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What if Ocasio-Cortez is right about how to pay for Medicare-4-All?

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; January 24, 2019)

When asked by journalist Jorge Ramos about how the U.S. will pay for a Medicare-4-All (M4A) health care system, New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez responded plainly: “ You just pay for it.”

The Fox News-led mockingbirds came out in full force.

Ocasio-Cortez has called for “printing money to pay for her socialist reforms,” said Justin Haskins, the executive editor and research fellow at The Heartland Institute, a pro-free enterprise think tank. “Ocasio-Cortez has suggested the United States create a system of new publicly-owned banks that the government could use to run up the national debt.”

Wait one second. Isn’t running up the national debt how we pay for everything in the first place?

It seems dishonest to suggest the U.S. can’t pay for new social programs on the grounds it will run up the national debt. We are already living in Debtville, USA with our big, shiny bells on.

The national debt is over $21 trillion dollars. The FY2018 budget deficit was $779 billion.

Isn’t it funny how we always have money to bailout banks, offer generous tax cuts to the Top 1%, and fund trillion dollar military adventures in the Middle East (that never end and are never held accountable by clear performance metrics through which taxpayers can judge their cost effectiveness). The national debt is never a problem then.

If I didn’t know better, I’d think the political establishment only brings out the national debt fear-mongering when someone wants to fund a program that actually helps the majority of people. Something like M4A maybe?

But I don’t want to be too cynical. It is possible our chickens will come home to roost and, if we add substantially more debt to our existing pile, we might experience that economic Armageddon Ross Perot once warned us about.

Maybe the U.S. debt is like that very large man from Monty Python’s Meaning of Life. Perhaps that next dollar of debt will be the last our economy can withstand. Oh sir, its only wafer thin. Just…just one? Alright.

Source: Universal Pictures

It is possible the debt really matters?

In the near-term, however, the U.S. government is not on the brink of default our economy is still strong, and we are the safest investment bet in the world.

But, do we fully understand what our national debt and annual budget deficits do to our long-term economic prospects?

So far, the budget hawks’ admonishments on these debts have been proven wrong.

Is it possible the national debt and deficit spending don’t really matter? Not a new thought at all. But isn’t now the time to settle the question? If the climate change is the existential crisis many believe it to be, we must understand the impact of additional debt on the U.S. economy, if there is any.

As the cornerstone of the progressive movement’s political agenda, M4A is a nice jumping off point (…a bad choice of words…) for such a discussion

What will M4A cost?

According to one study produced by a university-based libertarian policy center, M4A, the centerpiece of Senator Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign, would cost $32.6 trillion over the first 10 years of implementation.

In explaining the “unprecedented strain” M4A would place on the federal budget, the study’s author, Charles Blahous, aptly noted that the “federal government would become responsible for financing nearly all current national health care spending, including individual private insurance and state spending.”

Stop right there. Framing is everything when discussing the U.S. health care system, so let us give the $32.6 trillion estimate some context.

The U.S. spent $3.5 trillion on health care in 2017, or 17.9 percent of the country’s total GDP, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Health care spending growth is expected to slow in the next decade, according the CMS, and remain around 17.9 percent of GDP.

In 2016, there were about 27.3 million people without health insurance coverage, according to the U.S. Census American Community Survey. This doesn’t include the number of underinsured Americans.

Using the most optimistic health cost inflation assumptions, under our current health care system we will spend $37.5 trillion on health care over the next 10 years. Under the health care status quo, that is what the U.S. will spend for a system that leaves almost 9 percent of the population uninsured.

In contrast, using cost estimates from M4A critics, the U.S. would spend only $32.6 trillion over those 10 years, on a system that would cover all Americans. Their numbers, not mine.

Wait a second. Can that be right? A potential $5 trillion savings if we move to a M4A system? A lot of assumptions would need to be realized, but generally, M4A could save this country trillions of dollars over 10 years.

But the bigger and more defensible point is that M4A will not be anymore expensive than the incoherent, clunky health care system we have now.

It’s the dirty little secret that even the most Democrat-leaning news organizations quickly gloss right over when covering the debate over M4A.

“There are a lot of ways to think about $32 trillion — and one might be that it’s actually kind of a bargain,” wrote Vox’ Dylan Scott soon after the release of the Blahous study.

It is hard to get excited about something that is “kind of a bargain.”

Our current health care system is broken

Few economic sectors have such a clean metric upon which to assess outcome success as does the health care industry. How long do people in your country live? The U.S. does not do well on this measure.

Chileans live longer, on average, than Americans (79.9 years vs. 78.6 years).

The only conclusion one can draw from the cross-national data is that American doctors are over-paid given their level of service delivery.

Among the world’s 44 most advanced economies, the U.S. ranks 29th in life expectancy, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. This comparison is not data-massaging. It’s a cold, hard fact that the U.S., even with the passage of Obamacare, has failed to comprehensively address.

Well, maybe Americans don’t live as long, but perhaps Americans don’t spend as much on health care as those socialist welfare states in Europe? Of course, we know that is not true. The U.S. spends nearly twice as much on health care (as a percent of the total economy) as other advanced economies, according to Kaiser Foundation researchers Bradley Sawyer and Cynthia Cox.

