Half Baked Articles – by Arthur Dent

I’ve asked Barry York, publisher of this blog, to provide a halfbaked tag to assign to this article and future articles from me.

Otherwise I would need to keep explaining in each article that I’m just bloviating like other bloggers and not presenting a careful analysis or even a view that I undertake to defend and explain in comments.

I assume that comments in a discussion forum are understood to be informal, similar to conversation, so I have felt less inhibited about just quickly typing them into a comments box. But I resent the fact that people write so much more than they have reason to, given what they have read and actually thought about, so I don’t like just bloviating.

At the start of “Notes on Trump” I warned:

“Even if I had a deep understanding of US and world politics and economics I could not hope to figure out what’s happening at the moment. We are at an important turning point in multiple processes, many of them dependent on unknowable contingencies.”
https://c21stleft.wordpress.com/2017/01/20/notes-on-trump-by-arthur-dent/

Basically that is my view on pretty well everything at the moment. I will just repeat it here instead of in each article.

That article was based on several hours a day following news on Trump from the election day right through to the day before inauguration. I thought that was necessary to come to grips with a different political situation from what I had got used to and had expected to continue. I am still reasonably happy that I did explain something important. I followed up with more than 100 quick numbered notes so far but I still haven’t been able to produce a series of carefully considered articles based on the much larger number of links I have collected

What I want to do is contribute some serious theoretical analysis towards a future revolutionary left, especially on economics and political programs dealing with capitalist crisis and the transition from capitalism. As noted at the end of that article:

“If there was a left, we would be in a good position to finally rid ourselves of the pseudo-left who can be shown to espouse essentially the same anti-globalist and isolationist ideas as Trump. But in order for there to be a left,we have to be able to present a coherent economic program that explains how to unleash the productive forces of a globalized world for the benefit of the majority who only work here rather than primarily for the owners.”

Unfortunately I have not been getting much done at all. Although bloviating is a distraction from getting on with far more important things I am hopeful that it may still be of some interest to others and even if not, that it will at least help me get into writing and improve my morale as it does for other bloviators.

The time stamp at the end of each item indicates the start and stop times for actual writing and number of minutes spent.

2017-04-21T1812-1851 (39)

The U.S. and Canada Should Open Their Borders to Syrian Refugees

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Many thanks to Joel Newman and Open Borders: the Case for permission to run this piece.

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I had hoped that the Syrian civil war would produce, against the odds, a democracy which protected the diverse ethnic groups who live in the country. Either non-jihadist democratic Syrian rebels would prevail and be charitable towards those who have supported the Assad government, or an agreement between the rebels and the Syrian regime would transition the country toward democracy.

None of this has materialized, Syria is devastated, and with the oppressive Assad regime firmly in control of the western portions of the country, political progress appears impossible.

According to David Lesch, writing in The New York Times, most Syrians now live in extreme poverty, the unemployment rate is over 50%, half of Syrian children are not enrolled in school, typhoid, tuberculosis, and other diseases are endemic, hundreds of thousands are dead, and millions are injured. Different forces, including the Islamic State, control different parts of the country, and fighting likely will continue between these groups. Hundreds of billions of dollars would be needed to rebuild the country, and Mr. Lesch believes that other countries will not step up to provide reconstruction money.

Not surprisingly, almost five million Syrians have fled their country, not including millions of others who have been displaced within Syria. Almost a million have migrated to Europe. About 18,000 Syrians have been resettled in the U.S., and about 40,000 Syrians have gone to Canada. Most of the refugees are stranded in Turkey (about 2.5 million), Lebanon (about 1 million), and Jordan (about a half million), with limited opportunities to resettle elsewhere.

It is past time for the U.S. and Canada to allow the millions of Syrian refugees living in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan to immigrate to their countries. In addition to the fundamental moral reasons that oblige countries to open their borders to almost all immigrants, there are several compelling reasons why there should be swift acceptance of these refugees.

First, while multiple nations and groups have been involved in the Syrian war, the U.S. bears some responsibility for the catastrophe. Since the U.S. has the world’s mightiest military, it always has the option to intervene and have an impact on a conflict. In Syria, the U.S. intervened by providing some support to rebels fighting the Assad regime, but the intervention never was forceful enough to quickly resolve the conflict.

According to Philip Gordon, who worked on Middle Eastern affairs at the U.S. National Security Council from 2013 to 2015, the U.S. has only prolonged the Syrian war: “… our policy was to support the opposition to the point that it was strong enough to lead the regime and its backers to come to the table and negotiate away the regime. And that was an unrealistic objective…I think it is fair to say that we ended up doing enough to perpetuate a conflict, but not enough to bring it to a resolution.”

