Commentary Magazine


Topic: social services

“If It’s Freedom We Hate, Why Didn’t We Attack Sweden?”

That was the question posed by Osama bin Laden in a 2006 speech, in which he blamed the 9/11 attacks on U.S. “imperialist” foreign policy. Apparently, this statement seemed like watertight logic to a certain species of non-interventionists, who immediately began quoting the terror leader as if he was a dependable, trustworthy source.

“Why is America the target of terrorists and suicide bombers?” asked Philip Giraldi at CPAC just last February. “Surely not because it has freedoms that some view negatively. As Usama bin Laden put it, in possibly the only known joke made by a terrorist, if freedoms were the issue, al-Qaeda would be attacking Sweden.”

Of course, in light of some recent events in Stockholm, I think we can now safely assume that terrorists fall into the anti-freedom camp. As Elliot Jager notes at Jewish Ideas Daily, even the Swedish foreign policy praised by so many non-interventionists wasn’t enough to protect the country from getting targeted by radical Islamists:

Given Sweden’s lusty embrace of multiculturalism and an immigration policy that many observers regard as suicidal; its diplomatic predisposition to the Palestinian cause; and its tepid response to violent Muslim anti-Semitism, what could it possibly have done to deserve an Islamist suicide bombing? In his recording, al-Abdaly, for one, named the ongoing war in Afghanistan and a 2007 cartoon depicting the Muslim prophet Muhammad as a dog. But is this credible? Sweden has a mere 500 soldiers in northern Afghanistan, where they are involved mostly in reconstruction work and social services like training midwives. As for the allegedly offensive cartoons, they appeared in a regional newspaper and were intended only as a protest against the widespread media self-censorship that followed in the wake of the 2005 Muhammad cartoons published in Denmark.

And the Stockholm attack is only the latest in a string of international terrorist acts and plots that have helped discredit the “blowback” theory. Nearly every country that non-interventionists have claimed was “safe” from terrorism has been forced to fight Islamic terrorists on its own soil in recent years.

“A growing number of Americans are concluding that the threat we now face comes more as a consequence of our foreign policy than because the bad guys envy our freedoms and prosperity,” said Rep. Ron Paul on the floor of the House in 2002. “How many terrorist attacks have been directed toward Switzerland, Australia, Canada, or Sweden? They too are rich and free, and would be easy targets, but the Islamic fundamentalists see no purpose in doing so.”

Let’s look back on that statement knowing what we know today. Have Islamic terrorists targeted Switzerland? Yes. Australia? Several times. Canada? Definitely. Sweden? Of course.

So to say that the U.S. would be safe from terrorism by adapting a non-interventionist foreign policy simply ignores the reality on the ground. Enemies who will gladly kill us over a petty cartoon in a small-circulation newspaper certainly don’t need to use foreign policy as a justification to fly planes into our buildings.

That was the question posed by Osama bin Laden in a 2006 speech, in which he blamed the 9/11 attacks on U.S. “imperialist” foreign policy. Apparently, this statement seemed like watertight logic to a certain species of non-interventionists, who immediately began quoting the terror leader as if he was a dependable, trustworthy source.

“Why is America the target of terrorists and suicide bombers?” asked Philip Giraldi at CPAC just last February. “Surely not because it has freedoms that some view negatively. As Usama bin Laden put it, in possibly the only known joke made by a terrorist, if freedoms were the issue, al-Qaeda would be attacking Sweden.”

Of course, in light of some recent events in Stockholm, I think we can now safely assume that terrorists fall into the anti-freedom camp. As Elliot Jager notes at Jewish Ideas Daily, even the Swedish foreign policy praised by so many non-interventionists wasn’t enough to protect the country from getting targeted by radical Islamists:

Given Sweden’s lusty embrace of multiculturalism and an immigration policy that many observers regard as suicidal; its diplomatic predisposition to the Palestinian cause; and its tepid response to violent Muslim anti-Semitism, what could it possibly have done to deserve an Islamist suicide bombing? In his recording, al-Abdaly, for one, named the ongoing war in Afghanistan and a 2007 cartoon depicting the Muslim prophet Muhammad as a dog. But is this credible? Sweden has a mere 500 soldiers in northern Afghanistan, where they are involved mostly in reconstruction work and social services like training midwives. As for the allegedly offensive cartoons, they appeared in a regional newspaper and were intended only as a protest against the widespread media self-censorship that followed in the wake of the 2005 Muhammad cartoons published in Denmark.

And the Stockholm attack is only the latest in a string of international terrorist acts and plots that have helped discredit the “blowback” theory. Nearly every country that non-interventionists have claimed was “safe” from terrorism has been forced to fight Islamic terrorists on its own soil in recent years.

“A growing number of Americans are concluding that the threat we now face comes more as a consequence of our foreign policy than because the bad guys envy our freedoms and prosperity,” said Rep. Ron Paul on the floor of the House in 2002. “How many terrorist attacks have been directed toward Switzerland, Australia, Canada, or Sweden? They too are rich and free, and would be easy targets, but the Islamic fundamentalists see no purpose in doing so.”

Let’s look back on that statement knowing what we know today. Have Islamic terrorists targeted Switzerland? Yes. Australia? Several times. Canada? Definitely. Sweden? Of course.

So to say that the U.S. would be safe from terrorism by adapting a non-interventionist foreign policy simply ignores the reality on the ground. Enemies who will gladly kill us over a petty cartoon in a small-circulation newspaper certainly don’t need to use foreign policy as a justification to fly planes into our buildings.

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Hope and Change in a Muslim Country

One of the many unfortunate aspects of the Obama administration’s “Muslim outreach” policy is that too little attention is paid to success stories in the Middle East – regimes and activists who are modernizing, democratizing, and advancing the cause of women’s rights.

There is no better example than Aicha Ech Channa, an activist from Morocco who has survived multiple fatwas from religious extremists and gained support from a reformist monarch and international recognition for her extraordinary work on behalf of unwed mothers and children in Morocco. She is visiting the U.S. with Moroccan officials.