Figure 1: Health consumption expenditures as percent of GDP (1970–2017)

 

Another canard also pushed out regarding M4A by the national media, both left and right, is this one:

“(M4A) is a complete Washington takeover of America’s health care system,” claims Wyoming Senator John Barrasso, M.D.

In truth, M4A is the government takeover of the private insurance industry. Doctors, hospitals, drug companies and medical equipment manufacturers would remain very much in the private sector, the veteran health care system not withstanding. Under M4A, the government pays health care providers for services rendered, just as the national and state governments already do under Medicare and Medicaid.

But there are many questions and assumptions still unanswered by M4A advocates…

Is M4A a unicorn riding on a pixie dust rainbow?

The potential cost savings from M4A depend on three critical factors: (1) Reduced reimbursement rates to health care providers, (2) Reduced administrative costs, and (3) Lower drug costs.

M4A critics contend these assumptions are untenable. For the sake of brevity, let us just address the first factor, as it is probably the most difficult challenge.

In Sanders’ version of M4A, the biggest assumption concerns reimbursement rates. In his plan, M4A payment rates are assumed to be roughly 40 percent lower than those paid by private insurers. That is, in effect, a revenue and pay cut for every hospital, doctor, nurse, and nurse’a aide in the country.

In our current hybrid health care system, both private and public, when a doctor treats a Medicare patient or an uninsured individual uses an emergency room, those reduced reimbursements are shifted to private, insured patients. Though there are various versions of M4A, the ability of physicians and hospitals to use cost-shifting to lift their incomes would be limited under these reforms.

It is hard to imagine how the physician community would react to any version of M4A. By temperament and training, most physicians might continue to provide care health care to those that need it, even with a significant pay cut. And there will be tough questions about how medical specialties, such as cardiac surgeons, would need differential treatment under M4A? Any government attempt to alter compensation differentials in the medical profession could have a significant impact on whether medical students choose general practice instead of higher-paying specialties.

If hospitals close due to M4A, will these hospitals be replaced by new ones with different cost structures that are financially sustainable?

With potentially lower reimbursement rates, some doctors will quit and some hospitals will close. And though some of those doctors will be replaced by doctors willing to work at lower rates and new hospitals will open with business models that better contain costs, these questions will still need answers before M4A becomes reality.

M4A critics ask tough questions about what will happen under M4A. Yet, these same critics discount the power of the American free enterprise system to address the inevitable gaps, flaws and inequities that will arise when M4A is implemented. If capitalism does one thing well, it identifies unmet demand and exploits it for private gain. Why wouldn’t that happen under an M4A system?

Still, some fear any diminution of the medical profession under M4A will create a higher propensity for lower-quality doctors to emerge. But do we know that will happen? Even with a 40 percent pay cut, doctors will still be making elite incomes.

What evidence suggests the marginal decrease in physician incomes will lower the quality of the physician pool under M4A?

No such evidence exists.

Still, M4A critics will offer up other doomsday predictions, such as:

Longer wait times!

Unfortunately, we already have that.

Health care rationing!

We already have that too.

The arrows slung at M4A could just as easily be directed at the current U.S. health care system — a private playground that protects the profit margins for special interests such as pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, medical equipment companies, and physician lobbyists. Democrats and Republicans, alike, gladly take campaign donations from special interests with the explicit expectation that they will not let Congress undermine the current health care business models.

That is how the system works, for better or worse.

M4A advocates have not answered the big questions

The most recent public opinion poll on M4A sponsored by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation shows a majority of Americans (56%) support M4A, at least in principle.

But as someone that has worked with public opinion data his entire career, those numbers are more reflections of recent media dialogues on the subject than predictors of future support. Until a real plan is elucidated and put before the American people, favorable public opinion is a thin reed to lean on.

For M4A to become an actual public policy, important questions need to answered. Questions such as:

(1) When health care access becomes universal, what will happen to utilization rates? People that currently ration their health care will suddenly have affordable access to it. What will that do to cost and delivery models? Demand load will certainly change under M4A and cost estimates will need to realistically account for this.

(2) Similar to the effect of lower reimbursement rates for physicians and hospitals, will presumed reductions in drug and medical equipment costs (which are revenues from the corporate perspective) reduce the incentives for private research and development?

But even these two questions are predicated on understanding the costs associated with M4A. This political obsession with costs may be submerging the more important questions, such as from SUNY-Stony Brook economist Stephanie Kelton, who, if you haven’t heard of her or the Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) she helped pioneer, you will soon enough.

On Twitter recently, she asked a simple question about M4A: What happens to output and employment if we spend substantially less on healthcare *and* we raise taxes to “pay for” it?

M4A, by intent, takes 18 percent of the U.S. economy and aims to shrink it (while providing broader health care service). When the economy gets smaller, it is called a ‘recession’. Will there be an M4A recession? If so, how deep and how long?

The U.S. built its health care system around an employer-based, private insurance model. That goes away under M4A. Companies will be happy, potentially, with no longer administering employee health care benefits. Will they layoff the human resource employees dedicated to employee health insurance? Why wouldn’t they?

