Attorney General Barr’s News Conference

I, and everyone I know, want to know the facts of any collusion between Trump and his associates and Russia. I am confident that the Mueller investigation provides them as well as we could expect. Attorney General Barr’s news conference this morning summarizing that report was clear and transparent. He did an exemplary and impressive job. The complaints from some Democrats on the Hill that Barr should not have held this press conference until after they had read Mueller’s report were unfounded and frankly embarrassing. Please let’s move on.

My assessment of Trump’s administration today, which is what we should be debating, is very mixed. Adjusting and lightening the regulatory burdens that have been holding our economy back is largely good in my view (though each must be judged individually) as are the tax reforms making the system simpler and fairer. While the tax reforms did not go far enough, they were a big improvement over the existing tax law.

Trump’s attitude toward trade and the protection of inefficient American firms is ill informed and damaging to American’s economy as a whole (as opposed to coal and steel producers). His bullying and unilateral approach is clumsy, amateurish, and counterproductive. The EU, Canada, Japan and others would be happy to join us in confronting China’s bad trade behavior, if Trump were willing to work together and not busy attacking them as well.

I supported Trump’s campaign promises of restraint in deploying American troops around the world, but he has not delivered. His message to the Senate accompanying his veto of the bill passed by both houses of Congress (54-46 in the Senate and 247-175 in the House) a few weeks ago invoking the War Powers Resolution to end U.S. support of Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen reflects a truly shocking affront to our Constitution: “This resolution is an unnecessary, dangerous attempt to weaken my constitutional authorities, endangering the lives of American citizens and brave service members, both today and in the future.”  The truth is just the opposite. The constitution gives the power to declare war to Congress and the almost blank check congress gave Presidents following 9/11 cannot meaningfully be stretched to include what we are doing in Yemen.

Trump continues to undercut and weaken American leadership in the international organizations and agreements that have contributed so much to post WWII peace and prosperity. This will be increasingly harmful to our and the world’s legitimate interests.

In his spare time, the President thoughtfully advised the French on fighting the fire in Notre Dame. What an embarrassment and fire experts say that his advice was wrong.

Please, let’s fight the real battles and stop wasting time on the phony ones.

Our dysfunctional Congress

Congress is failing to do its job. It sometimes overrides states’ laws when it shouldn’t. At other times it fails to exercise its authority over the Executive branch, which then exceeds its constitutional authority. For many years it has failed to build broad consensus for important public policies resulting in laws with narrow partisan support or no action at all. This rather long note examines several examples of the above.

The rule of law requires that properly adopted laws be enforced. I favor states’ rights to the maximum extent consistent with the Constitution, such as the overriding federal principle of equal protection of the law for everyone. In particular, I favor the right of each state to determine whether growing, selling and consuming marijuana is legal within that state. Federal law has made dealing with pot illegal. The conflict is untenable and the dominant jurisdiction of laws on pot should be clarified. I favor the states’ right to determine the law in this area.

With regard to national laws, I favor legalizing the residency status of immigrants brought to the United States illegally when they were children (the Dream Act) as well as broad immigration reforms. Currently there is no such law and what to do with and about the rest of those here illegally remains highly controversial.

I also (sort of) support Attorney General Session’s move to rescind the Obama Administration’s enforcement guidelines for the federal enforcement of its anti marijuana laws. “Those guidelines had finessed the state-federal conflict by saying, in effect, that federal prosecutors wouldn’t go after people who complied with state laws, but would instead concentrate on drug cartels, money laundering and other high-priority targets…. In a memo, [Session] said the federal pot statutes “reflect Congress’s determination that marijuana is a dangerous drug and that marijuana activity is a serious crime.” “Is this stuff legal? federal-position-on-pot-makes-situation-foggy-draws-pushback” However, given that resources are always limited, law enforcement agencies must prioritize their law enforcement efforts. With or without DOJ guidelines they are likely to adhere to the priorities suggested by the Obama Administration.

And I strongly support President Trump’s rescinding of Obama’s executive order halting the deportation of those who came to the U.S. illegally as children.

In this note I want to explain why I hold these seemingly contradictory views—pro legalization of pot and dreamers and pro rescinding the executive orders that accomplished each of those. More broadly I want to appeal to our dysfunctional legislative branch to shape up and do its job for the citizens and residents of this country.

Immigration Policy

The history of our immigration laws is complex reflecting compromises between interests with very different motives and objectives. It is currently a mess that does not serve the broad interests of the country very well. As Ilya Shapiro put it: “Immigration is quite possibly the most feckless part of the federal government. More than advancing bad policy, our immigration system consists of schizophrenic laws that don’t advance any particular goal.  If you tried to draw up rules for how foreigners enter a country, how long they can stay, and what they can do here, you’d be hard-pressed to come up with anything worse than our hodge-podge of conflicting regulations. This immigration non-policy serves nobody’s interest, except perhaps lawyers and bureaucrats. And yet Congress has shamelessly refused to fix it.“ President Obama’s DAPA order oversteps his Immigration Powers

The 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act expanded the annual number of permitted immigrants and extended the preference given to members of nuclear families (spouses and underage children) to extended family members (aunts and grandmothers, etc.). Extended family members now take the majority of slots allowed annually—so called chain migration. In my opinion, the preference for extended family members should be rolled back to the nuclear family and preference given to those with the skills and education demanded in the labor market. We must not lose the enormous benefits we have enjoyed from our immigrants. See: A nation of immigrants

A particularly contentious issue concerns what to do with the 11 or so million people who are here illegally, often by overstaying their visas. Deporting them would disrupt their lives as well as the enterprises that depend on their labor. But letting them stay seems unfair to those waiting patiently to enter legally. Jeb Bush and Clint Bolick provide an excellent discussion of these issues in their book: Immigration Wars: Forging an American Solution. See also my earlier blog on: Illegal-aliens.

Early on broad, across the aisle, agreement was reached to single out those who were brought into the country as minors and remain illegally, while continuing the debate about what to do with the rest. These illegal residents did not knowingly break the law on their own and many cannot even remember their earlier lives abroad.

Legislation to grant this group conditional residency leading eventually to permanent residency and maybe citizenship, which later became known as the Dream Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act) was first introduced in 2001 but failed to received the required 60% in the Senate needed to avoid a filibuster. Over the succeeding years it was reintroduced, some times as part of broader immigration reforms, on a number of occasions without success. The 2011 attempt added stronger enforcement provisions against illegal alien workers by requiring employers to verify the legality of each worker in the government’s E-Verify database, the government’s Internet-based work eligibility verification system. But even with this compromise it again fell short of the 60% favorable votes needed in the Senate.

