of Islamic militants.
The Saudi’s still perceive Iran to be its biggest strategic threat and, for that reason, a better specified model explaining terrorism deaths should include year-to-year measures of the intensity of the Saudi-Iranian conflict. I this exercise I have not accounted for that major factor.
There is also a religious/ideological component to terrorism that is not considered here. As long as seemingly permanent U.S. military bases are sprinkled all over the Arabian peninsula, including the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the region will be an incubator of anti-West militancy.
Still, there is no doubt in my mind that stagnant and falling oil prices are hurting Islamic militant organizations and I believe there is sufficient evidence, quantitative and qualitative, to support that conclusion.
If oil prices should rise again (and they will, at least until we stop using so much cheap Middle East oil), will terrorism rebound?
If Morris is correct, the U.S. military and security establishment is skeptical of terrorism’s resurgence moving forward:
“Almost two decades the Department of Defense and its enablers have been focused on Islamic terrorism. For years the metastasized military-industrial complex sent tons of money and personnel sloshing towards anti-Islamic organizations like the Gatestone Institute and Jihad Watch. Some of that still definitely goes on, but it came to a sort of symbolic end in January of 2018. That month saw the release of the new national defense strategy. To quote directly, ‘Interstate strategic competition, not terrorism, is now the primary concern in U.S. national security.’”
Interstate strategic competition?
I wonder if that will cost as much to fight as it did to fight terrorists over the past 17 years?
By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; January 10, 2019)
I admire Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz and have for a long time.
Most recently, Dershowitz is one of the few Democrats (perhaps only) that sees clearly the inconsistencies and dangers intrinsic to the Democratic Party’s ad hominem obsession with the Robert Mueller-led Trump-Russia investigation.
For example, on whether President Donald Trump’s potential firing of Mueller would constitute an impeachable offense, Dershowitz says, “ “Firing the special counsel would not be impeachable offense, because it wouldn’t be a crime. The president would have authority to do it but it would be politically very damaging to do it.”
It is a direct threat to our democracy to criminalize political differences, Dershowitz argues objectively in his 2017 book, “Trumped Up: How Criminalization of Political Differences Endangers Democracy.”
So why does Dershowitz suddenly disabuse himself from his own beliefs when discussing the legality of anti-Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) laws in the U.S.?
A growing number of U.S. states that are passing anti-BDS laws that, among their provisions, prevent states from investing in or hiring companies that refuse to engage in commerce with Israel and boycott Israel or persons doing business in Israel or territories controlled by Israel. The U.S. Congress is debating its own anti-BDS legislation.
For anyone unfamiliar with the BDS movement, here is summary:
BDS stands for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. Among its tactics, BDS targets businesses and organizations deemed complicit in Israel’s known and alleged human rights violations against Palestinians. While Israel’s supporters charge the BDS movement as being inherently anti-Semitic and racist, BDS organizers contend their movement is comparable to the anti-apartheid movement which helped to isolate South Africa globally and end white rule.
In defending the legality of these laws, Dershowitz makes this distinction: “So long as these anti-BDS statutesdo not prohibit advocacy of such boycotts, but focus instead on the commercial activities themselves — namely the economic boycotts — there are no serious freedom of speech concerns. The First Amendment protects freedom of speech, not freedom to discriminate economically based on invidious classifications.”
BDS organizers respond, flatly, anti-BDS laws violate First Amendment rights. “A boycott is an important and powerful form of expressive association protected by the First Amendment. Speech in support of a boycott encompasses the practice of people sharing common views banding together to achieve a common end, a practice deeply embedded in the American political process,” according to a legal brief prepared by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Iowa.
“By this collective effort, individuals can make their views known when, individually, their voices would be faint or lost. The Supreme Court has held that economic boycotts are protected by the First Amendment. *NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co.*, 458 U.S. 886 (1982).”
At the risk of over-simplifying Dershowitz’ argument, his claim is that boycotts are not protected speech if they are premised on bigotry — such as anti-Semitism — instead of specific actions (e.g., human rights violations).
That is the strongest aspect of Dershowitz’ argument in support of anti-BDS laws.
“Americans of any religion have the right to support Israel, and most do, without being accused of disloyalty, just as Americans of any religion have the right to support the Palestinian cause,” argues Dershowitz. “It is both bigoted and hypocritical to apply a different standard to Jews who support Israel than to Muslims who support the Palestinian cause.”
But, in basically restating Israeli politician Natan Sharansky’s three D’s of anti-Semitism — delegitimization, demonization, and double standards — Dershowitz is implicitly acknowledging not all criticisms of Israel are rooted in anti-Semitism.
Yet, the entire BDS movement gets tagged as such by Dershowitz, as he claims its mission, by definition, is anti-Semitic.
Dershowitz writes: “Congress is considering legislation dealing with companies that boycott only the nation state of the Jewish people, and only Jews within Israel. To single out only the ‘Jew among nations,’ and not the dozens of far more serious violators of human rights is bigotry pure and simple, and those who support BDS only against Israel are guilty of bigotry.”
It is here where Dershowitz starts going off the rails.