How does a country eliminate an entire industry — the private health insurance industry? Do all or some of their employees get rolled into Medicare’s administrative payroll? How is that choice made and who makes it? What will be the aggregate effect on U.S. employment?

Once companies and households presumably save a lot of money under this new health care system, what will they do with it? Spend it on something else? Save it? Blow it?

Will the short-term costs of transitioning to M4A be more than compensated by a long-term investment in other economic activities?

By focusing on how we will pay for M4A, we ignore the more important debates on the goals, fairness and morality of the various health care delivery models. Independent of the costs, what should a ‘good’ health care system look like?

If Modern Monetary Theory is correct, the money will be there if, in the legislative process, a good health care system is designed and put into place.

Has Modern Monetary Theory made, once again, the Democrats the party of big ideas?

I am not an economist and will never claim to understand the difference between Keynesian and neo-Keynesian economics or what an IS-LM model tells us about interest rates and assets markets.

All I ask from economists is that they can tell me what I’ll pay for gasoline and milk next month and if my health insurance premiums will go up again.

So, if you want to learn about Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), don’t look at me. You are better off going herehere and here. And if you want a quick counterpoint argument to MMT, ZeroHedge.com offers mean-spirited ones here and here. And for auditory learners, here is Prof. Kelton’s recent appearance on the Jimmy Dore Show: [Video]

For the rest, here is a brief explanation of MMT from the MMT blogsite Modern Money Mechanics:

Modern Monetary Theory recognizes that the government has infinite capacity to spend and that the constraint on spending is always inflation never insolvency. One of the many myths that crop up about MMT is that it allows an infinite size deficit. This is false. MMT has always stated that the limit to spending are the real resources available. This is just another way of saying spending can be inflationary.

The current orthodox view explains the Government Budget Constraint(GBC) this way:

Fiscal deficit = Government spending + Government interest payments – Tax receipts must equal (be “financed” by) a change in Bonds (B) and/or a change in high powered money (H)

The current orthodox view is that the GBC must be financed by printing money and/or borrowing money from the public. In contrast, the Modern Monetary Theory view is that a currency issuer can issue currency and bonds and the GBC is just an accounting identity. It is nothing to worry about.

 

I live by the rule: If I don’t understand something, I must reject it. And that is where I am at with MMT right now.

For one, I am drawn to ZeroHedge’s criticism: “Since under MMT the central bank is responsible for financing government programs through printing money, it falls to the institution with authority over tax and budget policy — the U.S. Congress — to make sure prices are stable by raising taxes and moving the budget deficit into surplus.”

“But it is extremely difficult to imagine Congress responding to an overheating economy by legislating tax increases. If anything, the opposite is easier to imagine: When households are being hit with price increases, the natural inclination of an elected representative might be to increase their disposable income by lowering taxes, not raising them.”

According to MMT, however, the Federal Reserve will still be able to use interest rates to attack high inflation, along with Congress’ ability to raise taxes or impose price controls. So, ZeroHedge may have set up a straw man version of MMT for its criticisms.

My non-economist reading of MMT is more basic. For one, it feels more descriptive than theoretical. MMT offers (perhaps) a more realistic lens through which to describe how the economy actually works. We’ve been told large government budget deficits increase interest rates (which then crowds out private investment). However, economic studies show a limited — but non-zero — connection between budget deficits and interest rates in the U.S. (Two summaries of this connection can be found here and here).

Though a healthy skepticism towards MMT’s leniency towards large and growing budget deficits is in order, it does appear (at least in the U.S.) as if MMT maps well to the government budget deficits and low-inflation economic growth we’ve experienced in our nation’s recent history.

My lingering reservations towards MMT aside, I can’t ignore how this theory has energized idea generation, particularly among progressive Democrats. Medicare-for-All, a Jobs Guarantee program, and a Green New Deal are all ideas that could (literally) change the world.

Not so fast…there is still the problem of the Democratic Party establishment

Three House Democrats — Tulsi Gabbard, Ro Khanna and Ocasio-Cortez — voted against Nancy Pelosi’s House rules package that included the PAYGO rule — which states that new expenditures can only be financed with funds that are currently available rather than borrowed.

That is the absolute antithesis of MMT.

Sure, the PAYGO rule can be waived, but guess who controls that decision? Nancy Pelosi.

For all of the ideas bubbling within the Democrat’s progressive caucus, none of them will see the light of day under the party’s current leadership.

But the post-Reagan political equilibrium has eroded and the country is at a pivot point. This nation will either step back from real change or decide to embrace it. Whatever happens in 2020, it will not be an easy decision, regardless of who sits in the White House, to choose the unknown over the status quo’s certitude.

But ideas are back, replacing the tortuous triangulations and gaslighting methods politicians have mastered when discussing policy in public over the past 25 years.

Wiffle-waffling politi-speak is out.

The Democrats of the 80s were devoid of ideas. They were just anti-Reagan and didn’t want to be associated with Jimmy Carter. There were no FDRs or LBJs — instead, they had Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis.

The Republicans had the big ideas: Cut taxes and reduce government regulations to spur investment and growth. Break the power of unions and their influence on wages. Privatize government functions. Confront the Soviets by outspending them.