Giving up on Congress, President Obama announced on June 15, 2012 that the government would stop deporting undocumented immigrates matching the criteria covered by the failed DREAM Act. His executive order was called the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

A year earlier President Obama had said:  “America is a nation of laws, which means I am obligated to enforce the law…With respect to the notion that I can just suspend deportations through executive order, that’s just not the case…There are enough laws on the books by Congress that are very clear in terms of how we have to enforce our immigration system that for me to simply through executive order ignore those congressional mandates would not conform with my appropriate role as President.” (March 28, 2011)

Though I sympathize with the President’s impatience with Congress, his reversal of his earlier understanding of his executive powers is more than a stretch. In recognition of this stretch, DACA only granted temporary residency and work authorization, which would have to be reauthorized from time to time. This is not a very satisfactory solution, even if legal, which is very questionable.

On November 14, 2014 President Obama issued another executive order “offering temporary legal status to millions of illegal immigrants, along with an indefinite reprieve from deportation called the Deferred Action for Parents of Citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) policy.

The executive action would have two key components:

  1. “It would offer a legal reprieve to the undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and permanent residents who’ve resided in the country for at least five years. This would remove the constant threat of deportation. Many could also receive work permits.
  2. “It would expand the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that allowed young immigrants, under 30 years old, who arrived as children to apply for a deportation deferral and who are now here legally. Immigrants older than 30 now qualify, as do more recent arrivals.

“People in both groups will have to reapply every three years.“ WashPost complete guide to Obama’s immigration-order

DAPA not only protected five million undocumented immigrants from being expelled, but also permitted them to have work permits. This order was blocked in the courts—ultimately by a divided Supreme Court. In Mr. Shapiro’s and the Cato Institute’s view, DAPA was good policy, bad law, and terrible precedent.

In September of last year the Trump administration also withdrew DACA. In making the announcement to rescind DACA Attorney General Jeff Sessions said:  ‘The program, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, put a temporary halt to the deportation of immigrants who came to the United States illegally as children and who have grown up in the country going to school or working.

“We are a people of compassion and we are a people of law. But there is nothing compassionate about the failure to enforce immigration laws,”

Homeland Security Acting Secretary Elaine Duke said the decision was not taken lightly, but was an attempt to reconcile the program with existing law.

“As a result of recent litigation, we were faced with two options: wind the program down in an orderly fashion that protects beneficiaries in the near-term while working with Congress to pass legislation; or allow the judiciary to potentially shut the program down completely and immediately,” Duke said in a statement. “We chose the least disruptive option.”

The Trump administration said no current beneficiaries would be impacted before March 5, 2018, giving Congress time to act.” Session terminates Obama’s immigration executive order

In my opinion Trump/Sessions did the right thing in terms of the law and of the desirability of finding a more permanent determination of the status of DREAMers, which can only be provided by Congress. Now it is Congress’ turn to finally fix this.

While they are at it (but without holding up the Dream Act) they should fix as much of the immigration mess as possible. For example, the Immigration Act of 1990 allows the Attorney General to provide temporary protected status (TPS) to immigrants in the United States who are temporarily unable to safely return to their home country because of ongoing armed conflict, an environmental disaster, or other extraordinary and temporary conditions in their home country. This authority was transferred to the Department of Homeland Security last October.

The TPS program currently covers about 300,000 people from ten countries, namely El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Liberia, Nepal, Nicaragua, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. The DHS recently announced the termination of TPS status for about 2,500 immigrants from Nicaragua and 45,000 Haitians and most recently 200,000 Salvadorians. They will all have about two years to find a new status or pack up and leave. Most of them have been here since devastating earthquakes struck Central America in 2001. Some 192,000 U.S.-born children, who are therefore U.S. citizens, have at least one Salvadoran parent who holds TPS. In my opinion, children born in the U.S. to nonpermanent residents should not automatically receive citizenship. But a compassionate and realistic treatment of TPS residents requires ignoring existing laws. The rule of law requires that laws be enforced. But then we need to be sure that we only have laws we want enforced. This is a dilemma with an obvious solution, which has not been easy to achieve.

Marijuana and States’ Rights

In the case of the legalizing marijuana, the issue is the rights of state versus federal law. Racial discrimination allowed and/or promoted by some state laws in the past tarnished the image of states’ rights. The constitution (XIV Amendment) and related federal laws appropriately deal with such discrimination in the market place, though the poison in some hearts remains a problem that only education and public debate and good will can address. States should be given the maximum latitude possible to regulate their own affairs. Bad ideas and approaches will be exposed through their experience and good ones demonstrated and copied by other states. Congress should rescind any laws that label marijuana a dangerous or restricted substance.

I support shifting more responsibility to the states for fashioning the details of medicaid within each state.

War powers and the eternal war on terror

In other instances Congress has given away powers that should only belong to it. We should not fight abroad unless Congress approves it. Yet at the moment the U.S. military is involved directly or indirectly in our “Global war on Terror” in 76 countries largely without explicit congressional approval. “Seeing_our_wars_for_the_first_time”.

Congress has not declared war since World War II. It has authorized military engagements on a number of occasions since then without actually declaring war on anyone. The Korean War was dubbed a police action and undertaken under a UN Security Council Resolution. The Vietnam and related wars were fought under the authorization of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution of Aug 7, 1964. The Persian Gulf War with Iraq (remember that) was authorized by the UN and by our Congress in the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of January 12, 1991.

Three days after the 9/11 attach on New York and Washington DC, Congress enacted the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). The law provided that: That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.

The law was passed one vote short of unanimously. “The lone dissenter, Representative Barbara Lee, warned that the resolution gave a “blank check to the president to attack anyone involved in the Sept. 11 events — anywhere, in any country, without regard to our nation’s long-term foreign policy, economic and national security interests, and without time limit.” Rome’s empire without end and the endless U.S. war on terror. This law provides the continuing authority under which the U.S. and a few other countries attacked and still fight in Afghanistan as well as in Yemen, Somalia, Philippines, Pakistan, Libya, Iraq, and Syria.

President George W Bush signed the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution on Oct 16, 2003.

Individual liberty takes second place to security in times of war. But we now live in an era of permanent war and we are not escaping its price.