“What is unacceptable (about BDS) is discriminatory actions, and nothing can be more discriminatory than singling out an ally with one of the best records of human rights in the world for a boycott, while continuing to do business with the worst human rights offenders in the world,” writes Dershowitz. “Many of the same bigots who support BDS against Israel, oppose boycotting Cuba, Iran, China, Russia, Venezuela, Syria, Saudi Arabia and other human rights violators. Legislation designed to end such discriminatory actions would be constitutional, if it did not prohibit advocacy.”
And, yet, according to Dershowitz, who in other domains of American law and policy understands the sanctity of political differences, wants to criminalize an economic boycott of our close ally, Israel.
In making his argument, Dershowitz ignores the fundamental difference between Israel and countries like Cuba, Iran, Russia, Syria and Venezuela (where the U.S. has imposed sanctions). The former is an ally. The politics often demand we hold our allies to different human rights standards than our adversaries.
That Saudi Arabia could be called a close American ally and also be one of the world’s worst human rights violators (infinitely worse than Israel) is shocking.
If there is a double standard at play, it is not the BDS movement targeting Israel, it is that we don’t put as much pressure on Saudi Arabia to change their behavior.
Criticizing and boycotting Israel for its treatment of the Palestinian people in the occupied territories is entirely rooted in politics. Such actions don’t delegitimize the State of Israel. They don’t demonize the Israelis. If anything, it contrasts the higher ideals of individual Israelis with the morally inconsistent actions of their government.
And, finally, the BDS movement is not engaged in a double standard. For one, there is nothing in the original BDS charter stating that what Israel is doing to the Palestinians is wrong, but if other countries are doing it to a similarly aggrieved group, fine. That would be a double standard. The BDS movement is under no obligation to address every human rights violation across all nations. The BDS was started by Palestinians to exclusively address Palestinian grievances with Israel. Period.
But because some BDS organizers and supporters are vocally critical of Israel yet silent (or even supportive) of other nations that commit far worse human rights violations, Dershowitz feels comfortable outlawing their specific goal of putting economic pressure on Israel to change its policies regarding the Palestinians.
One of Dershowitz’ targets for this criticism is Michigan Representative Rashida Tlaib, who, to the best of my knowledge, has never voiced support for human rights violations in Cuba, Iran, China, Russia, Venezuela, Syria, Saudi Arabia, or any other country.
In fact, some Palestinian activists have complained that Tlaib is not sufficiently anti-Israel and had, at one point, accepted the endorsement of the political action committee J Street, an Israel lobby group opposed to the BDS.
Prior to the 2018 midterm elections, Ali Abunimah, a writer for The Electronic Intifada, wrote: “Rashida Tlaib is endorsed and supported by the liberal Zionist Israel lobby group J Street through its political action committee JStreetPAC.” [That endorsement was ultimately withdrawn when Tlaib stated her support for a One-State Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.]
Abunimah was particularly critical of Tlaib’s public statements about Israel during the 2018 campaign.
“We need to be honest about the dehumanization on both sides, frankly,” Tlaib told The Washington Post. “And more importantly, we need to be not choosing a side.”
“Is Tlaib serious that we should be neutral and not ‘choose a side’ when it comes to Israel’s brutal military occupation, colonization and apartheid in her parents’ homeland?” wrote Abunimah.
Though she is excessively anti-Trump, by any reasonable standard, Tlaib is no bigot or anti-Semite. [Palestinians are Semites, by the way, but that is an argument for another day.]
Nonetheless, Dershowitz uses her as his chief antagonist in promoting his transitive logic that the BDS is inherently anti-Semitic, therefore, if you support the BDS, you are anti-Semitic.
Dershowitz is engaging in the ‘guilt by association’ tactic that has become hard-coded into the national political dialogue.
Any suggestion Tlaib is an anti-Semite is an ugly slur unsupported by evidence. Its beneath Dershowitz’ otherwise clear-eyed perspective on American and Israeli politics to suggest as much.
By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; January 9, 2019)
No story has made my heart sink faster than the recent one about Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun — a Saudi Arabia teen allegedly fleeing to Thailand from her family (living in Kuwait) out of fear they would kill her.
At this point in the story, events are fluid and many facts are still unknown. The evidence we do possess is mostly a series of conversations between Rahaf and her Twitter followers, along with officials statements coming from the Thai government and the United Nations Refugee Agency stating, at least for now, support for her staying in Thailand until her case can be resolved.
In less than 48 hours of her first asylum plea via Twitter, Rahaf’s Twitter account has attracted tens of thousands of new followers. Whether Rahaf’s story ends happily is still to be determined.
Similar stories of Saudi women but did not end well have emerged in the past few years. Here are two of them:
Where is Dina Ali Lasloom?
Dina Ali Lasloom is a Saudi woman who sought asylum in Australia but was detained at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila, Philippines on April 10, 2017, and deported back to Saudi Arabia, accompanied by two of her uncles, on April 11, 2017.
Below is the last known picture of Dina (see talking to her two uncles at the Manila airport).
Her reason for trying to leave Saudi Arabia? In a self-recorded video, Dina says that she is seeking asylum and will be killed if forced to return to her family. In another video, taken by a Canadian tourist in the Manila airport while Dina was being detained by Philippine authorities, captures Dina screaming at a Saudi woman, who had accompanied Dina’s uncles.