Democrats were so happy when Bill Clinton, a Democrat, finally put them back in the White House, they looked the other way when his brand of neoliberalism proved to be nothing less than a complete capitulation to the anti-government, free market idolatry of the Reagan years.

He was a Democrat. That’s all that mattered. As for ideas? Clinton farmed that task out to the Wall Street investment banks.

It worked for him. Not even ten years out from his presidency, Bill and Hillary were already quarter-billionaires with dreams of even greater power and wealth once Hillary finished out her eight-year presidential term.

As for ideas? Bill Clinton talked a lot. He sounded like he knew stuff. But I believe the motto shared by Bill and Hillary Clinton was: Just win baby— ideas are for losersIt worked for them, for awhile.

But times have changed. Ideas matter again.

Big ideas supported by core beliefs and principles that can be clearly stated are the new thing. Puffy and vague stump speech platitudes can’t compete.

With Bernie Sanders, Tulsi Gabbard, Ro Khanna, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, big ideas are back — but maybe this time its the Republicans playing catch-up.

  • K.R.K.

Comments and critiques can be sent to: kroeger98@yahoo.com

There is no illegal immigration crisis along the Southwest U.S. border

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; January 23, 2019)

President Donald Trump has pinned the argument for building a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border on the existence of an immediate and worsening crisis.

“There is a humanitarian and security crisis on our southern border that requires urgent action,” said President Trump during his January 8th Oval Office address.

As for evidence, President Trump used his speech to focus on drugs, crime and human trafficking: “Thousands of children are being exploited by ruthless ‘coyotes’ and vicious cartels and gangs…Every week, 300 of our citizens are killed by heroin alone, 90 percent of which floods across our southern border…In the last two years, ICE officers made 266,000 arrests of aliens with criminal records.”

“The crisis is not going away,” the Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen tweeted after President Trump’s speech. “It is getting worse.”

Even the reflexively anti-Trump press judged most of his facts in Trump’s speech as accurate, if somewhat out of context.

Coming out of the speech, the Trump administration’s latest argument for the ‘Wall’ almost entirely ignores actual illegal immigration numbers — because if it did, the facts would not support the ‘crisis’ argument.

Southwest Border Apprehensions are a Proxy for Illegal Immigration

No single statistic can capture the myriad and complexity of issues underlying illegal immigration into the U.S. For one, most illegal immigrants do not travel across our Southwest border.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) reported in August 2018 that “there were 52,656,022 in-scope non-immigrant admissions to the United States through air or sea Ports of Entry (POEs) with expected departures occurring in FY 2017; the in-scope admissions represent the vast majority of all air and sea non-immigrant admissions.”

Among those in-scope admissions, DHS determined there was an overstay rate of 1.33 percent, or 701,900 overstay events. In comparison, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reported there were 303,916 Southwest border apprehensions in that same period.

But border apprehensions counts are not analytically useless. To the contrary, research published by the National Institutes of Health has shown the CBP border apprehension statistical series is significantly correlated with media coverage and public opinion associated with immigration.

Border apprehensions covary with broader national immigration trends even if they don’t account for every case of illegal immigration.

To be sure, as an endogenous function of three broad forces — immigration enforcement effort, attempted illegal entries, and the availability of alternative paths for illegal entry —the border apprehensions series is a biased volumetric estimate of total illegal immigration.

Nonetheless, with statistical adjustments, researchers still use it as an instrument for assessing illegal immigration over time because it tracks closely with periods in U.S. history when illegal immigration was known to be high (e.g., mid 1980s and late 1990s; see Figure 1 below).

As to the question posed earlier in this essay — is there an immigration crisis in the U.S. today? — if we look at Southwest border apprehensions as a proxy for illegal immigration overall, the U.S. is experiencing levels today comparable to the early 1970s, a time when illegal immigration did not register as an important issue among Americans.

Evident about Southwest border apprehensions is that it has varied significantly in the last 55 years and most of that variation appears related to economic conditions, immigration policy changes, and periods of strong immigration enforcement efforts.

An Historical Perspective

As he signed the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), the country’s most impactful immigration legislation in the last 50 years, President Lyndon Johnson remarked:

“This bill we sign today is not a revolutionary bill. It does not affect the lives of millions. It will not restructure the shape of our daily lives.”

He was wrong on all three counts.

The INA was revolutionary, it affected millions of lives, and it fundamentally restructured American life through its impact on illegal immigration into the U.S.

The INA eliminated national origin, race, and ancestry as the basis for immigration.

When the INA took affect in 1968 until 1986, the year the INA was supplanted by the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), Southwest border apprehensions increased from 96,641 to 1,615,844 per year. In relative terms, apprehensions went from the equivalent of 0.1 percent to 0.7 percent of the U.S.population.

After enactment of the IRCA, apprehensions dropped significantly, only to rebound to near all-time highs in the mid and late 1990s as the American economy rebounded from the 1990–91 recession.

With the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, however, border security enforcement once again became a salient issue with policy makers, and apprehension numbers fell accordingly.