“The Committee for Responsible Foreign Policy – a bipartisan initiative designed to advocate for more oversight of U.S. military intervention abroad – commissioned research on U.S. citizens’ positions on war intervention. The coalition announced [recently] that the results prove a majority of Americans are mostly skeptical of the benefits of military intervention overseas and military aid in the form of funds or equipment…. The research showed that 67.4% of American voters disapprove of Congressional leadership allowing our involvement in conflict overseas without formally approving military action – or even allowing a debate.” http://responsibleforeignpolicy.org  “A November poll from J. Wallin Opinion Research showed the vast majority of Americans, over 70%, want Congress to impose at least some specific limits on overseas conflicts and exercise more direct oversight.” “Yemen-proves-US-needs-get-handle-war-making-powers”

Our polarized Congress

In the latest Gallup poll (Dec 4-11, 2017) 78% of those responding “disapproved of the way Congress was handling its job.” Congress’ failure to build broad inter party consensus on important public issues such as immigration, medical care and insurance, taxation, use of our military, marijuana and states rights more generally, has led the executive branch to over reach its proper authority, state and federal law to conflict as the Federal government extends its reach, the failure of Congress to resolve dysfunctional laws such as immigration, and the failure of Congress to agree on budget priorities that would arrest the upward march of our national indebtedness.

There are many reasons for Congress’ dysfunction and the deepening division of public attitudes toward our government and fellow citizens. The gerrymandering of congressional districts into safe Republican and safe Democratic districts has encouraged the selection in primary elections of each party’s more extreme candidates. I place considerable fault on the extent to which government has grown and dictates more and more aspects of our lives. This forces us to take public positions on one side or the other of issues that we used to be able to deal with (or ignore) privately allowing a more live and let live environment. Our sources of news have also become more siloed making it more difficult to confront all of the pros and cons of public policy issues.

What can we do? To name but a few ideas, we should each strive to restore civil public discussion. We should each commit to regularly consulting at least two sources of news from reputable sources coming from different sides of each debate. For example, I read the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal every day. We must open our ears and minds and listen to what others say. Check out the following from what I bet is a different (and I think refreshing) side of the sexual harassment issue: “Catherine Deneuve denounces #metoo”. I will do my best to convince you that a more limited government will promote greater social harmony, individual freedom, and economic prosperity. And I will demand (if the courts don’t do it first) that my crazy congressional district (Maryland’s 6th congressional district—look it up and be amazed) be redrawn more sensibly. Even-a-gerrymandering-ban-cant-keep-politicians-from-trying-to-shape-their-districts

American Exceptionalism—where has it gone?

Americans are among the most generous people in the world.  World Giving Index – published by the Charities Aid foundation – averages the percent of the population giving money to charities, the percent who have volunteered time for an organization in the past month, and the percent who have helped a stranger in the past month. Americans are sixth, tied with Switzerland with a score of 55%. Australia and New Zealand are first and second with 57% followed by Ireland and Canada with 56%. Germany is 19th with 44% and France is 93rd with a score of 27%.

I have always been proud that visitors to the United States have generally found Americans to be friendly, helpful, and good-hearted. I realize that this is a bit hard to imagine these days with the negativism thrown from the right and the left at each other, but we still manage the occasional smile in the grocery store as we wait at the checkout line. However, views of America abroad have been declining for some years and have plummeted this year. http://www.pewglobal.org/2017/06/26/u-s-image-suffers-as-publics-around-world-question-trumps-leadership/

The reasons for this decline that leap out to me reflect the propensity of our government to throw its weight around. We have been at war almost continuously since 9/11 (Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Nigeria, and who knows where else). The U.S. has 662 overseas bases in 38 foreign countries and military personnel in 130 countries. Most American soldiers are fine young men but no one likes foreign soldiers on their streets for very long, even went they are well behaved most of the time.

I was discussing with a Pakistani friend the “special” qualities of the American government and American people that make us exceptional https://works.bepress.com/warren_coats/35/. He suggested that a growing number of people around the world see the United States as exceptional in the sense that it doesn’t think it needs to follow the rules it sets out for everyone else. We are seen as bullies. Ouch.

The most recent and embarrassing example of this was President Trump’s announcement that the United States recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and would move the U.S. Embassy there. As background, on May 14, 1948 the British agreed when Israel declared its independence from the British mandate that ruled Palestine. The State of Israel was immediately recognized by the United States. After several rejections by the UN Security Council, Israel’s UN membership application was accepted by the General Assembly on May 11, 1949 in Resolution 273, which, among other things, defined the new country’s boundaries. Between June 5 to 10, 1967 Israel attacked and captured surrounding territories in Egypt, Jordan and Syria in what became known as the Six-Day War. Except the Gaza Strip and the West Bank most of the captured territory was returned as part of a peace agreement. Israel ended its occupation of the Gaza Strip in August 2005.

The termination of Israel’s “temporary” occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem remains the subject of the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. “Under the 1947 UN Partition Plan to divide historical Palestine between Jewish and Arab states, Jerusalem was granted special status and was meant to be placed under international sovereignty and control. The special status was based on Jerusalem’s religious importance to the three Abrahamic religions.”  “Jerusalem-capital-Israel”

In general, the international community rejects the use of brute force to change borders. Russia’s annexation of Crimea into Russia (though it was previously part of Russia before Khrushchev gave it to Ukraine in 1954) violated this understanding.

President Trump’s announcement about the status of Jerusalem violates standing U.S. and international policy. It was almost universally condemned. The US vetoed a Security Council condemnation of Trump’s action but the General Assembly overwhelmingly (128 to 9, with 35 abstentions) passed a resolution declaring that, “any decisions and actions which purport to have altered the character, status or demographic composition of the Holy City of Jerusalem have no legal effect, are null and void and must be rescinded.” White-House-vows-to-stand-firm-on-trumps-recognition-of-jerusalem-as-israels-capital/2017/12/23/

The General Assembly vote used a rarely exorcised power as explained by Paul Pillar. “Among the principal takeaways from the General Assembly’s action is that an international sense of justice and fairness matters.  Many states reject the notion that might makes right, which is how the Israeli government has treated its relations with the Palestinians, and how the Trump administration approached its lobbying on this resolution.” “Uniting-against-trumps-policies-for-peace”