According to eyewitnesses on Dina’s return flight to Saudi Arabia, she was covered by a blanket, her mouth taped shut, and physically resisting as her uncles forced her onto the plane.
Since returning to Saudi Arabia on April 11, Dina has never been seen again. A anonymous Saudi government official told Bloomberg that, upon arrival in Riyadh, Dina Ali was taken to a detention facility for women aged under 30 but did not face any charges. However, feminist activist Moudhi Aljohani, who says she talked to Dina on the phone while she was detained in the Manila airport, is less sanguine. “It is most likely that she is not alive,” she says.
The “Double Suicide” of Two Saudi Sisters in New York’s Hudson River
This next story is perhaps more chilling. On October 24, 2018, the bodies of sisters Tala and Rotana Farea, Saudi citizens living in Virginia with their family, were found along the banks of New York’s Hudson River bound together by duct tape in a way suggesting it was meant to hold them together but not bind them. According to New York City Police, there was no evidence of foul play as they concluded the deaths were part of a suicide pact.
Assuming the conclusions of the NYC Police are correct, it still begs the question, why would two sisters do such a thing?
Sources told investigators that the sisters once said they would “rather kill themselves than return to Saudi Arabia.” Their mother reportedly told local reporters that the Saudi embassy in Washington told the family they would need to return to Saudi Arabia.
As the sisters’ full story remains a puzzle, the basic outline sounds familiar to human rights observers that track the fate of Saudi women attempting to find asylum outside the Kingdom.
“Although there are no official statistics, anecdotal evidence from cases reported in Saudi media and from human rights advocates suggest dozens of Saudi women — some with their children — have attempted to flee abroad in recent years,” says journalist Aya Batrawy who has covered a number of these stories in her career.
Whether the stories of Rahaf, Dina and the Farea sisters represent a trend is difficult to say. If they do, these asylum cases are happening at a time when Saudi women have seen recent gains in freedom, including the right to drive, and the right to run and vote in local elections. That those gains occurred because of growing discontent among Saudi women is entirely possible as well.
The Data Paints a Bleak Picture for Saudi Women (and Muslim Women, in general)
As the anecdotal evidence of systematic abuse continues to emerge from Saudi women seeking asylum in the West, the quantitative evidence substantiates their stories.
As part of its annual computation of the Human Freedom Index (HFI’s), the CATO presents the “state of human freedom in the world based on a broad measure that encompasses personal, civil, and economic freedom.” Among the HFI’s many sub components is a Women Security Index (WSI) which is computed for over 170 countries and is based on: (1) the prevalence of female genital mutilation, (2) the gender bias in mortality, and (3) the inheritance rights of wives and daughters. The WSI ranges between 0 and 10 where ‘0’ indicates low security for women and ‘10’ indicates high levels of security.
Figure 1 shows the Bottom 15 countries on the WFI — the lowest index score going to Brunei (WFI = 0.0), followed by Egypt (WFI = 2.8), Mauritania (WFI = 3.4) and Sudan (WFI = 3.7). Saudi Arabia has the 12th lowest WFI at 5.0 (tied with Suriname and Pakistan).
The relationship of the WFI to a country’s dominant religious culture is strong. Fourteen out of 15 countries at the bottom of the WFI are predominately Islamic or have a large Islamic minority.
Another quantitative measure related to women’s equality and compiled annually is the World Bank’s Global Gender Gap Index (GGI).
The Global Gender Gap Index is the combination of four components: (1) Economic Participation and Opportunity, (2) Educational Attainment, (3) Health and Survival and (4) Political Empowerment. The highest possible country score is 1 (equality) and the lowest possible country score is 0 (inequality).
As seen in Figure 2, the GGI and WSI are positively correlated (Pearson r= .62) and reveal Islamic countries (the blue dots) again cluster on the low end for both indexes.
Figure 2: The World Bank’s Gender Gap Index (GGI) and CATO’s Women Security Index (WSI) — The Relationship to Religious Culture
The World Bank has been computing the GGI since 2006. Between 2006 and 2016, only one country, Sri Lanka, experienced a significant decline in their GGI (-0.05). Figure 3 shows the Top 10 countries experiencing the most significant increases in gender equality: Nicaragua (0.12), Nepal (0.11), Bolivia (0.11), Slovenia (0.11), and France (0.10).
Figure 3: Changes in Gender Gap Index (2000 to 2016) (Source: World Bank, 2016)
Among Islamic countries, Bangladesh (0.07), Chad (0.06), Saudi Arabia (0.6), Yemen (0.6) and UAE (0.5) saw the most significant increases in gender equality between 2006 and 2016.
If the World Bank’s GGI is any indication, there have been substantive improvements to women’s lives in Saudi Arabia since 2006.