Figure 1: The Five Era’s Defining Illegal Immigration into the U.S. since 1960

Graph by Kent R. Kroeger (Data Sources: Federal Reserve of St. LouisU.S. Customs & Border Protection)

Figure 1 shows that year-to-year fluctuations in Southwest border apprehensions (the red-dashed line) can be divided into five distinct eras:

(1) The 1965 Immigration and Nationality Actera (Policy) — a period when national-origin quotas were repealed, and a visa system for family reunification and skills was initiated.

(2) The Reagan Economic Boom-era (Economics) — a period when U.S. employers’ demand for low-wage, low-skill workers increased substantially

(3) The IRCA-era (Policy) — a reaction to the rapid influx of low-wage workers from Mexico and Central America in which laws were enacted to sanction companies for knowingly hiring illegal aliens. The IRCA also provided amnesty to illegal aliens already living in the U.S.

(4) The Clinton Economic Boom-era (Economics) — another period of increased illegal immigration concurrent with a fast growing U.S. economy and a high demand for low-wage workers.

(5) Post-9/11-era (Enforcement) — the most recent period marked by enhanced enforcement of U.S. borders (not just the Southwest border) on the basis of national security. This period has witnessed a prolonged and steady decline of Southwest border apprehensions up through 2017.

These five eras appear to account for most of the variation in Southwest border apprehensions.

Still, it is unclear if the U.S. is facing an illegal immigration crisis today that warrants the investment into a physical barrier. In fact, history suggests the U.S. is not facing an existential crisis related to illegal immigration, but instead is suffering the aftermath of years under ineffective immigration legislation.

Suspect number one is the 1986 IRCA.

The IRCA was a law designed to stop illegal immigration while at the same time legitimizing those who had entered the U.S. illegally prior to 1986.

“The mass legalization of then-illegal immigrants was traded for the promise that a new program of employer sanctions would destroy the incentive for further mass immigration. That hope proved vain; but if it had never been entertained, IRCA would never have passed,” wrote author Jack Miles in The Atlantic eight years after President Ronald Reagan signed IRCA into law.

Immediately after IRCA become law, there was a significant drop in border apprehensions as illegal immigration enforcement increased and companies dependent on undocumented immigrants had to adjust to the new realities imposed by IRCA. This transition period lasted no more than three years.

In reality, few companies were ever sanctioned for hiring illegal immigrants and, after the initial dip, Southwest border apprehensions rose steadily between 1989 and 2001.

In this time, a surge in what would be labeled ‘McJobs’ became evident. These were low-wage, relatively low-skill jobs required to maintain basic economic necessities — such as food-chain delivery, construction, sanitation, security, etc. — as the U.S. economy transitioned from a manufacturing-based to a service-based economy.

The Bill Clinton presidency offered optimism for working-class Americans during this transition, but planted instead the seeds of economic inequalitywe live with today. The cheap and plentiful supply of labor provided by undocumented immigrants was critical to this transition.

However, with the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. in 2001, the American immigration conversation, previously centered on economics, turned its focus to stopping potential terrorists from entering the country.

As such, no new law was needed to reduce the influx of illegal immigrants. Instead, the ramping up of border enforcement defined the period from FY2001 to FY2011. In that time, the number of border agents along the Southwest border rose from 9,239 to 21,444 agents — a 132 percent increase.

Source: Customs and Border Protection

Concurrently, the number of Southwest border apprehensions declined by 65 percent. Whether this decline was the result of a deterrent effect is difficult to assert given that border apprehensions had been already declining between FY2000 and FY2001. Nonetheless, the decline in border apprehensions since 2000 has occurred sans any new legislation and there is no disputing that CBP enforcement efforts have risen in this same period.

But U.S. immigration levels are not solely a function of public policy or aggressive enforcement. The relative strength of the U.S. economy vis-a-vis the Mexican economy has also been a powerful determinant border apprehensions (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Relative Economic Conditions between U.S. and Mexico are Related to Southwest Border Apprehensions

Graph by Kent R. Kroeger (Data sources: Federal Reserve of St. LouisU.S. Customs & Border Protection)

In the above chart, the years in the lower left-hand quadrant (relatively strong Mexican economy / fewer Southwest border apprehensions) are predominately during U.S. recessions (1969–70, 1973–75, 1980, 1981–82), while the years in the upper right-hand quadrant (relatively strong U.S. economy / more apprehensions) are from strong U.S. economic growth periods.

Explaining Southwest Border Apprehensions

Economics, immigration policy, and enforcement are the primary drivers of border apprehensions. But, relatively speaking, is one factor more important than the others or are they similar in their influence?

(Note: Crime, personal security and political oppression are also potential drivers of border apprehensions, but in the time period for the following analysis — 1960 to 2017 — I could not find a reliable measure on these factors that also correlated strongly with border apprehensions. These factors may still be, and probably are, relevant.).

To answer these questions, I obtained annual apprehension data from the CBP from 1960 to 2017 and merged it with macroeconomic data for Mexico, U.S., El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua over the same time frame. Many variables and models were tested, but only the following were used to obtain the results in Figure 3.

The Variables

Dependent variable: Number of annual SW border apprehensions (relative to the size of the U.S. population) (Variable name: SWB_APPS_AS_PCT_POP).