Aicha’s appearance is deceptive. She looks like a sweet grandmother, speaks fluent French, and has a sly sense of humor. You would never guess that for 40 years, she has been battling Islamists and quietly revolutionizing the lives of women in Morocco. When she began her work, unwed mothers were considered prostitutes, even if the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest. Under the threat of imprisonment and social ostracism, many abandoned their children, leaving them, Aicha explains, in the streets, in mosques, or even in the woods. She explains, “They just didn’t talk about it.”

This was the impetus, she explains, to create her own organization to assist unwed mothers, provide training and education, reconcile family members, and provide a legal mechanism for identifying the father and, if there is sufficient evidence, obtaining DNA testing to establish paternity. At the cost of $400 per month per person, she puts the women through job-training and literacy programs and provides psychological counseling, social services, and mediation with the father of the child. She operates restaurants and a catering service to employ unwed mothers who would otherwise be jobless. The goal is to have economically independent women and to insure that the country does not have a generation of cast-off children “who will be bitter toward their country.”

I ask if there is legal recourse for women in situations of rape and incest in Morocco. She answers: “Yes, in principle, but first you have to have the courage to go to the judge. So a lot of associations are there to go with women to the judge.” But this is not sufficient, she says. Her goal is much bigger. She contends that only through social and economic development can women and the country as a whole progress. She explains: “Everything is important. You have to develop a training system [for women]. Get involved in politics. Educate men.” She is candid that child labor remains a problem: “Little girls are working because the family is poor. Economic development is needed.”

If all this sounds as if it would be threatening to Islamic radicals, it was.  In 2000, a fatwa was issued. She explains that on June 6, 2000: “I dared to be interviewed on Al Jazeera for 45 minutes. I talked about rape, pedophilia, child workers, unwed mothers. … I was breaking taboos.” When she heard about the threat to have her punished, she recalls: “I wanted to throw in the towel. [But] there was a moment of solidarity.” From the media, private associations, and foreign embassies, she received calls of support. Then King Mohammed VI’s advisers contacted her and told her to stick with her work. To send the message to Islamist radicals, the reformist monarch invited her to the palace and gave her the Mohammed V Foundation’s Medal of Honor. She recalls the king’s comments: “I know you. I know what you do. I know what you write. I know what they write about you. Continue to do your work.” Also, in 2000, when she attended a ceremony honoring over 40 women’s organizations in Morocco, the king told the activists: “Alone I can’t change things. Together, hand in hand we can change things.”

Another fatwa followed, but so did international awards including the $1 million Opus Prize. She praises the change in the Family Code that the king championed but says changes to the law are needed. Unwed women still must go to court to register their children. She stresses that there needs to be “time to change.” Taking a water bottle from my side, she picks it up and pretends to pour it on the table. She analogizes society to dry land. “You have to pour water slowly or it floods.”

For Morocco, a moderate Muslim state in a region painted with a broad brush (by U.S. President, no less, who insists it is all the “Muslim World”), Aicha’s story is evidence that the country is modernizing. Ayache Khellaf, a senior expert on economic planning on the High Commission for Planning, an independent advisory organization in Morocco, explains: “The society is changing. The civil society is playing an important role. …  At one time people wanted to execute her. Now they are coming to hear her talk.” As one Morocco observer put it, “If she were doing this in Iran or Saudi or just about any other Muslim country, she would be dead by now, not getting medals of honor from the king.”

So if Muslim outreach is our goal, and cultivation of truly moderate, reformist Muslims is in our national-security interest, we would do well to stop showering attention on the despots of the region and pay more heed to those regimes and individuals who are actually offering, to borrow a phrase, hope and change.

One of the many unfortunate aspects of the Obama administration’s “Muslim outreach” policy is that too little attention is paid to success stories in the Middle East – regimes and activists who are modernizing, democratizing, and advancing the cause of women’s rights.

There is no better example than Aicha Ech Channa, an activist from Morocco who has survived multiple fatwas from religious extremists and gained support from a reformist monarch and international recognition for her extraordinary work on behalf of unwed mothers and children in Morocco. She is visiting the U.S. with Moroccan officials.

Aicha’s appearance is deceptive. She looks like a sweet grandmother, speaks fluent French, and has a sly sense of humor. You would never guess that for 40 years, she has been battling Islamists and quietly revolutionizing the lives of women in Morocco. When she began her work, unwed mothers were considered prostitutes, even if the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest. Under the threat of imprisonment and social ostracism, many abandoned their children, leaving them, Aicha explains, in the streets, in mosques, or even in the woods. She explains, “They just didn’t talk about it.”

This was the impetus, she explains, to create her own organization to assist unwed mothers, provide training and education, reconcile family members, and provide a legal mechanism for identifying the father and, if there is sufficient evidence, obtaining DNA testing to establish paternity. At the cost of $400 per month per person, she puts the women through job-training and literacy programs and provides psychological counseling, social services, and mediation with the father of the child. She operates restaurants and a catering service to employ unwed mothers who would otherwise be jobless. The goal is to have economically independent women and to insure that the country does not have a generation of cast-off children “who will be bitter toward their country.”

I ask if there is legal recourse for women in situations of rape and incest in Morocco. She answers: “Yes, in principle, but first you have to have the courage to go to the judge. So a lot of associations are there to go with women to the judge.” But this is not sufficient, she says. Her goal is much bigger. She contends that only through social and economic development can women and the country as a whole progress. She explains: “Everything is important. You have to develop a training system [for women]. Get involved in politics. Educate men.” She is candid that child labor remains a problem: “Little girls are working because the family is poor. Economic development is needed.”

If all this sounds as if it would be threatening to Islamic radicals, it was.  In 2000, a fatwa was issued. She explains that on June 6, 2000: “I dared to be interviewed on Al Jazeera for 45 minutes. I talked about rape, pedophilia, child workers, unwed mothers. … I was breaking taboos.” When she heard about the threat to have her punished, she recalls: “I wanted to throw in the towel. [But] there was a moment of solidarity.” From the media, private associations, and foreign embassies, she received calls of support. Then King Mohammed VI’s advisers contacted her and told her to stick with her work. To send the message to Islamist radicals, the reformist monarch invited her to the palace and gave her the Mohammed V Foundation’s Medal of Honor. She recalls the king’s comments: “I know you. I know what you do. I know what you write. I know what they write about you. Continue to do your work.” Also, in 2000, when she attended a ceremony honoring over 40 women’s organizations in Morocco, the king told the activists: “Alone I can’t change things. Together, hand in hand we can change things.”