Political scientist James Davies once postulated in the 1960s that “revolutions are most likely to occur when a prolonged period of objective economic and social development is followed by a short period of sharp reversal.” Since called the “J-curve” theory, Norwegian political scientist Carl Henrik Knutsen has offered tentative quantitative evidence supporting one aspect of the J-curve theory: “Short-term economic growth rates systematically affect the probabilities of attempted and of successful revolutions. Regimes in countries that experience economic crises are at increased risk of facing revolutionary threats and of eventually being thrown out of office because of them.”
Whether this finding relates to the propensity of Saudi women to carry out their own smaller, personal revolutions is highly speculative.
What we do know, anecdotally, is that (young) Saudi women are routinely putting their lives at risk in seeking asylum outside the Kingdom. The most recent example (Rahaf) may have a relatively happy ending. Many most likely have not.
It is also impossible to disentangle the human rights issue from the diplomatic necessities of the U.S. and Western democracies. Saudi Arabia is too critical to world economic growth to expect political leaders to lead on the issue of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia.
A long list of American notables — Barack Obama, Bill and Hillary Clinton, an assortment of Bushes, Michael Bloomberg, John Kerry, Condoleezza Rice, Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch, Elon Musk, Peter Thiel, Tim Cook, and Bob Iger— lined up to meet the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman during his charm offensive in March 2018.
That fact is Saudi Arabia remains one the closest U.S. allies in the Middle East and will be for as long as the country needs their cheap oil (which might not be for as long as you think). Said President Donald Trump recently, “Saudi Arabia has been a great ally to me.” Sadly, the Saudi royals are not as great to their own people, especially Saudi women.
By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; January 8, 2019)
We want to believe our every thought is the product of free will and from that foundation we self-select what thoughts we choose to share with others.
“Let me speak my mind,” we often say.
But do we? And even if think we do, are the thoughts we select from truly representative of our personal realities?
Deep down, we know a genuinely free mind is far too much work. It is simply not practical to be too open-minded and we can all think of times when we said something to sound polite or well-informed, even if we didn’t believe it or know what to say in the first place.
When recently asked if I liked the movie Green Book, my response was immediate: “I really enjoyed it. It was a very thought-provoking movie about racism in the 1960s.” (Butit isn’t. It is the ‘See Spot Run’-level, nuance-free type of anti-racism movie I expect from Hollywood. Shallow and self-consciously important. I hated it.). But I still said I liked it — a lot.
[Side note: This is one reason why opinion survey results, particularly when related to personal attitudes and preferences, have to be analyzed with a healthy dose of skepticism. People don’t generally lie on surveys as much as they mold their responses to fit the moment.]
More broadly, we tend to believe things uncritically, especially things we don’t experience firsthand. We take others’ word for it, not because they are necessarily experts but because we are not. Or we deliberately ignore contradictory information just to maintain the peace in our head and within our social interactions.
Its a ‘go-along-to-get-along’ frame of mind. It’s social constructivism with hints of Marxism. The system causes us to think the way we think.
When our thoughts become speech, the words we use are often chosen for us by the people we socialize with, the media we consume, the churches where we congregate, and the schools we attend. The gentle tyranny of social norms and peer pressure consistently narrow our perspectives and therefore our potential for creative thought and expression.
If freedom of speech means the self-regulated articulation of ideas drawn from a narrow set of socially(elite)-determined alternatives, then, yes, we have free speech. But it is seldom interesting speech.
For society to function relatively smoothly from day-to-day, all alternatives cannot be available and debated at every moment. If the sign at my intersection says ‘No Right Turn On Red’ today, I expect to see it tomorrow too. A well-functioning, civil society has necessary boundaries.
But the dysfunction we see now in our political system is at least partly rooted in the scarcity of ideas we are exposed to at any given time. If most of our information comes from the AP wire and cable news networks, we are seeing but a thin slice of our world. The irony is that the Information Age’s social media-stoked period offers up fewer perspectives and weaker ideas than ever.
Every minute we spend on social media is a minute we spend with our head planted firmly up our arse. And I include myself in that ‘head-up-butt’ metaphor.
However, the issue may be more than just decreasing levels of empathy, but how individuals determine towards whom to extend their empathy.
Our ability to empathize independently may be the biggest victim of today’s social media obsession. We have to be told (typically by social elites and respected peers) who deserves our empathy and who does not. We may be losing the capacity to make that decision on our own.
This is why we witness these grotesque inconsistencies in whom some deem worthy of our protection and those who are labeled unworthy. In today’s partisan political world, a person can freely label Iran has the ‘world’s biggest supporter of terrorism,’ while calling Saudi Arabia a ‘trusted ally’. Never mind that the 9–11 terrorists were mostly Saudi and funded by a Saudi national. Never mind that ISIS and al Qaeda-aligned terrorists find their ideological roots in Saudi-sourced Wahhabism, not Shia Islam.
Facts really stop mattering when others tell you how to think.
And this empathy deficit is not unique to Donald Trump, or his supporters, or neoconservatives. Liberals, progressives and left-right centrists routinely engage in the same behavior. In fact, it is the new normal for everyone.
When some believe that a conspiracy occurs when a presidential campaign operative, in pursuit of evidence of wrongdoing by an opponent, meets with a Putin-linked Russian lawyer, but are unwilling to hold the FBI accountable for using unsubstantiated, unvetted foreign-sourced opposition research to authorize surveillance of a presidential campaign operative, they are applying inconsistent standards.