Independent variables:

  • Gap in the leading economic indicator growth (4-year moving average) between the U.S. and Mexico (positive values indicate U.S. has healthier economy than Mexico) (Variable name: GAP).
  • Step intervention variables for the 1986 IRCA, the 1965 INA and the 9/11 terrorist attacks where the years prior to the intervention are coded ‘0’ and ‘1’ for the year during and years after the intervention (Variable names: Reform1986, INA and Nine11).
  • Temporary intervention variable for the three years (1986–88) during which U.S. businesses transitioned to the new immigrant hiring rules established by the 1986 IRCA (Variable name: Reform1986_TRANSITION).
  • Time counter where ‘0’ equals 1960, ‘1’ equals 1961, etc. (Variable name: TIME).
  • Indicator variables for the Reagan and Clinton administrations where ‘0’ equals ‘No’ and ‘1’ equals‘Yes’ (Variable names: REAGAN, CLINTON).
  • Interaction variables for GAP and INAGAP and Reform1986, and Nine11and TIME (Variable names: GAP_INA, GAP_Reform1986 and Nine11_TIME).

The Results

A more thorough interpretation of the linear model estimation results (AR1corrected using the Cochrane-Orcutt procedure) is available upon request (send email to: kroeger98@yahoo.com).

However, the summary findings are still instructive.

Almost half of the variance in Southwest border apprehensions is accounted for by the linear model (adj. R-squared = 0.49). While not all of the variables achieved statistical significance, the relationships were in the expected direction.

Figure 3: Economics, Policy and Enforcement Drive Southwest Border Apprehensions

Analysis by Kent R. Kroeger (Data Sources: Federal Reserve of St. LouisU.S. Customs & Border Protection)

Using standardized coefficients (not shown in Figure 3) for comparisons of the independent variables, it is apparent that the importance of economic factors have varied over time, being most predictive of apprehensions during the INA-era (1965 to 1985). However, apart from the Clinton administration years, periods of relative economic strength in the U.S. after 1985 are not as predictive of border apprehensions as expected by theory and the research literature.

Why? It could be that IRCA, with its threat of sanctions on companies hiring illegal immigrants, altered the dynamic between the U.S. and Mexican economies and illegal immigration. However. few companies have ever been sanctioned under IRCA and it is doubtful that such sanctions would change the incentives for Mexican and Central American migrant workers thinking about attempting illegal entry into the U.S.

Instead, the variability of the Mexican economy since 1960 seems a more likely suspect (see Figure 4). There was significant variation in Mexico’s GDP growth between 1982 and 1995 with the Mexican economy shrinking by around 30 percent in 1982, 1986, and 1995. At the same time, there was significant growth in between those years. Such extreme variation could make individuals and families less likely to pull up roots and make the trek to the U.S. Whereas, in the 1960s and 1970s, when Mexican GDP growth was generally positive and stable, long-term decisions were perhaps easier to make.

Figure 4: Mexico’s Annual GDP Growth since 1960

Source: Federal Reserve of St. Louis

Changes in the U.S. economy could also be playing a factor in the reduced importance of economic factors on border apprehensions (see Figure 5). The high growth periods of the 1960s and 1980s have been replaced with longer periods of slower growth in the U.S. economy. This change could be, again, altering the decision calculus among potential immigrants.

Figure 5: U.S. Annual GDP Growth since 1960

Source: Federal Reserve of St. Louis

Other factors in the linear model showing a significant relationship to border apprehensions are the years following the 9/11 attacks (a negative relationship) and the transition years immediately after passage of the 1986 IRCA (also a negative relationship).

Significant variation remains unexplained by our linear model and, admittedly, incentives for asylum seekers and political refugees to make the trek to the U.S. are not explicitly represented among the variables tested.

Still, the original intent of this essay was to add some comparative context to illegal immigration in order to assess the validity of President Trump’s claim that the U.S. is “facing a crisis on the southern border.”

This claim is simply hard to justify given the trends in the aggregate data. Unquestionably, there are too many individual cases of human trafficking, drug smuggling, and inter-border gang movements to say there is not an illegal immigration problem.

But are these types of illegal acts associated today with historically high levels of illegal immigration along our Southwestern border? The answer is an emphatic ‘No.’

  • K.R.K.

Comments and critiques can be sent to: kroeger98@yahoo.com

The advice to Republicans remains: Nominate more women

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; January 12, 2019)

A year ago I wrote an article on the dearth of female Republicans in national elected office, particularly the U.S. House. [The original article is here.]

The article’s gist was that if Republicans don’t nominate more women against incumbent Democrats, the party’s decline (starting in the 2018 midterms) will be precipitous.

The GOP lost 40 U.S. House seats in 2018 (one seat in North Carolina is still to be determined).

In the 115th Congress, there were 21 Republican women. In the new 116th Congress there are only 13. In comparison, the number of Democratic women in the House went from 64 to 89.

If trends continue, half of all U.S. House members will be women by 2032 and not one will be a Republican.

Of course, that will never happen, right? The Republicans will adjust, right?