Another fatwa followed, but so did international awards including the $1 million Opus Prize. She praises the change in the Family Code that the king championed but says changes to the law are needed. Unwed women still must go to court to register their children. She stresses that there needs to be “time to change.” Taking a water bottle from my side, she picks it up and pretends to pour it on the table. She analogizes society to dry land. “You have to pour water slowly or it floods.”

For Morocco, a moderate Muslim state in a region painted with a broad brush (by U.S. President, no less, who insists it is all the “Muslim World”), Aicha’s story is evidence that the country is modernizing. Ayache Khellaf, a senior expert on economic planning on the High Commission for Planning, an independent advisory organization in Morocco, explains: “The society is changing. The civil society is playing an important role. …  At one time people wanted to execute her. Now they are coming to hear her talk.” As one Morocco observer put it, “If she were doing this in Iran or Saudi or just about any other Muslim country, she would be dead by now, not getting medals of honor from the king.”

So if Muslim outreach is our goal, and cultivation of truly moderate, reformist Muslims is in our national-security interest, we would do well to stop showering attention on the despots of the region and pay more heed to those regimes and individuals who are actually offering, to borrow a phrase, hope and change.

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A Natural Experiment in Political Economy

One of the reasons that political science is such an inexact discipline is the difficulty of experimentation. If you want to test, say, a drug, you take a bunch of genetically identical rats, give half of them the drug and half a placebo, and see what differences turn up between the two groups. But testing a political theory (or an economic one — and political science was known in the 19th century as political economy) is harder to arrange. Rats don’t vote and people do, at least in democracies.

So political scientists, like astronomers, have to wait for natural experiments to come along. To test, for example, capitalism against Communism, one might want to take an economically and ethnically homogeneous country — Sweden would do nicely — and divide it in half. Place one half under one system and the other under the other and wait 50 years to see which half prospers more. But the Swedes are unlikely to agree to be the rats in this experiment. Fortunately, the vagaries of Great Power politics in the 20th century produced two situations surprisingly like the ideal experiment: Germany and Korea.

The evidence from these natural experiments is overwhelming: capitalism produces wealth and liberty; Communism produces poverty, war, and famine. The wonder is that there are still so many Marxists around.

Perhaps the reason is that ideology makes you stupid.

It is often pointed out that the states make great laboratories for political-science experiments. And an experiment has been underway for quite a while testing the liberal model — high taxes, extensive regulation, many government-provided social services, union-friendly laws — against the conservative model — low taxes, limited regulation and social services, right-to-work laws. The results are increasingly in. As Rich Lowry reports in National Review Online, the differences between California and Texas are striking. Between August 2009 and August 2010, the nation created a net of 214,000 jobs. Texas created more than half of them, 119,000. California lost 112,000 jobs in that period. Lowry writes:

Texas is a model of governmental restraint. In 2008, state and local expenditures were 25.5 percent of GDP in California, 22.8 in the U.S., and 17.3 in Texas. Back in 1987, levels of spending were roughly similar in these places. The recessions of 1991 and 2001 spiked spending everywhere, but each time Texas fought to bring it down to pre-recession levels. “Because of this policy decision,” the Texas Public Policy Foundation report notes, “Texas’ 2008 spending burden remained slightly below its 1987 levels — a major accomplishment.”

The result has been dramatic: “A new Texas Public Policy Foundation report notes that Texas experienced a decline of 2.3 percent from its peak employment [in the current recession], while the nation declined 5.7 percent and California 8.7 percent.” And people have been voting with their feet: A thousand people a day are moving to Texas. It will likely gain four House seats next year, while California for the first time since it became a state in 1850 will gain none.

So, again, the evidence would seem to be overwhelming: high tax-and-spend policies and regulation produces stagnation and unemployment, low tax-and-spend policies and regulatory restraint produce the opposite. So why are there still so many liberals?

Same reason.

One of the reasons that political science is such an inexact discipline is the difficulty of experimentation. If you want to test, say, a drug, you take a bunch of genetically identical rats, give half of them the drug and half a placebo, and see what differences turn up between the two groups. But testing a political theory (or an economic one — and political science was known in the 19th century as political economy) is harder to arrange. Rats don’t vote and people do, at least in democracies.

So political scientists, like astronomers, have to wait for natural experiments to come along. To test, for example, capitalism against Communism, one might want to take an economically and ethnically homogeneous country — Sweden would do nicely — and divide it in half. Place one half under one system and the other under the other and wait 50 years to see which half prospers more. But the Swedes are unlikely to agree to be the rats in this experiment. Fortunately, the vagaries of Great Power politics in the 20th century produced two situations surprisingly like the ideal experiment: Germany and Korea.

The evidence from these natural experiments is overwhelming: capitalism produces wealth and liberty; Communism produces poverty, war, and famine. The wonder is that there are still so many Marxists around.

Perhaps the reason is that ideology makes you stupid.

It is often pointed out that the states make great laboratories for political-science experiments. And an experiment has been underway for quite a while testing the liberal model — high taxes, extensive regulation, many government-provided social services, union-friendly laws — against the conservative model — low taxes, limited regulation and social services, right-to-work laws. The results are increasingly in. As Rich Lowry reports in National Review Online, the differences between California and Texas are striking. Between August 2009 and August 2010, the nation created a net of 214,000 jobs. Texas created more than half of them, 119,000. California lost 112,000 jobs in that period. Lowry writes:

Texas is a model of governmental restraint. In 2008, state and local expenditures were 25.5 percent of GDP in California, 22.8 in the U.S., and 17.3 in Texas. Back in 1987, levels of spending were roughly similar in these places. The recessions of 1991 and 2001 spiked spending everywhere, but each time Texas fought to bring it down to pre-recession levels. “Because of this policy decision,” the Texas Public Policy Foundation report notes, “Texas’ 2008 spending burden remained slightly below its 1987 levels — a major accomplishment.”