When the UN voted Thursday (Dec 22) to condemn this action “Only seven countries—Guatemala, Honduras, Togo, Nauru, Palau, Micronesia and the Marshall Islands—were willing to stand with Uncle Sam and Israel and vote against the resolution.” “Next-year-in-Jerusalem”

Aside from keeping the favor Israeli Prime Minister “Bibi” Netanyahu and some wealthy American Jewish donors, there is no upside to this step to be found. The peace talks, such as they were, have been damaged. Even the “Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations called for maintaining of the status quo of Jerusalem.” In its letter to the President of the General Assembly it stated that: “The unique identity of Jerusalem, which is of universal interest, consists in its particular nature as a Holy City, most sacred to the three monotheistic religions and a symbol for millions of believers worldwide who consider it their “spiritual capital”. Its significance goes beyond the question of borders and this reality should be considered a priority in every negotiation for a political solution.” “Holy-See-supports-Jerusalem’s-historical-status-quo”

Israelis themselves are deeply divided on this issue. The continued and unresolved occupation of the West Bank by Israel has and continues to provoke terrible behavior by both sides. Uri Avnery, an Israeli freedom fighter in his youth, decries acts by his country against occupied Palestinians in passionate terms (email me if you are interested in his email) as does Phillip Weiss: Ending-crisis-Zionism/

But American bullying did not stop there. Nikki Haley, U.S. Ambassador to the UN, delivered a disgusting and threat-filled speech condemning the U.S. rebuke. “The crude tactics included Nikki Haley’s rhetoric about ‘taking names’ and Donald Trump’s bombast about cutting off U.S. aid.  Among the Arab states that supported the resolution were the two states—Egypt and Jordan—that receive more U.S. aid than anyone other than Israel.  The very crudeness of the tactics, and the offense taken to bullying, probably made the tactics counterproductive.” (see Pillar article above).

Good hearted and freedom loving Americans are increasingly represented by governments that push our views and interests on the rest of the world. The rest of the world’s resistance is building. This does not serve our economic or security interests. How did the “essential country”—the “exceptional country”—become a big bully? In recent weeks we have also been asking ourselves how prominent leaders in the media, industry, and Congress have become sexual bullies. It seems that power corrupts. Eternal vigilance is still needed.

We will always have terrorists

The cancer of ISIS is metastasizing. As it losses its caliphate in the Levant, it is being reborn here and there across the globe. We will always have it or its successors or something like it, in the same way that we have always had gangs, mafia, murderers, and thieves. We can and should minimize their number and the damage they do but we will never eliminate them. The real issue is determining where we want the balance between freedom and security.

There are many reasons for the eternal existence of criminals and their crimes but one is that we are unwilling to create the police state and its repressive and intrusive measures that would be needed to eradicate them totally. In short, we prefer to live relatively free and accept some risks of terrorist acts relative to a safer alternative with significantly curtained freedom. As we evaluate government policies to protect us from terrorists, it is worth reviewing and keeping in mind where we have drawn the line between the risks of freedom and the restraints of greater and greater degrees of security. The line is always under review and adjusted a bit this way or that depending on conditions.

Some data from the U.S. helps us keep perspective. Over the past twelve months in the U.S. 104 people were killed by terrorists, 6 of whom were killed at the hands of Islamists. In comparison, 37,461 people died in automobile accidents in 2016. In response to the risk of death on the highway we regulate the right to drive, requiring a license, and enforce speed and other traffic regulations but we have not prevented people who qualify for a license from taking the risks of driving. A year ago I shared some interesting data on the causes of unnatural deaths in the U.S. in the following blog: https://wordpress.com/post/wcoats.blog/1025

On average 2,500 people choke to death per year while eating, yet the activity remains relatively unregulated.

The Vietnam War – the movie

Whether you lived through it or are viewing it as ancient history, Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s The Vietnam War is shattering. I alternately wept and retched. It was a serious mistake that took over twenty years to back (or crawl) out of. The loss of life was staggering. Estimates of war related deaths between 1954 and 1975 vary from 1.5 to 3.6 million people. Of these 58,220 were U.S. military personnel. Less reliable estimates of South Vietnam military (ARVIN) deaths range from 100,000 to 250,000 and of North Vietnam military and their South Vietnamese collaborators (the Viet Cong) around one million. Estimates of civilian deaths range from 225,000 to 500,000 of which 195,000 to 430,000 where in the South.

But these deaths only scratch the surface of the costs of this war in blood and treasure. Those injured numbered 1,170,000 people. The sight of returned American solders without legs (which seemed more common than missing arms) became relatively common in the 1970s. Greater still was the emotional damage to those who participated in and witnessed up close the human waste of this war, the emotional anguish of those with the courage to refuse to fight what they (and history) considered an immoral war, which included Mohammad Ali, and the scars to our nation, which most of us witnessed from afar, and all can now see again in the Burns/Novick film.

The film balances the horrible visual images of the wasted and mutilated bodies of old men, women and children sprawled or piled along the roads with the personal human stories of individual participants. The terror in the faces of women and children running through the streets is excruciatingly hard to watch. But the contemporary interviews of solders and reporters who had participated in the war and the Americans back home who demonstrated against it gave a very human touch to the pointless horror they looked back on.

As the war dragged on from the 1960s into the 70s solders increasingly questioned the wisdom of torching the homes of impoverished South Vietnamese with no way of knowing whether they were the “good guys” or the “bad guys.” These men, and in some cases women, served faithfully and bravely in what was increasingly, obviously a pointless slaughter. And our Presidents—Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon—lied to us about what was going on—not the easily provable and obvious lies Trump tweets throughout the day, day after day, but serious lies most of us believed until near the end. The Burns/Novick film presents it all—all sides, including fascinating interviews with a number South and North Vietnamese—in as humanized a way as possible for such an unbelievably inhuman undertaking.

What have we (or should we have) learned as we wage war in Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, Libya, Iraq and Yemen to name the most conspicuous cases and not to mention the threats of war in Iran and North Korea?