The U.S. could have disabled the regime’s air force, as Senator McCain has recently advocated, especially before the Russian military became directly involved in the conflict. That might have saved the lives of many civilians targeted by Syrian aircraft and perhaps led to a settlement between the rebels and the government. (I recognize that direct military action doesn’t always lead to positive outcomes, considering the results in Iraq and Libya.)

In addition, other actions short of direct attacks on the Syrian military could have been undertaken to protect civilians, as Nicholas Kristof has noted. These include creating safe zones in Syria protected by the U.S. military and destroying military runways so Syrian warplanes couldn’t be employed. Accepting Syrian refugees would be some compensation for the U.S. failure in Syria to resolve the conflict and protect civilians.

Second, Syrians in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan are struggling. (Some refugees are also struggling in Greece.) Many children are not able to go to school, it is difficult for adults to get work, and the refugees are becoming impoverished. Some Mercy Corps teams “have seen families living in rooms with no heat or running water, in abandoned chicken coops and in storage sheds.” The desperation of the refugees is reflected in the attempt by many of them to reach Europe by making risky sea crossings, during which some have perished.

The host countries are apparently unwilling and/or unable to incorporate the newcomers into their societies. According to Mercy Corps, in Jordan and Lebanon, “weak infrastructure and limited resources are nearing a breaking point under the strain.”

As to Turkey, one observer stated: “It remains unclear how the embattled country – which is also dealing with declining GDP, multiple attacks, and a war against Kurdish fighters in the southeast – will be able to accommodate nearly three million refugees, the vast majority of whom are young adults and children seeking jobs and education.” The U.S. and Canada, with wealthier economies, more political stability, and a tradition of incorporating immigrants, would provide a better refuge for the Syrians than the Middle Eastern countries.

Third, the rapid migration of Syrian refugees to Canada and the U.S. could diminish the threat of terrorism. It is risky to continue the Obama policy of allowing very few Syrian refugees to enter or maintain the Trump policy, which indefinitely bars Syrian refugees from the country. The longer Syrian refugees are stuck in their host Middle Eastern countries, the greater the risk that they will become radicalized.

According to a Brookings Institution article, “the risk of radicalization is especially heightened where IDPs and refugees find themselves in protracted situations: marginalized, disenfranchised, and excluded. Finding solutions for displaced populations should be an urgent priority for humanitarian reasons but also as a security issue.” (See also here. )

While ideally the Obama administration’s thorough vetting of refugees for admission into the U.S. would continue, its sluggish nature makes it imprudent to maintain. A faster screening process must be implemented in order to bring the refugees into economically advanced, mostly tolerant North America, where they could thrive and become more immune to radicalization.

In addition to rescuing the refugees from potentially radicalizing conditions in the Middle East, there is another mechanism by which admitting them might prevent terrorism. In a previous post, I suggested how open borders could help protect receiving countries from terrorism, including by freeing up resources for screening immigrants for terrorist threats, by improving government relations with Muslim immigrant communities which could assist with stopping terrorism, and by providing more Muslim immigrants who could join Western intelligence agencies. Similarly, admitting Syrian refugees from the Middle East could generate goodwill among the American and Canadian Muslim communities, perhaps resulting in an increase in the number of Muslims willing to assist in preventing terrorism.

Evidence of this may be found in the German government’s recent admittance of over a million immigrants, many of whom are Syrian refugees. This may have earned Germany more support from its Muslim community in efforts to prevent terrorism, according to Robert Verkaik, writing on CNN‘s website. He notes that
“In October last year, two Syrians managed to capture a terror suspect in Leipzig who was planning a bomb attack on German airports… And in November last year, a German Muslim man who had returned from fighting ISIS in Syria provided information to German security services that led to the arrest of a major extremist cell. These examples show that the German security services, in common with agencies across Europe, critically rely on intelligence passed on by members of its Muslim communities”.

He also seems to suggest that a Muslim informant warned the security services about the suspect before the attack on the Berlin Christmas market last year.
Many people are concerned that Syrian refugees could commit acts of terrorism in the U.S. However, they should consider that about half of the refugees are children, who “don’t fit the typical profile for terrorists.” And, as noted elsewhere, most Muslims are peaceful. (Some Syrian refugees are not even Muslim.) Furthermore, Alex Nowrasteh of the Cato Institute has determined, based on historical data, the statistical chance of being killed by a foreigner committing a terrorist act in the U.S.: 1 in 3.6 million per year. For the risk of being killed by such an act by a refugee, the risk is 1 in 3.64 billion per year. If the 9/11 attacks are excluded, “21 foreign-born terrorists succeeded in murdering 41 people from 1975 through 2015.” Nowrasteh’s conclusion is that “foreign-born terrorism on U.S. soil is a low-probability event.” Its risks are minuscule when compared to other causes of death.