The result has been dramatic: “A new Texas Public Policy Foundation report notes that Texas experienced a decline of 2.3 percent from its peak employment [in the current recession], while the nation declined 5.7 percent and California 8.7 percent.” And people have been voting with their feet: A thousand people a day are moving to Texas. It will likely gain four House seats next year, while California for the first time since it became a state in 1850 will gain none.

So, again, the evidence would seem to be overwhelming: high tax-and-spend policies and regulation produces stagnation and unemployment, low tax-and-spend policies and regulatory restraint produce the opposite. So why are there still so many liberals?

Same reason.

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RE: Immigration and the Golden State

Like Jennifer, I’m an advocate of increased legal immigration. I believe immigration is a net positive. There is no question that today’s illegal immigrants are a net burden to California’s government-provided social services. But the place to look for the root of that problem is California policy.

If you don’t have an ever-expanding list of entitlement benefits, illegal immigrants can’t take advantage of it. The original problem is the expansion of benefits and “services” well beyond anything that makes sense. The authors of that problem are in the statehouse in Sacramento. The key reasons why state expenditures on social services have increased dramatically in the last quarter-century are the following: the scope of benefits has expanded; the eligibility standards have been loosened; and the state has expanded its own payroll to include hundreds of analysts and managers who function as advocates for enlarging their programs.

In 1999, for example, California’s Healthy Families program made families eligible for state health benefits at incomes up to 250 percent of the poverty level. Then, in the 2000s, the list of state benefits lengthened significantly.  By 2009, with the housing market and the overall economy crashing, Governor Schwarzenegger had to freeze enrollments in the program. It had driven the state’s direct expenditures on medical services up from a little over $8 billion in the 1999 budget to more than $14.3 billion in 2007. (Budget figures here.)

From 1985 to the high-water spending year of 2008, California’s total state expenditures on health and social services — in non-adjusted dollars — rose from $8.64 billion to $29.34 billion. In adjusted dollars (adjusting the 1985 figure to $17.28 billion), the difference represents an increase in social spending of 64 percent in that 23-year period, while the population increased only 39 percent. Read More

Like Jennifer, I’m an advocate of increased legal immigration. I believe immigration is a net positive. There is no question that today’s illegal immigrants are a net burden to California’s government-provided social services. But the place to look for the root of that problem is California policy.

If you don’t have an ever-expanding list of entitlement benefits, illegal immigrants can’t take advantage of it. The original problem is the expansion of benefits and “services” well beyond anything that makes sense. The authors of that problem are in the statehouse in Sacramento. The key reasons why state expenditures on social services have increased dramatically in the last quarter-century are the following: the scope of benefits has expanded; the eligibility standards have been loosened; and the state has expanded its own payroll to include hundreds of analysts and managers who function as advocates for enlarging their programs.

In 1999, for example, California’s Healthy Families program made families eligible for state health benefits at incomes up to 250 percent of the poverty level. Then, in the 2000s, the list of state benefits lengthened significantly.  By 2009, with the housing market and the overall economy crashing, Governor Schwarzenegger had to freeze enrollments in the program. It had driven the state’s direct expenditures on medical services up from a little over $8 billion in the 1999 budget to more than $14.3 billion in 2007. (Budget figures here.)

From 1985 to the high-water spending year of 2008, California’s total state expenditures on health and social services — in non-adjusted dollars — rose from $8.64 billion to $29.34 billion. In adjusted dollars (adjusting the 1985 figure to $17.28 billion), the difference represents an increase in social spending of 64 percent in that 23-year period, while the population increased only 39 percent.

Until 2009, when the state had to cut funding for whole categories of medical benefits — thereby creating a political fracas — most Californians probably had little idea what their tax dollars were going for. I gained a direct understanding myself in the summer of 2008, during my annual optometric exam. The optometry benefit under Healthy Families had recently kicked in, and my optometrist had seen a huge increase in low-margin Medi-Cal business. (This put her practice under stress, incidentally: she needed another office worker to handle the additional traffic, but couldn’t hire one because she was taking a net loss on the new business.) As a cash patient, I had become a rarity in her practice — but I was also footing the bill for the dozens of new working-class patients for whom she was now submitting Medi-Cal claims.

It’s very unlikely that most of the benefits cut in 2009 were being used by illegals in any great numbers. Likewise, serving illegals had almost nothing to do with the fastest-growing sector of the state’s health services in the 2000s: the provision of “developmental services” (e.g., services for autism, epilepsy, and mental disabilities). California guaranteed spiraling costs for this line of effort by choosing to create much of the infrastructure itself rather than emphasizing voucher assistance for privately-provided services. Paying for infrastructure – practitioners’ salaries, clerical support, pension plans, facilities and maintenance – is a huge and growing problem for California’s public finances; in too many fields, the state has become the employer of first resort. That has nothing to do with illegals. It’s a function of the excessive privilege enjoyed by public-policy advocacy, whether the subject is education, health care, environmentalism, unionism, or schemes for income redistribution.

Under no demographic conditions is California’s path sustainable. Without illegals, it might have taken a little longer for the house of cards to collapse. But the fundamental problems are a bloated, activist public sector and a tax-and-regulatory environment that discourages the private economy. Illegals haven’t created those problems; immigration per se certainly hasn’t. It’s the state policies, stupid, and only changing those policies can fix what’s wrong.

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Part 2: Immigration and the Golden State

In this post I continue my responses to Peter Robinson’s thought-provoking questions about the degree to which immigration has contributed to California’s current predicament (e.g., fiscal ruin, economic stagnation, political dysfunction). Peter’s second question concerns the political impact on the Republican party. He asks:

Q:  There’s plenty of evidence that, as Hispanics move into the middle class, they begin voting Republican, following the same pattern as previous immigrant groups. In California, though, the Hispanics that do indeed join the middle class are always hugely outnumbered as the influx of poor Mexicans continues — and, as these recent arrivals begin voting, they vote overwhelmingly Democratic. The state that gave us Reagan has now become dark blue. … With California out of play, the GOP stands at a permanent disadvantage in presidential politics.  Isn’t all that too high a price to pay for loose immigration policies?