  • Fighting other people’s wars on other peoples’ land that we know little about is foolish. In fact “foolish” is far too mild a characterization. It is reckless in the extreme. It is insane.
  • Wars are between real people, many if not most of who may have nothing to do with the struggle. The costs to them in lives and limbs should be taken into account when evaluating whether America’s interests are really served by foreign military engagement.
  • The intense patriotism and sense of adventure of American solders is similar to the motivation of ISIS fighters. I admire them and their courage because they were my guys who believed they were fighting for my safety. I see them through my eyes, but I was struck by how similar their motivations for fighting a perceived enemy were to what seems to be the motivations of ISIS fighters. That should give us pause.
  • Foreign adventures—a few trainers, or solders to lend a hand—almost always sound better at the beginning than by the end (when there is an end).
  • Real people, especially our youth who tend to do the fighting, cannot easily escape the emotional damage of the horrible acts they are required to undertake. This cost should receive its due weight in evaluating whether our interests are really served by participating in foreign wars.
  • Madeleine Albright’s famous comment that “what is the good of having the world’s most powerful military if you can’t use it?” should have landed her in jail.

We must defend and protect the homeland without question. It should be very hard to justify sending American troops anywhere abroad to fight for whatever reason. We should have very clear answers to the following questions: Why should we be there and who are our enemies? Who are we fighting and to what end? We almost never do.

 

Protection from terrorists

My heart goes out to those in London who died at the hands of the British born citizen, Adrian Russell Elms, now going by the name of Khalid Masood. May Keith Palmer, Leslie Rhodes, Kurt Cochran, and Aysha Frade rest in peace. Whether he was a terrorist or a mentally disturbed citizen, he inflicted terror. How should we react?

Like health care reform, some topics never seem to go away. Indeed, striking the right balance between freedom and security is and should be under constant review. However, some approaches should be rejected out of hand. Trump’s travel ban would not have helped (hopefully it will never be implemented). In fact, his disgraceful gesture is a political stunt that does harm if anything at all. His rumored ban on carrying laptops and tablets in the cabins of flights from ten Middle Eastern and North African (predominantly Muslim) cities, while the same items may be checked and thus carried in the hull of the same plane is incomprehensible (other than as a protectionist measure, as only non American carriers fly from these cities). Beyond jeopardizing the cooperation we need from these countries to more effectively combat terrorism, these two measures are hurting our tourism and “jobs in America.”

Reasonable measures should be taken to detect and deter organized terrorist undertakings, without undermining our privacy and freedom of movement. But most attacks since 9/11 have been by lone wolves who didn’t have any actual contact with terrorist organizations. Anyone can decide to drive their car or truck into a crowd as was done in France, Germany and now England. No one in their right mind would suggest extending a travel ban to all road travel in the U.S. as a way of keeping us safe. U.S. traffic deaths have fallen significantly from 54,589 in 1972 to 35,092 in 2015 but dramatically exceed any from terrorists. With the advent and wide spread use of driverless cars such deaths will plummet dramatically in the future. But we accept that risk and drive anyway. No sane person would propose keeping every one home as a safety measure. In any event over 25,000 people die from accidents in their home in the U.S. every year. “Our risks from terrorists”

A full, rich life entails taking calculated risks. It is prudent to limit risks were the cost of doing so is not excessive in terms of our freedom of movement and quality of life. We need to keep this in mind when considering the measures we want our government to take to reduce the risk of terrorist attacks.

A related but different issue is how best to defeat ISIS, al-Qaida and the like. During his presidential campaign Trump stated that: “The other thing with the terrorists is you have to take out their families, when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families.” “Trump on terrorists families.” Such an approach does not accord with the lessons of experience (aside from being repulsive and violating international law). Combating terrorist groups requires cooperation from the countries in which they operate and from the people in whose neighborhoods they live, etc. The International Crisis Group has distilled these lessons in the following report. From its executive summary they state that Trump’s “administration… should be careful when fighting jihadists not to play into their hands. The risks include angering local populations whose support is critical, picking untimely or counter-productive fights and neglecting the vital role diplomacy and foreign aid must play in national security policy. Most importantly, aggressive counter-terrorism operations should not inadvertently fuel other conflicts and deepen the disorder that both ISIS and al-Qaeda exploit.” “Counter-terrorism pitfalls-what US fight against ISIS and al-Qaeda should avoid”

 

 

The Market vs. the State

It is in our natures to serve our personal interests first and those of others second. The interests of others include not only those around us in need but also our children and future generations in general, which are served by far sighted policies that might entail short-run and immediate sacrifices. Communities and societies that have instilled in each generation the values that promote and serve such longer-run interests will flourish relative to those with more narrowly “selfish” values.

Adam Smith famously explained in The Wealth of Nations how an individual’s pursuit of his personal gain benefits society at large. In the marketplace the fruits of our labors enjoy the greatest profit the better they meet the desires and needs of our customers at the lowest possible cost. While we might like to cut corners and raise our prices if we could get away with it, competition in the market prevents us from doing so.

Free trade and the international agreements that promote it is an example of the trade off between personal and community or national interests that I am raising. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) will further extend the freedom to trade among the countries signing up to them while raising the standards for working conditions, intellectual property protection, and conflict resolution.

I began an article on free trade written a year and a half ago with: “World per capita income didn’t change much from the time of Christ to the founding of the United States ($444 to $650 in 1990 dollars), a period of 1,790 years. But in the following 320 years it jumped to $8,080. And about half of that jump came over the last 50 years. What explains this fairly recent explosion of well being? Many things, of course, but central to this explosion of wealth was trade.” free-markets-uber-alles As the most disheartening and distressing U.S. presidential campaign in my lifetime has made clear, the huge gains from freer trade as with the huge gains from technical advances have not been evenly shared thus highlighting the trade off between personal and community interests I am exploring.

We have long accepted that economic progress should not be stopped because it would make a particular set of skills or tools less valuable. When someone developed cheaper and better ways of providing us with music than the old 78 inch vinyl record—itself an amazing technological feat in its time—those producing the old records were forced to learn new skills. We should debate whether society (family, church, community governments, etc.) should help those adversely affected by technological progress and how best to do it, but few would want to prevent such progress from which almost everyone in the world has eventually benefited enormously.

Government, which represents an exercise of our collective will, is meant in part to give primacy to our concerns for the interests of others and/or the long run over our individual, immediate personal well being. The American constitution was all about trying to do that without the government becoming captive of the self-interest of those running it. Our natures, whether we operate as private individuals constrained by the market place or as public officials constrained by the law and a broadly agreed public purpose, remain a mix of self-interest and public interest. The fundamental difference between our behavior as private citizens or public servants is in the external constraints that impact our behavior. Our natures otherwise remain the same.