The consistent use of empathy is hard work, made harder because we don’t generally experience national and world events directly and are dependent on others to educate us on these events. That is a fact driven by our natural limitations.
But that shouldn’t make us wholly dependent on others to interpret such events and to link them to larger constructs.
Yet, that is where we are today. We too often let others do our thinking for us. On the one hand, it makes getting through the day much easier. On the other hand, it can lead us into intellectual cul-de-sacs that may serve others’ interests more than our own. Inconsistencies and hypocrisies we would otherwise correct instantly are ignored, or even worse, embraced.
Why? Because we are told to do so.
Our current propensity for selective outrage and withholding empathy is damaging not just our democracy, but our society in general. It is almost passé to say that anymore. Still, we all know it and we literally do NOTHING about it.
Part II of this essay will discuss the importance of information diversity and how search engines (such as Google) and social media networks might benefit their businesses and society by more systematically introducing the power of random selection into their services.
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By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com, January 5, 2019)
Over time I compile a list of assertions, statements, and rumors told to me by friends, colleagues, online stalkers and perfect strangers at the TGIF Friday’s bar in Princeton, New Jersey. Occasionally, for the claims I find particularly interesting, I even try to verify them. Here are five that I found most interesting and might be true:
Conditions in countries have worsened where the U.S. has recently pursued regime change.
This statement I heard at the TGIF Friday’s bar and was attributed to Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. It is a harsh indictment of U.S. military interventions…and hard to prove.
But…when I returned home I looked up the historical data from the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Index (HDI) (see Figure 1 below).
Figure 1: Human Development Index (1990–2017)
With any time-series analysis, where you establish the start and end points are critical to what conclusions are drawn. However, the three most recent countries in which the U.S. military has directly or indirectly intervened in pursuit of changing an existing regime — Libya 2011, Syria 2011 and Yemen 2015 — all have experienced significant declines in human development from the point U.S. involvement started to the present.
Even the two countries where the U.S. has had its most significant combat engagements (Afghanistan and Iraq), while they have seen an increase in their absolute human development index scores, their relative position worldwide has not increased significantly. Iraq, in fact, has gone from being ranked 114th in 2004 on the HDI down to 120th in 2017. Afghanistan’s HDI rank has moved from 170th in 2004 to 168th in 2017.
While there have been specific areas where the U.S. has improved conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan (e.g., access to education, particularly for females), the overall development measures have not witnessed substantive improvements.
In comparison, it is interesting that Iran — perhaps the one country the U.S. most wants to see the ruling regime fail — has seen dramatic human development improvements. In 2004, Iran ranked 90th on the HDI — as of 2017, the country now ranks 60th. This improvement has been aided by the Iraq War, the Obama administration’s rapprochement and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (“The Iran Nuclear Deal”) in 2015. Sadly, Iran’s HDI score is most certainly going to decrease going forward given the renewal of U.S. economic sanctions against the country.
Overall, the assertion attributed to Sen. Rand about U.S. regime change wars is largely accurate.
Of its own volition, the U.S. military never leaves a country where it has stationed combat troops.
By definition this is true, since the U.S. military cannot independently make the decision to deploy combat troops, or decide to remove them once they’ve been deployed. That is a decision reserved for the Commander-in-Chief and the military’s civilian leadership. However, I cannot think of a single instance in U.S. history when the military led an initiative to get out of a country where combat troops were deployed. It just doesn’t happen that way — and maybe it shouldn’t. Per the Constitution, civilian leaders are supposed to lead defense and security policy, not the military. So this statement can be marked down as an absolutely true one.
Liberal academics are renouncing their U.S. citizenship and leaving the country.
This one I heard from a friend married to an academic. “How will we survive?” was my sarcastic response. He didn’t laugh either.
Unfortunately, I cannot find any evidence supporting the claim that PhDs are increasingly choosing to live in other countries, much less renouncing their citizenship. However, there is one interesting trend among Americans regarding citizenship. Since changes to U.S. tax law by the Obama administration, it has become more difficult for Americans to evade taxes by hiding money offshore.
The result has meant many Americans living overseas face an overly complex filing process at tax time, leading some to even renounce their citizenship in order to simply their life.
Among those thousands renouncing their U.S. citizenship are sure to have been some academics, so I cannot categorically dismiss my friend’s claim, who did in fact offer a specific story about someone so offended by the Trump presidency they chose to leave the country. But that is merely anecdotal evidence. For now, assume liberal academics are choosing to stay put.
Even under the most pessimistic assumptions about climate change, the U.S. economy is still expected to grow close to its current 10-year average.
According to the NCA2018, “global greenhouse gas emissions is expected to cause substantial net damage to the U.S. economy throughout this century,” including a 10 percent hit to gross domestic product (GDP) in one extreme scenario where global temperatures exceed the pre-industrial average by 8°C.
This economic forecast, based on an extreme case scenario which few climatologists expect to occur (Representative Concentration Pathway [RCP] 8.5), has become a straw man for climate change skeptics. Never mind that any 80-year (!) economic forecast must be accepted with a grain of salt, the researchers behind the forecast recognize the extraordinary methodological challenges in linking rising temperatures to economic costs.