Let’s break this down into legal and illegal immigration. No critic of lax efforts to cut down on voter fraud has been more ferocious than I. But, honestly, I don’t believe that there are huge numbers of illegal immigrants who flock to the polls. And if there were (as well as for other reasons, which I have amplified in other writings on Obama Justice Department), we need to clean house at the DOJ. One way to start would be to make sure the Department, contrary to the directions of Obama appointees, enforces Section 8 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires states to clean up their voter rolls.

But I think we’re principally talking about Hispanic citizens. Here, the GOP’s problem, I would suggest, is entirely one of its own making. If a party cannot connect with and make its case to a large segment of the electorate, which actually shares many of its fundamental values (e.g., family, the sanctity of life, economic opportunity), there is something wrong with the party. (Let Obama blame or write off voters.)

The argument that “We’ve tried, but nothing works” is a cop-out. (I’m not persuaded by the argument that John McCain’s inability to attract Hispanic voters in 2008 is proof of this. McCain essentially reversed course on immigration in the campaign. Moreover, McCain couldn’t even connect with New Englanders.) In Virginia,  now Gov. Bob McDonnell told me in late 2008 that Republicans had done a poor job of explaining that it is the illegal part they object to — not the immigrant part. And, in the 2009 campaign, he went to Hispanic communities explaining why conservative positions on education, family, low taxes, reasonable regulation, crime, etc. are good for them. If Republicans tried that over an extended period of time, continued to demonstrate that they are a diverse party (Marco Rubio and other Hispanic candidates and officials help in this regard), and tamped down on the over-the-top anti-immigrant rhetoric, they might improve their standing. “We don’t know that!” critics say. True, but why not give it a shot? (Given current polling data, this might be an opportune time to start.)

The question also touches on comprehensive immigration reform. If we legalize them all, the argument goes, then they will stream to the polls and the GOP will be toast. My response is two-fold: 1) see the preceding paragraph and 2) let’s consider what would happen if many of the current immigrants were legalized. For that discussion, let’s turn to Peter’s final question:

Q.  The 2.6 million immigrants in California illegally consume hundreds of millions of dollars worth of public services each year.  They pay sales taxes—but only sales taxes.  On balance, isn’t it likely that they represent an economic drag on the entire state?  “[T]he several million illegal aliens in the state,” Victor Davis Hanson wrote recently, “might make California’s meltdown a little bit more severe than, say, Montana’s or Utah’s.” Isn’t Victor on to something?

Victor is always on to something! But as I discussed in Part 1, the picture is a bit more complicated than anti-immigration activists would have us believe. The data is mixed regarding the net cost-benefits at the state level. Moreover, there are some illegal immigrants who pay more than sales tax. Do they pay property taxes? Do they, if they’ve managed to get on a payroll, pay Social Security taxes (perhaps under a phony Social Security card)? Some do. I think that saying they act as a drag on the state goes too far. The data cited here and in Part 1 suggest that while state expenditures might be stressed, the overall economy benefits tremendously by immigrants.

Still, I’ll concede that in the short run, new, poor immigrants may use more social services than they pay for in taxes, as compared to the rest of the population. But then — Peter sees this coming — let’s figure out how to naturalize the vast majority of them and get them to start paying all their taxes into the system. Am I arguing for “amnesty”? Amnesty is a free pass. I favor allowing otherwise law-abiding immigrants who want to pay a fine, contribute their share to taxes, and go through background checks and a waiting period to legalize their status. Then they can begin to contribute fully to the coffers of California and every other state.

Comprehensive immigration reform would also entail serious border enforcement, temporary worker rules, and employer verification measures. The constant stream of “poor Mexicans” then would slow down. Then we could get down to the business of discussing appropriate levels of legal immigration and an increase in visas for skilled workers.

I come back to Peter’s basic query: Is immigration (legal and not) a significant factor in California’s mess? In my view it isn’t, especially in comparison to Californians’ enormous self-inflicted wounds (e.g., state constitutional chaos, misguided reforms, public-employee union corruption and excess). Certainly, we should should address the issue. We might get around to it if Obama ever started treating immigration reform as a serious policy matter instead of a political football.

In this post I continue my responses to Peter Robinson’s thought-provoking questions about the degree to which immigration has contributed to California’s current predicament (e.g., fiscal ruin, economic stagnation, political dysfunction). Peter’s second question concerns the political impact on the Republican party. He asks:

Q:  There’s plenty of evidence that, as Hispanics move into the middle class, they begin voting Republican, following the same pattern as previous immigrant groups. In California, though, the Hispanics that do indeed join the middle class are always hugely outnumbered as the influx of poor Mexicans continues — and, as these recent arrivals begin voting, they vote overwhelmingly Democratic. The state that gave us Reagan has now become dark blue. … With California out of play, the GOP stands at a permanent disadvantage in presidential politics.  Isn’t all that too high a price to pay for loose immigration policies?

Let’s break this down into legal and illegal immigration. No critic of lax efforts to cut down on voter fraud has been more ferocious than I. But, honestly, I don’t believe that there are huge numbers of illegal immigrants who flock to the polls. And if there were (as well as for other reasons, which I have amplified in other writings on Obama Justice Department), we need to clean house at the DOJ. One way to start would be to make sure the Department, contrary to the directions of Obama appointees, enforces Section 8 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires states to clean up their voter rolls.

But I think we’re principally talking about Hispanic citizens. Here, the GOP’s problem, I would suggest, is entirely one of its own making. If a party cannot connect with and make its case to a large segment of the electorate, which actually shares many of its fundamental values (e.g., family, the sanctity of life, economic opportunity), there is something wrong with the party. (Let Obama blame or write off voters.)

The argument that “We’ve tried, but nothing works” is a cop-out. (I’m not persuaded by the argument that John McCain’s inability to attract Hispanic voters in 2008 is proof of this. McCain essentially reversed course on immigration in the campaign. Moreover, McCain couldn’t even connect with New Englanders.) In Virginia,  now Gov. Bob McDonnell told me in late 2008 that Republicans had done a poor job of explaining that it is the illegal part they object to — not the immigrant part. And, in the 2009 campaign, he went to Hispanic communities explaining why conservative positions on education, family, low taxes, reasonable regulation, crime, etc. are good for them. If Republicans tried that over an extended period of time, continued to demonstrate that they are a diverse party (Marco Rubio and other Hispanic candidates and officials help in this regard), and tamped down on the over-the-top anti-immigrant rhetoric, they might improve their standing. “We don’t know that!” critics say. True, but why not give it a shot? (Given current polling data, this might be an opportune time to start.)