The power of government can be exploited to thwart the discipline of competitive markets on the dominance of self-interest over the common interest. Preventing government from being captured by the self-interest of those running it or those who seek special privileges from it is no easy task. To that end our constitution strictly limited what government could do (the enumerated powers) and encumbered it with checks and balances. The dangers of such capture posed by the military industrial complex of which President Eisenhower warned, is well known and real (e.g. $400 billion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter that few believe we need), but the same is true of most other intrusions of government into private affairs, such as all of our many wars (on drugs, terror, poverty, etc.) as well.

Sadly our government has expanded well beyond its necessary functions into every nook and cranny of our personal lives with increasingly pernicious and alarming results. The abuses of its ever-expanding powers for personal and partisan benefits are exemplified by the scandal of asset forfeiture,the-abuse-of-civil-forfeiture/, which alarmingly continues, the long and bipartisan history of political abuse of the IRS, irs-tea-party-political, and most recently the legal attack on companies questioning the climate change forecasts of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) by the AGs United for Clean Power using the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act in an effort to silence criticisms of UN climate studies. prosecuting-climate-chaos-skeptics-with-rico. Such a blatant government attack on free speech is truly shocking. These are but a few examples of growing government tyranny and corruption.

The most effective defenses against such corruption are to limit the scope of government as much as possible (i.e. subject individual actions to the discipline of the market as much as possible) and to strengthen public insistence on adherence to the rule of generally applicable law. As trade has moved beyond the village and nation, so must the rule of law.

Following World War II the United States led the establishment of international arrangements and laws governing trade (WTO) and financial (IMF and WB) and diplomatic (UN, NATO) relations among nations. The U.S. was the natural leader of this globalized world not only because it had the largest economy and the largest military, but because it was generally respected for its commitment to the rule of law. More than any other country the U.S. was seen as committed to the longer run prosperity of the world above short run tactical benefits for itself.

In an April 12, 2016 interview by Steve Clemons in The Atlantic, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew observed that “In the 21st century, the world needs the United States to be a North Star. The world wants us to be the North Star. I really do believe that. I am amazed at how other countries want to hear our advice and what we think makes sense. Sometimes we may have the habit of lecturing too much. We have to be careful not to do that.”

In recent years American leadership has been slipping. Rather than draw China more tightly into the global rule based trading system, we have pushed them away. After the United States convinced the IMF’s European members to accept a reduction in their share of votes in the IMF in order to bring the voting shares of China, India, and some other emerging economies more in line with their economic size, it took the U.S. Congress more than five years before it approved the amendments to the IMF Articles of Agreement needed to implement this agreement. In the mean time China set up its own international lending organization. US-leadership-and-the-Asian-Infrastructure-Investment-Bank

Rather than strengthen cooperative, diplomacy based relationships the U.S. has launched a series of generally failed wars to promote “democracy,” (Gulf War 1990-91, Somalia 1992-5, Haiti 1994-5, Bosnia 1994-5, Kosovo 1998-99, Afghanistan 2001 – to date, Iraq 2003-11, Libya 2011). These have weakened respect for American leadership.

On the economic front the United States has imposed hugely costly anti-money laundering (AML) and global tax reporting (FACTA) requirements on the rest of the world without regard for their cost and despite the lack of any evidence of benefits.  Operation Choke Point   These are serious abuses of American leadership that will produce a growing backlash. But it is not just misguided arrogance that is undermining our role in the world, it is the growing perception that our leadership is increasingly motivated by the selfish personal interests of crony capitalists rather than the high principles that have serviced us and world so well in the past.

Consider the example of the FATCA (Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act). Badly designed corporate and income tax laws in the United States have pushed an increasing number of companies and wealthy people out of the U.S. Rather than clean up its tax laws, the U.S. attempts to tax the income of Americans where ever they earn it and where ever they might live. The only escape is to renounce U.S. citizenship. The Obama administration is now proposing an exit wealth tax for American’s giving up their citizenship. It reminds me of the measures the Soviet Union took to prevent its citizens from leaving. Have we really fallen so low?

The use of off shore, tax minimizing structures by American companies and individuals (i.e. legal tax planning measures) as well as illegal efforts to hide income have been met by increasingly intrusive efforts by the U.S. to find and tax such income. Quoting from the introduction of the Wikipedia article on FATCA: “The Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) is a 2010 United States federal law to enforce the requirement for United States persons including those living outside the U.S. to file yearly reports on their non-U.S. financial accounts to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FINCEN). It requires all non-U.S. (foreign) financial institutions (FFI’s) to search their records for indicia indicating U.S. person-status and to report the assets and identities of such persons to the U.S. Department of the Treasury.”

As the world attempts to comply with American extra territorial demands, the United States itself is not. Such reporting requires knowledge of the beneficial owners of companies. Most companies established in the United States, such as those incorporated in Delaware, are not required to provide the identities of beneficial owners. The U.S. seems to have no intention of requiring its companies to comply with what it demands from other countries.

The decline and fall of the “American Empire” seems to be underway. It doesn’t need to be.

Fighting Terrorists, Part II

How do we as a free society protect ourselves from terrorists without in the process losing our freedom to our protectors? To the extent that terrorists are part of organized groups, our counter terrorism agencies need to identify and track the members of such groups with tools and techniques that do not violate our individual privacy. As such groups often operate internationally, the information collected should be shared with similar agencies in other trustworthy countries, though this has been and will remain challenging given quite different data standards from one jurisdiction to another. Individuals identified as part of a terrorist network, or suspected of such involvement, or suspected of having potential interest in such involvement should be closely watched wherever they are. The risks of such state scrutiny to our civil liberties are obvious, but should be pursued with proper oversight and care. The careful balancing of these conflicting objectives is a critical aspect of successful, largely free societies.

The above measures can be helpful up to a point, but they cannot eliminate all risks of terrorism even if we should give up all of our liberties to a security garrison state, which hopefully we still have the courage to resist. Throwing up our arms and bunkering down every time a terrorist blows himself and others up only feeds the enthusiasm of the terrorists. Just as even the safest societies have and will always have some criminals, we can never be fully free of terrorists. Effective policing and a respected, fair, and efficient court system will minimize but not eliminate crime. Most mass murders in the U.S. have been the work of mentally disturbed individuals. While we can do better at identifying and helping those who might otherwise undertake mass murders, we will never succeed fully even if we lock up every person we think has such potential, and those Americans who still value their freedom enough to face such risks would not want to live in such a society.