Do Republicans realize it is an empirical fact that women are widely viewed as more honest, empathetic and trustworthy (see Figure 1)? Do Republicans understand that, if those attributes become central to vote decisions in the future, their party is screwed?

Figure 1: Public opinion on gender differences in political leadership

Source: Pew Research

Why is the number of GOP women in the U.S. House dropping?

Perry Bacon Jr. from FiveThirtyEight.com highlighted last year some of the barriers preventing more Republican women from winning elections and staying in office, not the least of which is that Republican women tend to be more moderate (or are perceived to be more moderate) than their Republican male counterparts. And as Republican voters have drifted right ideologically, women Republicans have found it more difficult to survive the nomination process. Likewise, a significant percentage of incumbent Republican women (usually moderates) have voluntarily left office knowing their re-election chances were increasingly doubtful.

Other possible reasons for the GOP’s lack of elected women include:

(1) The Democrats being viewed as the party of women’s rights,

(2) There are more Democratic women with the backgrounds typically associated with political careers, and

(3) The money is more likely to flow to Democratic women running for office than it is to Republican women.

While all of the barriers are potentially true, they do not dictate that Republican women will vanish from the political landscape.

Successful parties adjust to changing electorates. The Democrats moved to the right under Bill Clinton and the Republicans will inevitably adjust in the current political environment.

And even if the Republicans don’t move towards the center, its not like there aren’t strong conservative women out there capable of running for Congress. This is not a supply problem. The GOP has an old, white men leadership problem.

What holds the Republican Party back from nominating more women is a Republican hierarchy that fails to appreciate the competitive necessity of introducing more diversity into the party’s primary races.

To be sure, simply nominating women is not, in and of itself, a solution to the GOP’s gender (and diversity) problem. For the sake of argument, let us assume in the 2018 midterms the GOP had nominated a woman in races where there was a male nominee,And assume also that this would have added one percent to the GOP’s vote total in those races. Across the 435 U.S. House races in the 2018 midterms, that would have changed the outcome in the GOP’s favor in only six House races (CA21, FL26, ME2, NJ3, OK5, VA7).

New York Representative Elise Stefanik calls the GOP gender problem a “crisis”

Former head of candidate recruitment for the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, resigned from that position after the 2018 midterms out of frustration that the Republican Party, by policy, does not get involved in the primary process (unlike the Democrats).

Stefanik will instead work through her leadership PAC to recruit, train and cultivate women GOP candidates during the primary races.

“If that’s what Elise wants to do, then that’s her call, her right,” NRCC chairman Tom Emmer (R-MN) told Roll Call last November. “But I think that’s a mistake. It shouldn’t be just based on looking for a specific set of ingredients — gender, race, religion — and then we’re going to play in the primary.”

But Republican leaders like Emmer, thinking Stefanik’s efforts represent a capitulation to identity politics, are actually ensuring identity politics’ role in electoral politics.

For Republicans, the first line of defense in combating the divisiveness of identity politics is to have leaders drawn from all backgrounds. Now is not the time to become more white and more male.

To do that, Republican leaders and voters alike need to understand that photos like this one from a 2017 Republican press conference in the Rose Garden don’t just create bad optics, they represent a losing brand of politics.

Grumpy Old White Men Celebrating the Repeal of Obamacare in the Rose Garden (Photo credit: CNN)

 

Just as Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi cannot be the face of the Democratic Party much longer, Mitch McConnell and Lindsay Graham cannot be the brand leaders for the Republicans anymore.

Nikki Haley. Mia Love. Joni Ernst. Elise Stefanik. Kristi Noem. Kirstjen Nielsen. Kim Reynolds. The talent pool is out there for the Republicans. Seek their counsel. Learn from them. Put them in leadership positions so they are part of the GOP’s public face.

And it’s not about gender or youth. Bernie Sanders is not young yet still relevant. It is about fitting in and being able to lead within the current zeitgeist.

And this environment trends female and puts a premium on empathy, trust and honesty. And that does not necessitate the systematic exclusion of men, who are fully capable of such qualities. But it does mean the Republican Party must address its gender crisis.

Wake up GOP. Listen to Elise Stefanik.

  • K.R.K.

Is radical Islamic terrorism linked to oil wealth? An initial empirical look

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; January 11, 2019)

[DATA ANALYZED IN THIS ESSAY ARE AVAILABLE HERE ===> QUARTERLY_TERRORISM_DATABASE_EXPORT]

A little over a week ago I caught up on some YouTube podcasts to which I subscribe. One of my favorite podcasts — along with The Jimmy Dore Show and the CrazyRussianHacker) — is MoFreedomFoundation, a channel (and website) started by author Robert Morris dedicated to current affairs, international politics and ‘pro-sanity propaganda.’

“We promise to do a better job covering these issues than any cable news channel” is the MoFreedomFoundation’s pledge.

Not hard to do, unfortunately.

The Hypothesis

Morris’ latest podcast — “Islamic Terrorism is Over” — was particularly interesting and inspired me to do a quick data analysis to see if I could confirm (at least tentatively) his central hypothesis:

Since 2014, as oil prices have declined, the financial sponsors of terrorism — oil-rich Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia and UAE — have seen their cash reserves decline and have therefore had less to use for funding terrorist activities (e.g., ISIS).