The question also touches on comprehensive immigration reform. If we legalize them all, the argument goes, then they will stream to the polls and the GOP will be toast. My response is two-fold: 1) see the preceding paragraph and 2) let’s consider what would happen if many of the current immigrants were legalized. For that discussion, let’s turn to Peter’s final question:

Q.  The 2.6 million immigrants in California illegally consume hundreds of millions of dollars worth of public services each year.  They pay sales taxes—but only sales taxes.  On balance, isn’t it likely that they represent an economic drag on the entire state?  “[T]he several million illegal aliens in the state,” Victor Davis Hanson wrote recently, “might make California’s meltdown a little bit more severe than, say, Montana’s or Utah’s.” Isn’t Victor on to something?

Victor is always on to something! But as I discussed in Part 1, the picture is a bit more complicated than anti-immigration activists would have us believe. The data is mixed regarding the net cost-benefits at the state level. Moreover, there are some illegal immigrants who pay more than sales tax. Do they pay property taxes? Do they, if they’ve managed to get on a payroll, pay Social Security taxes (perhaps under a phony Social Security card)? Some do. I think that saying they act as a drag on the state goes too far. The data cited here and in Part 1 suggest that while state expenditures might be stressed, the overall economy benefits tremendously by immigrants.

Still, I’ll concede that in the short run, new, poor immigrants may use more social services than they pay for in taxes, as compared to the rest of the population. But then — Peter sees this coming — let’s figure out how to naturalize the vast majority of them and get them to start paying all their taxes into the system. Am I arguing for “amnesty”? Amnesty is a free pass. I favor allowing otherwise law-abiding immigrants who want to pay a fine, contribute their share to taxes, and go through background checks and a waiting period to legalize their status. Then they can begin to contribute fully to the coffers of California and every other state.

Comprehensive immigration reform would also entail serious border enforcement, temporary worker rules, and employer verification measures. The constant stream of “poor Mexicans” then would slow down. Then we could get down to the business of discussing appropriate levels of legal immigration and an increase in visas for skilled workers.

I come back to Peter’s basic query: Is immigration (legal and not) a significant factor in California’s mess? In my view it isn’t, especially in comparison to Californians’ enormous self-inflicted wounds (e.g., state constitutional chaos, misguided reforms, public-employee union corruption and excess). Certainly, we should should address the issue. We might get around to it if Obama ever started treating immigration reform as a serious policy matter instead of a political football.

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The Uncomfortable Commander in Chief

Obama gave a speech yesterday at the Disabled Veterans of America Conference. It was another disturbing example of Obama’s refusal to embrace fully his role as commander in chief. On the Iraq war, in what should have been a moment of triumph, a high point in our war against Islamic terrorists, he still could not bring himself to use the term victory or to explain the long-term significance of a unified, democratic Iraq. The best he could do was this:

As a candidate for President, I pledged to bring the war in Iraq to a responsible end. (Applause.) Shortly after taking office, I announced our new strategy for Iraq and for a transition to full Iraqi responsibility. And I made it clear that by August 31st, 2010, America’s combat mission in Iraq would end. (Applause.) And that is exactly what we are doing — as promised and on schedule.  (Applause.)

Already, we have closed or turned over to Iraq hundreds of bases. We’re moving out millions of pieces of equipment in one of the largest logistics operations that we’ve seen in decades. By the end of this month, we’ll have brought more than 90,000 of our troops home from Iraq since I took office — more than 90,000 have come home. (Applause.)

Today — even as terrorists try to derail Iraq’s progress — because of the sacrifices of our troops and their Iraqi partners, violence in Iraq continues to be near the lowest it’s been in years.  And next month, we will change our military mission from combat to supporting and training Iraqi security forces.  (Applause.)  In fact, in many parts of the country, Iraqis have already taken the lead for security.

Obama was very concerned about reminding the crowd that he had kept his campaign promise. He was far less interested in explaining that a great victory had been achieved. And he was even less interested in explaining how we won. He preferred to credit the troops rather than the strategy or the president who championed it (over Obama and the left’s objections): “When invasion gave way to insurgency, our troops persevered, block by block, city by city, from Baghdad to Fallujah.” No, he didn’t use the word surge or even mention Gen. Petraeus’s name. Shocking, really.

Then on Afghanistan, he was surprisingly brief. He explained — in contrast to his muteness on Iraq — why we are there and what is at stake. That’s commendable. But on the fighting itself, he said only this:

We will continue to face huge challenges in Afghanistan. But it’s important that the American people know that we are making progress and we are focused on goals that are clear and achievable.

On the military front, nearly all the additional forces that I ordered to Afghanistan are now in place. Along with our Afghan and international partners, we are going on the offensive against the Taliban — targeting their leaders, challenging them in regions where they had free reign, and training Afghan national security forces. (Applause.) Our thoughts and prayers are with all our troops risking their lives for our safety in Afghanistan.

And on the civilian front, we’re insisting on greater accountability. And the Afghan government has taken concrete steps to foster development and combat corruption, and to put forward a reintegration plan that allows Afghans to lay down their arms.

The best he could come up with is “achievable goals”; he is apparently allergic to the word victory.

The major part of his speech had to do with veterans’ benefits. Even the Washington Post noticed the imbalance:

White House officials billed Obama’s remarks to the veterans group as a significant Iraq policy address, but a relatively small part of the roughly 20-minute speech was devoted to the subject. The president spoke most passionately about veterans benefits and received the most applause when he did.

Veterans’ benefits is an important topic. But it is all too apparent that this president is most comfortable when talking about social services and quite uncomfortable talking about victory in war. For those who hoped he would grow into the job of commander in chief, this is yet another sober reminder that he still doesn’t comprehend or excel at the most critical aspect of his job.