In the past, terrorist attacks and mass murders in the U.S. have been perpetrated by a wide range of groups and individuals, including white supremacists, black extremists, anarchists, anti-Semites, Puerto Rican nationalists, anti-abortion radicals, and the emotionally disturbed, to name a few. Today’s best identified terrorist risks come from the Islamic State (Daesh) and the radical Islamists who join them or are inspired by them, though the vast majority of deaths in the U.S. from mass murderers since 9/11 have not been at the hands of Muslims.

The threat from Daesh is particularly challenging because it is built upon religious beliefs. The radical religious beliefs of Daesh are incompatible with modern civilization.[1] Killing non-believers, whether by suicide bombings or otherwise cannot be justified by the religious or moral beliefs held by most of humanity, whether Jewish, Christian, Muslim, humanist, or whatever. Virtually all terrorist attacks in the United States since 9/11 have been, and can be expected to be, committed by Americans. Of those few claiming to act in the name of Islam, we have benefited from American Muslims reporting radicalized, potential terrorists in their midst to the authorities. This helps explain why so few of these attacks have been by Muslims. Attempting to protect us from such attacks via the police methods noted above cannot stop those who are driven by what they believe is right in the eyes of their god (or those who are mad more generally). They are prepared and even eager to die for those beliefs. If some individuals are willing to blow themselves up for what they believe in, it will never be possible to totally prevent them from occasionally achieving their goal.

Deterring radicalized Islamist youth from their terrorist plans would require convincing them that their understanding of Islam is wrong. Given their willingness to die for their beliefs, undermining those beliefs is likely to be insufficient, though it is important. Virtually all young people seek an understanding of the purpose of their lives and moral values to guide their behavior. Muslims are best equipped and best placed to convince radical Islamists that their understanding of their religion is wrong. But all of us through our Churches, Mosques, Synagogues, schools and our culture more generally must do a better job teaching our young the moral values, and where appropriate the religious beliefs, that should guide their and our behavior toward our fellow man appropriate to living together in the modern civilized world. Coercion will not be enough.

[1] See my earlier blog: https://wcoats.wordpress.com/2015/12/18/fighting-terrorists/

Fighting Terrorists

A front-page article in the Washington Post announced that: “Saudi Arabia launches alliance to fight terrorism.”[1] This news truly gave me pause. If the irony of this does not hit you in the face, and even if it does, please read on.

Before exploring approaches to fighting terrorism, we need to define who or what our terrorist enemy is. The failure to do so clearly has badly undermined our efforts to defeat this enemy. Clearly the thousands of young men and women from around the world fighting in Iraq and Syria under the self designated Islamic State are terrorist enemies, as are Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik, who killed 15 of Farook’s co workers in San Bernardino, California recently, and so are the French and Belgian Jihadists who killed 130 people in Paris on November 13th. Dropping bombs on San Bernardino or Paris or carpet bombing the Levant will not stop this enemy and the collateral damage, both human and physical,… well, you get the point.

If we understood why they were doing what they are doing, either at home or in far off places, we might be better able to deter them. What is their goal? Several steps are needed to reach such an understanding, but they all claim to be fulfilling what they understand to be their obligation to Allah to kill non-believers who refuse to convert to Islam:

I have been ordered by Allah to fight and kill all people (non-Muslims) until they say “No God except Allah.”

The above statement is a hadith collected and recorded by Sahih al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim, the two most important compilers of the oral history of the words and deeds of Muhammad.

So our enemies are young Muslims who accept martyrdom and the prospect of early entry to paradise by fulfilling the commands of their religion as it has been taught to them. Those of us who live beyond this period of desperate searching for the meaning and purpose of our lives and make it to a more mature adulthood generally find less demanding objectives and meanings for our lives. Do most Muslims accept this version of their religion? This is a complicated subject but obviously we see the vast, vast majority of Muslims living in compliance with the laws and customs of whatever country they live in. Have they embraced a more peaceful understanding of Islam or have they managed to ignore those aspects of their religious beliefs that are clearly unacceptable in the modern civilized world?

Following 9/11, once I was able to return to the U.S., I asked a Pakistani colleague why he and his fellow Muslims did not speak out to condemn this barbaric act made in the name of Islam. He replied that it was very difficult for a Muslim to publically criticize a fellow Muslim. I only now think I understand what he meant. For a Muslim to criticize or renounce his religion is called apostasy. According to Dr. Tawfik Hamid in his very illuminating book Inside Jihad: “The portion of Sharia concerned with apostates is known as Redda law, and according to the literal implementation of Redda in Saudi Arabia, the punishment for apostasy is death.”[2]  Thus condemning Muslim’s who kill non-believers can be dangerous.

The proponents of this strict, fundamentalist form of Islam are called Salafists. According to Dr. Hamid: “Salafists desire a return to the Islamic Caliphate. They do not respect secular states or weak Islamic regimes. They believe Sharia law should constitute, ideally, the only legal system in any society, because it is the divine law…. For Salafists, the perfect world is one in which apostates are slain, adulterous women are stoned to death, enslavement of war captives is permitted, polygamy is admired and wives can be beaten when the husband deems it appropriate.”[3] Such views are not compatible with our Constitution or culture nor with any other modern culture and should be condemned as unacceptable.

According to Dr. Hamid, Salafist interpretations of Islam promulgated around the world by the Wahhabi sect of Sunni Islam financed by the Saudi Arabian government has come to dominate the understanding of the teachings of Muhammad by most Muslims. In exchange for the commitment of the Wahhabi leadership to respect and not politically challenge the Saudi royal family, the Saudi rulers financed the Wahhabi movement and its expansion. So the irony of Saudi Arabia launching an alliance to combat terrorism is that it is Saudi Arabia that continues to finance its primary cause, the Salafist version of Islam. For starters the Saudi government should cut off the funds it now provided to the promotion and spread of such teachings.