I would normally, therefore, be content scolding The Daily Caller’s energy editor for setting up an obvious straw man argument by taking out of context a single, speculative economic forecast from a 1,600-page report containing many more substantive conclusions.
Unfortunately, the climate change extremists in the mainstream news media jumped on the “10 percent hit on GDP” forecast with even more unrestrained relish than the climate change skeptics.
Climate change will severely affect the U.S. economy, ABC News (Nov. 24, 2018): “A newly released report issued by 13 federal agencies on Friday explains in great depth the potential consequences of climate change on the United States and warns that neglecting to take action could drastically impede economic growth over the next century.”
3 big takeaways from the major new U.S. climate report, Vox.com (Nov. 24, 2018): “By the end of the century, warming on our current trajectory would cost the US economy upward of $500 billion a year in crop damage, lost labor, and extreme weather damages. This is almost double the economic blow of the Great Recession in the early 2000s.”
After a few days of national media hyperventilating, an actual climate scientist pumped the brakes and pointed out how the ’10 percent GDP decline’ was unrealistic and did not reflect current thinking within the climate science community.
Univ. of Colorado climatologist Roger Pielke, Jr. noted that the ‘10 percent GDP decline’ prediction was based on a temperate rise scenario (+8°C) twice as extreme as any made elsewhere within the NCA2018.
The following chart is pulled from the original research paper the NCA2018 used to draw the ’10 percent GDP decline’ conclusion (Figure 2).
Figure 2: Direct damage forecasts (% of GDP) due to global warming
The ’10 percent GDP decline’ conclusion is derived from drawing an horizontal line from the last data point forecast (RCP 8.5) at the 8-decade time period (far right). As Pielke, Jr. points out, the RCP 8.5 global warming forecast is far outside mainstream expectations.
The far more reasonable takeaway from Figure 2 is that the predicted economic losses range from −0.1 to 1.7% GDP (at 1.5°C of warming), 1.5 to 5.6% GDP (at 4°C of warming), and 6.4 to 15.7% GDP annually (at 8°C warming).
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) produced the following graph (Figure 3) showing the recent predictions about the global warming through 2100, given different scenarios on how quickly humankind limits greenhouse gas emissions.
Figure 3: Projected global temperature change
The red line (A2) from the above chart is the temperature change prediction assuming the world does almost nothing to curb greenhouse gas emissions through this century. That scenario is already OBE (overtaken by events). The U.S. is no longer building coal plants and Europe is projected, at current trends, to transition to 100-percent renewable electricity generation by 2050.
The blue line (B1), on the other hand, shows the temperature change prediction under the scenario that the world experiences significant emissions reductions, though not necessarily due to aggressive climate change policies. In other words, the world will convert to renewable energy sources only as the economics makes them more profitable than fossil based energy sources. In this scenario, the world will be 4°C warmer (than the pre-industrial period) by 2100.
That is a realistic view of global warming and suggests, based on the economic impact research, that the U.S. GDP will be 5.6 percent lower in 2100 unless we (which includes China, India, and Brazil) address climate change more aggressively.
To put that in perspective: Let us assume today’s U.S. economy is re-denominated at $100 Trump dollars (annual GDP). If our GDP grows between now and 2100 at the same rate as the past 10 years (1.4 percent), the U.S. economy will be at $308 (constant) Trump dollars.
Shave off 5.6 percent due to climate change and the U.S. is instead at $291 Trump dollars. That translates to an annual average GDP growth rate of 1.33 percent between 2018 and 2100. Or, as a comparison, it would be like having an annual GDP growth rate slightly lower than what we averaged during the Obama administration (1.5 percent).
In other words, climate change is a slightly bigger threat to the U.S. economy than was Barack Obama.
I would never argue that losing 5.6 percent of our GDP is insignificant, should this occur. But experience tells me that economic predictions looking 80 years into the future are more notional than practical. A nation certainly can’t make multi-billion or even trillion dollar policy decisions today based on such phantasms. It would be irresponsible to ourselves and future generations.
Frankly, the news media’s promotion of the ’10 percent GDP loss’ narrative is doing the climate change movement a terrible disservice. Even a ten percent under-performance in an 80-year forecast (!) is little more than statistical decimal dust. It’s noise in the forecasting model. For love of God, you certainly don’t draw up public policies based on such predictions.
Furthermore, there is no risk in making such a prediction The forecasters responsible for it will be long dead. And the immediate professional reward is potentially huge.
It’s not fake news. It’s worse. It’s junk economics cloaked in legitimate sciencethat could irreparably damage this economy if the climate change extremists should ever gain control of U.S. tax and regulatory code.
Let us all take a deep breath and not do anything stupid to wreck the economy.
Since Trump’s election, job and economic growth has been strongest ‘red states’.
Any economic claim should be accepted with a grain of salt, as economic benchmarks, aggregation levels and time periods used to draw conclusions are often subjective and easily manipulable. Nonetheless, in the most recent Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) report, quarter-to-quarter GDP growth was significantly stronger in ‘flyover’ country (see Figure 4).