Obama gave a speech yesterday at the Disabled Veterans of America Conference. It was another disturbing example of Obama’s refusal to embrace fully his role as commander in chief. On the Iraq war, in what should have been a moment of triumph, a high point in our war against Islamic terrorists, he still could not bring himself to use the term victory or to explain the long-term significance of a unified, democratic Iraq. The best he could do was this:

As a candidate for President, I pledged to bring the war in Iraq to a responsible end. (Applause.) Shortly after taking office, I announced our new strategy for Iraq and for a transition to full Iraqi responsibility. And I made it clear that by August 31st, 2010, America’s combat mission in Iraq would end. (Applause.) And that is exactly what we are doing — as promised and on schedule.  (Applause.)

Already, we have closed or turned over to Iraq hundreds of bases. We’re moving out millions of pieces of equipment in one of the largest logistics operations that we’ve seen in decades. By the end of this month, we’ll have brought more than 90,000 of our troops home from Iraq since I took office — more than 90,000 have come home. (Applause.)

Today — even as terrorists try to derail Iraq’s progress — because of the sacrifices of our troops and their Iraqi partners, violence in Iraq continues to be near the lowest it’s been in years.  And next month, we will change our military mission from combat to supporting and training Iraqi security forces.  (Applause.)  In fact, in many parts of the country, Iraqis have already taken the lead for security.

Obama was very concerned about reminding the crowd that he had kept his campaign promise. He was far less interested in explaining that a great victory had been achieved. And he was even less interested in explaining how we won. He preferred to credit the troops rather than the strategy or the president who championed it (over Obama and the left’s objections): “When invasion gave way to insurgency, our troops persevered, block by block, city by city, from Baghdad to Fallujah.” No, he didn’t use the word surge or even mention Gen. Petraeus’s name. Shocking, really.

Then on Afghanistan, he was surprisingly brief. He explained — in contrast to his muteness on Iraq — why we are there and what is at stake. That’s commendable. But on the fighting itself, he said only this:

We will continue to face huge challenges in Afghanistan. But it’s important that the American people know that we are making progress and we are focused on goals that are clear and achievable.

On the military front, nearly all the additional forces that I ordered to Afghanistan are now in place. Along with our Afghan and international partners, we are going on the offensive against the Taliban — targeting their leaders, challenging them in regions where they had free reign, and training Afghan national security forces. (Applause.) Our thoughts and prayers are with all our troops risking their lives for our safety in Afghanistan.

And on the civilian front, we’re insisting on greater accountability. And the Afghan government has taken concrete steps to foster development and combat corruption, and to put forward a reintegration plan that allows Afghans to lay down their arms.

The best he could come up with is “achievable goals”; he is apparently allergic to the word victory.

The major part of his speech had to do with veterans’ benefits. Even the Washington Post noticed the imbalance:

White House officials billed Obama’s remarks to the veterans group as a significant Iraq policy address, but a relatively small part of the roughly 20-minute speech was devoted to the subject. The president spoke most passionately about veterans benefits and received the most applause when he did.

Veterans’ benefits is an important topic. But it is all too apparent that this president is most comfortable when talking about social services and quite uncomfortable talking about victory in war. For those who hoped he would grow into the job of commander in chief, this is yet another sober reminder that he still doesn’t comprehend or excel at the most critical aspect of his job.

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Dignity Promotion for Lebanon

David Brooks must have noticed, as I did, Barack Obama’s bizarre statement on the Lebanon crisis. So he called Obama on the phone to find out if he really meant what he said:

I asked him what he meant with all this emphasis on electoral and patronage reform. He said the U.S. should help the Lebanese government deliver better services to the Shiites “to peel support away from Hezbollah” and encourage the local populace to “view them as an oppressive force.” The U.S. should “find a mechanism whereby the disaffected have an effective outlet for their grievances, which assures them they are getting social services.”

The U.S. needs a foreign policy that “looks at the root causes of problems and dangers.” Obama compared Hezbollah to Hamas. Both need to be compelled to understand that “they’re going down a blind alley with violence that weakens their legitimate claims.”

Brooks might not have noticed, but Obama just doubled-down on the message of his initial Lebanon statement. Samantha Power may no longer be with the campaign, but Obama articulated precisely her prescription for combating Islamic supremacist groups, who, in the Obama/Power worldview, rise to power and retain political saliency because they seek to address the legitimate grievances of a “disaffected” (Obama’s word) people.

There are several assumptions at work here: that Hezbollah is popular among the Lebanese Shia because of its provision of material benefits, like medical clinics, instead of a compelling ideological message; that Hezbollah will peacefully acquiesce to western social-services projects in Lebanon; that the Shia will be inspired by promises to improve their standard of living, rather than Hezbollah’s promise of religious glory and political dominance; that Hezbollah is a manifestation of domestic Lebanese conditions, and can thus be addressed by solving domestic Lebanese problems. None of these premises comes close to being true.

Obama’s mention of Hamas was appropriate, but not in the way he thinks it was. Hamas slaughters Israelis on behalf of the “legitimate claims” and “grievances” of a group of people whose plight has rarely in history been more thoroughly salved with social services. The West Bank and Gaza are awash in UN- and EU-funded schools, medical clinics, and sinecure jobs programs. Even the trash in the West Bank is collected by large white garbage trucks with the letters “UN” stenciled on the sides. If social services “peel support away” from groups like Hezbollah, as Obama insists, why has Islamic radicalism become more and more popular in the Palestinian territories precisely while outside social services have gotten ever more expansive?

Make no mistake: Obama is not backing down from his promise of a dignity-promotion foreign policy. In its first act, he will insist on recognizing the legitimacy of the “grievances” of Iran’s proxy terrorist groups, Hamas and Hezbollah. The message is clear: terrorism and savagery will win an audience with the American president. Please pardon me for calling this appeasement.

David Brooks must have noticed, as I did, Barack Obama’s bizarre statement on the Lebanon crisis. So he called Obama on the phone to find out if he really meant what he said:

I asked him what he meant with all this emphasis on electoral and patronage reform. He said the U.S. should help the Lebanese government deliver better services to the Shiites “to peel support away from Hezbollah” and encourage the local populace to “view them as an oppressive force.” The U.S. should “find a mechanism whereby the disaffected have an effective outlet for their grievances, which assures them they are getting social services.”