It is also notable that, as co-blogger Hansjörg points out, the German experience with the recent influx of Muslim refugees belies the predictions by restrictionists that their admittance would result in lots of terrorist acts there. Hansjörg notes that the number of lethal Islamist terrorist attacks in Germany (ever) is in the low single digits. There is minimal risk involved for Canada and the U.S. to accept millions of Syrian refugees, even without consideration for the aforementioned ways their admittance could actually help prevent terrorism.

Furthermore, it might be better for the Syrian refugees to go to North America than to some European countries. Many argue that the U.S. does a better job than European countries at integrating immigrants. One writer notes that “the conditions of Muslims in some European countries can create fertile breeding grounds for extremism, whereas societies with more-integrated Muslim populations like the United States are less susceptible.” (See also here, here, and here.) David Frum, writing in The Atlantic, states: “Europe is coping poorly with its large population of alienated, under-employed, and in some cases radicalized Muslim immigrants and their children. It seems then the zenith of recklessness to make that population larger still.”

Another writer even suggests that radical Muslims in Europe will infect Syrian refugees with their ideology, although he proposes vigorous integration efforts rather than exclusion from Europe.
At the same time, some are sanguine about European integration of its Muslim residents. Shada Islam of Friends of Europe asserts: “Make no mistake; while extremists of all ilk may decry multi-cultural Europe, the process of adaptation, accommodation, integration, of Europe and Islam is already well underway… Europe’s once solely security-focused approach to dealing with Muslims has been replaced with a more balanced view that includes an integration agenda and migrant outreach programmes.”

Similarly, co-blogger Hansjörg, who lives in Germany, states that “on the whole, my personal impression is that integration works quite well also in Europe. There is a tendency, especially in the US (but also in Europe from those who are critical), to present this as a story of severe problems, divides that cannot be bridged, etc. I don’t think that is true (not to say there are not some problems).”
Finally, admitting millions of Syrian refugees into the U.S. and Canada may not be very disruptive in other respects.

A study for the Centre for European Economic Research on the recent migrant influx into Germany has found that there are “no signs of quick and clear deleterious effects in Germany post ‘migrant crisis’ involving, as the authors conclude, ‘more than a million’ migrants entering Germany in 2014-15 on native employment, crime, or anti-immigrant politics specifically linked to the presence of migrants on the county level.” In the U.S. it is notable that “eleven percent of Syrian immigrants to the U.S. own businesses, according to a new report from the Fiscal Policy Institute and the Center for American Progress. That compares to four percent of immigrants overall and three percent of people born in the United States.” According to one Syrian immigrant, self reliance is emphasized in Syrian culture, a trait that is compatible with American culture. Moreover, a research director at the Fiscal Policy Institute states that Syrian immigrants in the U.S. have generally been successful and could help the refugees adapt to life here.
The economic impact on the U.S. actually could be positive.

People throughout the U.S. welcome refugees because they know from experience the beneficial effect that refugees have on communities, according to David Miliband, president of the International Rescue Committee. He writes that “to take one example, over the course of a decade, refugees created at least 38 new businesses in the Cleveland area alone. In turn, these businesses created an additional 175 jobs, and in 2012 provided a $12 million stimulus to the local economy.” In Rutland, Vermont, the mayor has advocated resettling refugees from Syria and Iraq in his city to help address a declining and aging city population. Population loss there could lead employers like General Electric to leave the city. (A 2013 post looks at efforts by various American cities to attract immigrants in order to help their economies.)

In summary, allowing millions of Syrian refugees to enter the U.S. and Canada not only would be morally warranted, it could minimize the risk of future terrorism, relieve the suffering of many, and enrich both countries. Unfortunately, the Trump administration is moving in the opposite direction, with Trump ordering an indefinite stop to the entry of Syrian refugees into the U.S. The longer he blocks their entry, the greater the perils for both the refugees and the West.

(Joel Newman has a bachelor’s degree in history from Pomona College and works as a teacher in Beaverton, Oregon, USA).

Notes on Trump (by Arthur Dent)

“If there was a left, we would be in a good position to finally rid ourselves of the pseudo-left who can be shown to espouse essentially the same anti-globalist and isolationist ideas as Trump. But in order for there to be a left, we have to be able to present a coherent economic program that explains how to unleash the productive forces of a globalized world for the benefit of the majority who only work here rather than primarily for the owners”.

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Arthur Dent – Thursday 2017-01-19

Even if I had a deep understanding of US and world politics and economics I could not hope to figure out what’s happening at the moment. We are at an important turning point in multiple processes, many of them dependent on unknowable contingencies.