If the United States or any other military were able to kill every ISIS fighter in the Levant (Iraq and Syria), even if it could do so without destroying the cities and communities and kill their citizens that ISIS now occupies and controls, and even if it could leave behind or install a creditable, peaceful, and broadly accepted government that could prevent a new ISIS from arising, this would not end the threat of Islamic terrorism. As long as young men and women around the world continue to believe that their ticket to paradise entails fulfilling their religious duty to kill infidels, innocent people will continue to die at their hands and we will remain at risk.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir has the right idea, if he means it, that “we” must “stop the flow of funds to terrorists and confront the ideology of extremism that promotes killing of the innocent.”[4] But according to Dr. Hamid, this is not enough. “Islamic terror is not likely to decrease until Muslims cease being passive terrorist and become active defenders of hard truth, true peace and real tolerance.”[5] “For every jihadist in the world there is a much larger number of individuals who quietly approve of his conduct. Islamic terror often makes passive terrorist secretly proud.”[6] This is because the passive terrorist believes on the basis of Salafist teachings that the active terrorist is fulfilling the requirements of Islam. “In the case of passive terrorists the schism is one between the cultural mind and the religious mind.”[7]

Islam needs a reformation. While peaceful forms of Islam already exist (e.g., Sufism), Dr. Hamid argues that a more rigorous and scholarly reinterpretation can emerge from a refocusing on the Koran (the word of Allah), which does not contain many of the offending texts in the hadiths and Sunnah (the words and deeds of Muhammad), and placing certain commands and acts in the historical context in which they originally occurred as is generally done when interpreting the Bible.

The United States and other secular societies need the help of peaceful Muslims, those who have accepted the secular laws of their country (e.g. the U.S. Constitution) and thus rejected those Salafist teachings that contradict them. We need their help in attracting Muslims to its acceptable and peaceful versions and we need their help in isolating and exposing the few Islamic terrorists among them. These peaceful Muslims, in turn, need our condemnation of the intolerant and violent elements of Salafism, to help support their campaign for reformation. To ignore that Islamic terrorists are acting on their understanding of their religion, i.e. that they are Islamic, undercuts any effort and hope for the reformation that Islam needs in order to peacefully take its place in the modern world.

In his farewell speech to the Nation in 1988 Reagan spoke of America as a shinning city on the hill: “In my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.” Implicit in Reagan’s vision was that anyone “with the will and heart to get here,” had already embraced the laws and customs of their new land. Those who have and who satisfy our other requirements for immigration should be welcomed.

[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/saudi-arabia-launches-islamic-military-alliance-to-combat-terrorism/2015/12/15/ad568a1c-a361-11e5-9c4e-be37f66848bb_story.html

[2] Tawfik Hamid Inside Jihad: How Radical Islam Works, Why it Should Terrify Us, How to Defeat it, Mountain Lake Press, 2015 page 83. http://www.tawfikhamid.com/

[3] Ibid.

[4] Washington Post Op. Cit.

[5] Hamid, Op. cit. page 98

[6] Ibid. page 87

[7] Ibid. page 102

What to do about Syrian refugees?

When frightened most people take or support steps to reduce risks to their security even at the expense of their liberties or other normally valued principles. Failure to do so might even be considered foolish if such steps might actually increase their safety. On the other hand, we regularly accept small risks in exchange for more interesting lives. The fact that 92 people died every day on average in the U.S. in traffic accidents in 2012 (about the same number who died from falling) has not kept most of us home, where we would have faced the risk that an average of 7 people per day died from home fires.

I am prompted to return to this subject (for an earlier blog see: https://wcoats.wordpress.com/2013/08/06/are-we-becoming-a-nation-of-cowards/) by a recent Bloomberg poll in which the majority of adult American’s surveyed (53%) following the recent terrorist attacks in Paris that killed 129 people said that “the nation should not continue a program to resettle up to 10,000 Syrian refugees.” Leaving aside that this is an almost unnoticeable share of the more than 3 million Syrians who have fled their country and the 6.5 million displaced within Syria, and leaving aside the causes of the horrors from which they are fleeing, are we justified in refusing to accept refugees if it makes us safer? But before taking that on, we should have a clear understanding of whether it is likely to make us safer.

The concern, of course is that among these poor desperate souls, terrorist might pose as refugees in order to gain entry to the U.S. (or Europe) in order to wreak havoc. Despite best efforts this possibility cannot be ruled out any more that we can rule out dying by fire if we lock ourselves in our homes. But the recent Paris attacks were carried out by French and Belgian citizens, not refugees. “Then there was the curious case of the Syrian passport found near the body of a suicide bomber. Who takes a passport to a terrorist operation? Someone who wants it to be found.” (Frida Ghitis, CNN, November 18, 2015: http://www.cnn.com/2015/11/18/opinions/ghitis-isis-self-destructive/index.html)

Gaining entry to the U.S. as a political refugee is a time consuming and difficult process. I have written a number of letters in support of applications by Iraqis and Afghans I have worked with and that is a very small part of what is required. Ms. Ghitis’ very interesting article continues: “The Paris operation had multiple objectives. The passport was a way of provoking the West to turn against refugees. The attack sought to provoke France, NATO and Europe to fight ISIS and the public to turn against the Muslim population and against refugees. ISIS wants a war between Islam and the rest of the world, with Muslims on its side, as a way of creating and expanding its so-called ‘caliphate.’ ISIS wants the world’s Muslims to feel they are at war with the modern world. It also wants to stop the flow of Syrians to the West, because it’s more than a little embarrassing that Muslims are fleeing its utopian Islamic ‘state.’”

In short, the risks of terrorist attacks (or attacks by deranged students at schools, etc.) in the U.S. come almost totally from our own citizens, just as do virtually all other crimes, violent or otherwise, in the U.S.  We call their perpetrators criminals and have vast and expensive programs to minimize such acts and to protect us to the extent compatible with our values from the crimes that nonetheless still take place. Aspects of these programs are the promotion of respect for the rights of others and for law and order and addressing and minimizing injustices toward individuals or groups that might provide the basis for grievances and hostility. For the rest we rely on the police to maintain order and arrest those who persist in crime (violent or otherwise). Crime and its perpetuators have always been and always will be with us. Some approaches to containing them have worked better than others and we should continuously strive to find the most effective balance between our freedom and our security.

So will ending the already negligible immigration of Syrians or Muslims improve our safety? If anything at all, it will worsen it by alienating and angering some of the almost 3 million Muslim’s already living here. The cry by some Governors and Presidential candidates and others to close the door to Muslims is much more likely to turn an American Muslim into a terrorist than to prevent one from entering the country from abroad. Thus these ugly cries by understandably frightened people fail on all counts (the promotion of American values and the promotion of security).

We need champions of the “Land of the free, home of the brave.” We have been the “Home of the free because of the brave;” not the brave young men and women sent off as cannon fodder to fight wars all over the place by deranged neocons but those brave enough to stand tall for the values of human respect and freedom that have (and hopefully still will) define America.