Figure 4: Percent change in real GDP by state (2018:Q1 to 2018:Q2)
Of the ten fastest growing states between 2018:Q1 and 2018:Q2, seven were Trump-voting states (Arkansas, Florida, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, Montana and Texas).
The job growth data is a little more complicated. Since March 2018, year-to-year job growth was stronger in ‘red states’ than ‘blue states,’ according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) (see Figure 5).
Figure 5: Job growth by state
But when the focus is on counties — and not states — it is the ‘blue counties’ (often suburbs) that are leading the growth in the ‘red’ states, according to an analysis conducted by the AP. Could it be the best place to grow the economy is from a highly-educated ‘blue county’ in a low-tax ‘red state’? Now that is real bipartisanship.
So which number is correct? They both are, but I would caution using county-level data to understand an economy. Tax laws and other policy tools that most significantly impact an economy are typically implemented at the national and state-levels. Showing that highly-educated and employable people tend to live in nice suburbs is not an interesting finding and says little about the impact of economic policy. State-level job and economic growth data, however, is more informative about how economic policy impacts an economy and according to the most recent data, ‘red states’ are outperforming ‘blue states’ by a healthy margin.
How we express knowledge is like hitting in baseball: We fail most of the time (myself included)
We can never take for granted any fact we read or hear in the news media. It is not that the news media always lies or propagates ‘fake news’ on purpose (though it does, and here is a possible recent example). It is the fact that even science, where objectivity is an inviolable standard, is not immune from political bias. By our human nature, we tend to use evidence that conforms to our expectations and too readily ignore contradictory evidence.
Maybe you can get away with that as president, but for the rest of us, that is not a good way to go through life.
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By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; January 3, 2019)
You know Trump has turned the world upside down when filmmaker and progressive activist Michael Moore takes the side of Secretary of Defense James Mattis, a consistent defender of current U.S. military interventions in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan (though admitting to Congress last year that we are not winning in the latter case), over a president attempting to extract the U.S. from at least two of those open-ended military engagements.
“I was just watching the stuff with Mattis and I really, I think maybe this is the first time I’ve actually been frightened for the country in these almost two years,” Moore said to MSNBC host Ali Velshi.
“Frightened, really?” asked a skeptical Velshi.
Supporters of the liberal international order, with whom Moore has apparently aligned himself as he tunnels deeper into his anti-Trump psychopathy, and its requisite regime change wars, find themselves on the defensive.
“The choice we face isn’t a tactical matter between war and diplomacy, debating which tool of statecraft best serves a common goal,” warns Bill Scher in a recent Commentary article. “It’s a choice between two deeply divergent worldviews: an interconnected, international order that elevates human rights standards, versus a nationalist derby where autocrats roam unchecked.”
Christopher R. Hill, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia, argues that the U.S. military effort in Syria was prompted by our better angels and that pulling out too soon is relinquishing the country’s innocent citizens, particularly the Kurds who have fought bravely in fighting ISIS, to humanity’s worst actors (Assad, ISIS, Russia, and Turkey).
“No Middle East conflict is as complex as the one raging in Syria,” according to Hill. “The fight involves a government that is antithetical to Western values and a Sunni extremist insurgency that at one point captured the borderlands between Syria and Iraq and fought all the way to the gates of Baghdad.”
What Scher and Hill (along with other interventionists) fail to recognize however are these facts about the Syrian Civil War which work against U.S. objectives:
As the Arab Spring spread in 2011, the effort to overthrow the Assad regime was dominated by Sunni extremist groups, not pro-democracy moderates.
When the U.S. began to aid the anti-Assad rebels (presumably only the ‘moderate’ ones) in destabilizing the Assad regime, it effectively opened up the ISIS floodgate.
The rollback of ISIS began in earnest only after the U.S. stopped its two-front strategy of fighting both Assad and ISIS and allowed Assad’s forces to reorganize (with Russia’s help) and concentrate their efforts on fighting ISIS.
Assad’s pro-government forces (with Russia’s assistance and without U.S. regime change efforts) are capable of defeating the remaining ISIS and anti-Assad rebel strongholds in Syria (Hajin, Albu Kamal, and Idlib). Expect Assad’s forces to be exceptionally brutal in their suppression of the remaining ISIS and rebel forces.
Russia has a strategic interest in Syria : Its naval facility in Tartus — which happens to be Russia’s only overseas naval base. Russia was never going to sit back and let Assad fall. And that will remain true in the immediate future.
As heroically as the Kurds have fought in repelling ISIS and Assad forces from their home areas in northeast Syria, eventually they will need to negotiate a peace treaty with Assad and the Turks. The U.S. has never endorsed the establishment of an independent Kurdish state in Syria or Iraq and a U.S. withdrawal from Syria in the near future serves to accelerate acceptance of this fact and the start of substantive peace talks, hopefully soon.
Defenders of this country’s multiple ongoing regime change wars, like Hill and Scher, remind me of legendary New York Governor Al Smith’s term for idealists and reformers that thought their good intentions more than compensated their sub optimal policy results: He called them “Goo Goos.”