But here’s an outline of some aspects that mass media analysts don’t seem to get.

The big event was Trump beating the entire Republican establishment as a complete outsider in a hostile takeover. Most attention has been directed at the subsequent defeat of the Democrats and the wailing and gnashing of teeth from their celebrities and media. But the situation on the Republican side is far more interesting.

Instead of splitting they have jointly celebrated defeating the Democrats and appear to have successfully formed a united administration. Both sides are indeed glad to be rid of the Democrat administration and can work together for reduced taxes, less regulation and some other points of agreement. It is also quite traditional for Republicans to accept budget deficits as long as they are not funding a Democrat administration. But the fact remains, President Trump has no party in Congress. They despise him and are cooperating only because they fear him.

Trump’s focus is on building his own party. If he had lost the primaries he looked like running as a third party (which he tried to do decades ago). If he had won the primaries but lost the election he would still have been at war with the Republican establishment, who could reasonably be accused of having treacherously helped the Democrats to win by attacking their own candidate. Having won, without any help from most of the Republican establishment he is now in a much stronger position to actually take over their party. If he doesn’t, they will find a way to get rid of him.

All members of the House of Representatives and one third of Senators come up for election in two years, together with State legislatures and governors. The mid-term primaries start in a year. Trump’s campaign organization has databases with more than 10 million email addresses and 2 million donors. Trump’s campaign more than doubled the numbers voting in Republican primaries (many of them former Democrats). Usually only small numbers participate in mid-term primaries and they are mainly mobilized by actual party activists – especially cronies of the local incumbents.

If Trump can keep his base mobilized over the next two years he will end up with a large party in Congress (and in the States) whether or not the Democrats regain majorities.

The media and celebrities are still helping by denouncing him as a deplorable outsider. That’s exactly what he wants to keep his base mobilized. He won because so many people are utterly sick of politically correct plastic insiders.

As far as I can make out the media actually do not get this. It is plausible that when they gave him enormous amounts of free publicity in the primaries they were consciously intending to help him beat the other candidates so that the Republicans would nominate a grotesquely deplorable candidate who would lose the election. But they actually seem to think it really matters that he has become more unpopular since the election under their onslaught. His popularity among Republican voters is what matters for the primaries and he is not harmed at all by attacks from media and celebrities.

So here’s one possible sequence of events.

Congress approves a fairly large infrastructure stimulus program and deficit as well as funding construction of a secure southern border and improved healthcare. Republican defectors would be outnumbered by Democrat collaborators.

Together with tax cuts and deregulation this has the expected effect of increasing GDP growth and thus jobs and wages at least in the short term. If Trump actually launched trade wars that could produce the opposite effect, even in the short term. But he can start lots of trade disputes that build momentum against globalism without actually initiating a trade war.

So Trump will be seen as having delivered. Many of his opponents will be removed in the primaries.

Hispanic hostility and Democrat mobilization against Trump’s immigration program won’t have much impact on Republican primaries since few Hispanic voters would register as Republicans. But this issue could win seats for Democrats at the midterm elections.

Assuming the Democrats get their act together and stop carrying on the way they are at the moment, they should be able to mount a serious campaign to win back majorities in the House and Senate at the midterm elections. But to do so they would presumably go with Trump’s trade policies, denouncing him for having not gone far enough. After all Bernie Sanders was a serious challenger to Hilary Clinton with protectionist policies (and against open borders) and Clinton actually announced opposition to the TPP in response. Arguably he could have defeated Trump.

So the result in two years could be that the US has shifted from a two party system in which both parties support globalism to a two party system in which both parties oppose globalism. If there was a Democratic majority their obstruction could be blamed for any economic decline that set in after two years.

In three years or so Trump could announce that the border was now secure enough to offer a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants without risk of encouraging more. That could produce a significant hispanic vote for a President that had actually delivered rather than merely attempted comprehensive immigration reform.

A major world economic crisis could break out at any time. I would be surprised if it was postponed for another 8 years. So I would also be surprised if an authoritarian demagogue was not President of the USA when it does break out.

The collapse of the old parties and their plastic politicians extends far beyond the USA. Lots of people are being drawn into thinking about politics for the first time. Their first thoughts are abysmally stupid and make them vulnerable to demagogues spouting nationalism and nativism. But many will end up thinking more deeply now that they have begun thinking.

If there was a left, we would be in a good position to finally rid ourselves of the pseudo-left who can be shown to espouse essentially the same anti-globalist and isolationist ideas as Trump. But in order for there to be a left,we have to be able to present a coherent economic program that explains how to unleash the productive forces of a globalized world for the benefit of the majority who only work here rather than primarily for the owners.