The U.S. needs a foreign policy that “looks at the root causes of problems and dangers.” Obama compared Hezbollah to Hamas. Both need to be compelled to understand that “they’re going down a blind alley with violence that weakens their legitimate claims.”

Brooks might not have noticed, but Obama just doubled-down on the message of his initial Lebanon statement. Samantha Power may no longer be with the campaign, but Obama articulated precisely her prescription for combating Islamic supremacist groups, who, in the Obama/Power worldview, rise to power and retain political saliency because they seek to address the legitimate grievances of a “disaffected” (Obama’s word) people.

There are several assumptions at work here: that Hezbollah is popular among the Lebanese Shia because of its provision of material benefits, like medical clinics, instead of a compelling ideological message; that Hezbollah will peacefully acquiesce to western social-services projects in Lebanon; that the Shia will be inspired by promises to improve their standard of living, rather than Hezbollah’s promise of religious glory and political dominance; that Hezbollah is a manifestation of domestic Lebanese conditions, and can thus be addressed by solving domestic Lebanese problems. None of these premises comes close to being true.

Obama’s mention of Hamas was appropriate, but not in the way he thinks it was. Hamas slaughters Israelis on behalf of the “legitimate claims” and “grievances” of a group of people whose plight has rarely in history been more thoroughly salved with social services. The West Bank and Gaza are awash in UN- and EU-funded schools, medical clinics, and sinecure jobs programs. Even the trash in the West Bank is collected by large white garbage trucks with the letters “UN” stenciled on the sides. If social services “peel support away” from groups like Hezbollah, as Obama insists, why has Islamic radicalism become more and more popular in the Palestinian territories precisely while outside social services have gotten ever more expansive?

Make no mistake: Obama is not backing down from his promise of a dignity-promotion foreign policy. In its first act, he will insist on recognizing the legitimacy of the “grievances” of Iran’s proxy terrorist groups, Hamas and Hezbollah. The message is clear: terrorism and savagery will win an audience with the American president. Please pardon me for calling this appeasement.

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¡Viva la Inmigración!

The New York Times reports that an anti-immigrant backlash is building among Republican primary voters in Iowa. There is room to doubt how significant this trend is, since the two most anti-immigrant candidates in the Republican field are Tom Tancredo and Duncan Hunter, who are struggling to register in single digits, while the early leaders, Rudy Giuliani and John McCain, are both fairly pro-immigrant. But there is no question that, even if it remains a minority sentiment, there is a substantial nativist, even xenophobic, wing in the Republican party.

As it happens, I was in Miami yesterday and got a chance to observe diversity in action. I loved it. What a booming, vibrant city! I reveled in the Latin and Caribbean accents, the variety of foods, the multiplicity of cultures. My lasting taste of Miami was a terrific Cuban sandwich, espresso, and guava pastry at a Cuban coffee shop at the airport. Beats Hardees hollow.

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The New York Times reports that an anti-immigrant backlash is building among Republican primary voters in Iowa. There is room to doubt how significant this trend is, since the two most anti-immigrant candidates in the Republican field are Tom Tancredo and Duncan Hunter, who are struggling to register in single digits, while the early leaders, Rudy Giuliani and John McCain, are both fairly pro-immigrant. But there is no question that, even if it remains a minority sentiment, there is a substantial nativist, even xenophobic, wing in the Republican party.

As it happens, I was in Miami yesterday and got a chance to observe diversity in action. I loved it. What a booming, vibrant city! I reveled in the Latin and Caribbean accents, the variety of foods, the multiplicity of cultures. My lasting taste of Miami was a terrific Cuban sandwich, espresso, and guava pastry at a Cuban coffee shop at the airport. Beats Hardees hollow.

I’ve been to Des Moines before, and I hope I don’t unduly offend any Iowans by noting that I prefer Miami or other multicultural metropolises like Los Angeles, San Diego, and New York. It’s not just a matter of the weather—though there is that too. And it’s not that the Midwest doesn’t have any ethnic spice; every part of the U.S. was settled by someone from somewhere, who brought along native customs, foods, languages, and cultures. The big difference is that the dominant immigrant groups in the Midwest arrived long ago, generally in the 19th century. Their cultures have blended into a generic white-bread Americana, so now these assimilated German-Americans or Scandinavian-Americans or Polish-Americans resent new arrivals just as much as they were once resented by English-Americans.

All this immigrant-bashing, itself a long American tradition, is pretty silly. Ambitious young immigrants, both high-tech inventors and low-tech lettuce-pickers, provide much of the vigor that keeps our economy vibrant. They always have. The contrast with insular, graying Japan, which is only now recovering from a decade-long recession, couldn’t be starker.

Concerns that these immigrants won’t assimilate or will destroy our common culture seem to me vastly overblown. American culture is spreading all over the world, much to the distress of the Academie Francaise and other guardians of traditional folkways. People all over the world are acting, dressing, and speaking like Americans, while watching American-produced TV shows and movies, playing American video games, and listening to American music. (Indeed, on a recent trip to Berlin I did very well speaking English to everyone from army officers and government officials to waiters and taxi drivers.) Do nativists really mean to suggest that, while American culture is conquering cities from Singapore to Santiago, it will die out in San Diego or Miami? It seems implausible, to put it mildly. Indeed, Miami remains identifiably American. Its secession from Florda—the lurid and implausible nightmare of some immigrant-bashers—isn’t remotely in the cards.

This isn’t to minimize some of the problems with immigration, which undoubtedly puts a strain on schools and social services. But on the whole I’d say immigration was and remains a major plus for the United States. There is even something to be said, dare I say it, for the concepts of “multiculturalism” and “diversity.” Shorn of some of their radical academic dogma, they are a realistic recognition that America is the sum of divergent parts. The inevitable process of assimilation, which is going on now as in the past, is a good thing on the whole, but it does have its downside. I, for one, hope that Miami never loses its Latin flair.

*Editor’s Note: The title of this post originally contained an error.

 

 

 

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