Cloaked in moral righteousness conferred when using terms like ‘human rights’ and ‘justice’, interventionists (like other idealists) too frequently fail to see the bigger, secular trends that undercut their country’s actual interests.
No better example of that dynamic can be found than Iraq.
Where once the military option was only exercised in defense of vital national interests, since George H. W. Bush’s 1991 Gulf War, increasingly human rights have been the public justification for U.S. military interventions.
Now a distant memory, a few of us still remember the challenge Bush Sr. had in selling a U.S.-led liberation of Kuwait (having been invaded by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq) to the American people.
Soon after the August 1990 invasion of Kuwait by Iraq, Bush justified a potential U.S. military intervention based on Iraq’s violation of international law. Iraq invaded a sovereign country without provocation or justification.
Yet, U.S. public support for such an invasion lumbered around 20 percent, according to the Gallup Poll. So Bush tried a different justification: “It’s about oil.” But when that argument fell flat with the American people, the Bush PR team launched a far more sophisticated disinformation campaign designed to portray Hussein’s Iraq as the closest thing to Hitler’s Germany since…well, Hitler’s Germany.
In a October 1990 hearing, hastily organized by the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, witnesses to reported Iraqi atrocities in Kuwait were brought before the panel to share their stories.
Journalist Joshua Holland recalled one of the more dramatic stories: “A young woman who gave only her first name, Nayira, testified that she had been a volunteer at Kuwait’s al-Adan hospital, where she had seen Iraqi troops rip scores of babies out of incubators, leaving them ‘to die on the cold floor.’ Between tears, she described the incident as ‘horrifying.’”
The potency of the human rights angle is hard to ignore:
A decade after the end of the 1991 Gulf War, Christian Science Monitor writer Tom Regan shared a story about how his family responded to the Kuwaiti incubator testimony:
I can still recall my brother Sean’s face. It was bright red. Furious. Not one given to fits of temper, Sean was in an uproar. He was a father, and he had just heard that Iraqi soldiers had taken scores of babies out of incubators in Kuwait City and left them to die. The Iraqis had shipped the incubators back to Baghdad. A pacifist by nature, my brother was not in a peaceful mood that day. “We’ve got to go and get Saddam Hussein. Now,” he said passionately.
On January 9, 1991, three days before the Bush administration requested congressional authorization for using force to remove Iraqi forces from Kuwait, only 46 percent of the public supported a military invasion (47 percent supported continuation of economic sanctions). While not a majority or even a plurality, the public’s support for the military option was growing and Bush seized on the momentum and launched the air campaign on January 16th.
You might think that experience would immunize the American people from falling for such tricks in the future, but who are we kidding? Every war we’ve fought since Vietnam has been predicated, at least partially, on lies and fabrications told us by our government. If it works and nobody is ever held accountable, why stop?
Fast forward to today. Since the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the U.S. has invaded Iraq again, replaced Saddam Hussein, installed a new government, and left Iraq (only to return in lower numbers). And what has been the BLUF (bottom-line-up-front) outcome of the billions financed by the U.S. Treasury to fight this regime change war?
But name a recent U.S.-led (or supported) regime change war that has worked out — or is working out — well.
According to now former Secretary of Defense James Mattis during congressional testimony in 2017, this was his summary of the situation in Afghanistan: “We are not winning in Afghanistan right now. And we will correct this as soon as possible,” he said.
Seventeen years and billions of dollars later and the Taliban is still not defeated? What evidence or assurance could be offered to cause any rational person to think the U.S. will ever win in Afghanistan?
Conservative radio host, Steve Deace, a well-known Trump critic from the evangelical right, calls the Afghan War “the greatest waste of money in U.S. history.” He’s not alone in that opinion.
If it were a private business venture, the U.S. effort in Afghanistan would have been defunded many years ago.
But this is what happens when a country socializes its defense and security functions. When the government starts something, it can always find a justification for never stopping it.
Where once the idea of privatizing national defense seemed absurd, now I’m not so sure.
At the very least, Trump’s introduction of chaos into the defense and security establishment’s decision-making apparatus should cause them to reflect more on how this country justifies its military interventions and the overwhelming evidence suggesting regime change wars never succeed, no matter how noble the intentions.
Libya? Syria? Iraq? Yemen? All fails. Afghanistan? If, after 17 years, the answer is still ‘to-be-determined’, that must be classified as a fail as well. And then there is Yemen. One million civilians now threatened by famine and diseases such as cholera because the region’s two greatest powers (not including Israel) — Iran and Saudi Arabia — would rather engage in a fruitless proxy war than meet at a negotiating table.
How about going back farther in time to Nicaragua? Forty years ago the Reagan administration was funding and training insurgents to overthrow Daniel Ortega’s Soviet-aligned government. And where are we now? Daniel Ortega is back in power and, if we believe recent American press accounts, is launching a brand new ‘reign of fear’ on his people.
If the U.S. can’t get it right in our own backyard, what are the chances we can engineer a successful regime change war in Iran ?— which, by many accounts, is our nation’s next great regime change project.
I’m sorry to say this, Joe Biden, but there is no urgent need to defend the liberal international order. Let it die.
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