Here is the MoFreedomFoundation podcast spelling out that hypothesis and the empirical data supporting it:

“Almost three years ago I predicted that due to falling oil prices radical Islamic terrorism would quickly start to fade away — and that is exactly what happened,” starts Morris. “It was always Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states that funded all that death and destruction. Now that they have less spare money, everybody else gets less.”

As Morris points out, this is not a thesis heard too often in the mainstream news media. Why?

“Every media and government organization in the world profits from fear and they really don’t want to document the fact that one of the biggest justifications for their budgets is in the process of disappearing.”

In fairness, I have heard or read this argument a few times recently within the climate change activist community where a number of researchers and journalists are using the link between oil money and terrorism to justify a more rapid transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

Author Nathan Taft, from the Fuel Freedom Foundation, writes: “When you pay at the pump, your hard-earned cash isn’t just going to oil companies — it also fills the pockets of terrorists and hostile regimes that harbor dangerous ideologies.”

There you go. When you fill up the Volvo, you aren’t just preparing for a two-hour drive to Aunt Velma’s, you’re helping finance the car bomb industry — in case you need another good reason not to visit Aunt Velma.

When ISIS controlled meaningful amounts of territory, it also controlled oil and gas fields, where it was able to generate significant revenues for their activities.

But we know from leaked U.S. State Department documents from 2009 that Saudi Arabia was — and likely still is — the “world’s largest source of funds for Islamist militant groups such as the Afghan Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba.”

According to the report signed by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, “Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.” The report also identifies Qatar, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as other significant sources of terrorism funding.

Keep in mind, the Saudi incentive for much of its terrorism funding is in keeping Iran’s hands full. ISIS was causing Iran to bleed resources in order to keep afloat the Bashar al Assad regime, one of the few Iranian allies in the region. Likewise, ongoing Saudi support for Islamist militants in Yemen fighting Houthi (Shia) forces compels Iran to dedicate resources to that war than they might otherwise prefer to use elsewhere.

[There is actually little evidence that Iran has a major financial or military commitment in Yemen. At least, nothing compared to what Saudi Arabia and UAE are committing.]

Even as Saudi Arabia appears to be working to stop the flow of money to Islamic militants, the country openly finances the philosophical training ground for such militants through their support to a worldwide Wahhabi education system.

Saudi Arabia is both the arsonist and the firefighter.

The Data

So, the Morris podcast prompted me to pull together a couple of data sources to test the “Cheap Oil Stops Terrorism” (COST) hypothesis.

First, we need valid and reliable terrorism data.

While in the past I have used the Global Terrorism Database (GTD), compiled by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) at the University of Maryland, College Park, I was intrigued by Morris’ use of a database maintained by the anti-Islam website TheReligionOfPeace.com (TROP).

Morris describes the website well: “TheReligionOfPeace.com website claims to provide a comprehensive list of terror attacks across the world, (though) the vast majority of the incidents come from active war zones like Iraq Syria and Afghanistan.”

The website is “one of the most bigoted and anti-Islamic news sources you can find,” concludes Morris.

Yet, oddly enough, the TROP database strongly correlates with the terrorism death and incident counts in the GTD. Therefore, for this brief analytic exercise, I felt comfortable sticking with the TROP data.

Figure 1: GTD Terrorist Incident and Death Counts since 1970

Source: National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism

 

Along with the TROP database on terrorism deaths, I obtained oil price data (and other economic data) from the online data repository (FRED) maintained by the Federal Reserve (St. Louis). Figure 2 shows the terrorism death counts and oil prices (West Texas Intermediate Price Index, 1994 = 100).

Figure 2: Terrorism Deaths and the Price of Oil (2002 to 2018)

Sources: TheReligionofPeace.com; Federal Reserve (St. Louis); NuQum.com

 

Like the GTD database, TROP shows three terrorism-related death spikes from 2001 to 2018 (blue line). The first, of course, is 9–11 (on the far left of the chart). The second is prior to and during the 2006 Iraq War surge. And the third spike occurs with the rise of ISIS in Syria starting in 2014.

The red line shows how oil prices have varied since 2002. They rose rapidly and consistently immediately after 9–11 and peaked right before the 2008 world financial crisis. Prices fell to near 2002 levels, but recovered over half of its losses from the financial crisis by the Autumn of 2014, only to decline again to near 2002 levels (in constant terms) by early 2016. Oil prices had been recovering since then, but have fallen precipitously since October 2018.

WTI is selling for $51.45-a-barrel as of 2:00pm (January 11, 2019). WTI crude was just over $100-a-barrel in 2014.

Testing the Hypothesis

Sometimes the eyeball test is all you need. And, in this case, it helps but isn’t quite enough. What jumps out to me are three distinct periods where terrorism deaths and oil prices appear tightly (and positively) linked.

The first is from early 2002 to July 2007. After that, the two series move in opposite directions from late 2007 until late 2010, when they start moving in the same direction again. As ISIS became a significant factor in Syria in mid-2014, an extreme spike in terrorism deaths occurs and is not reflected in oil prices. However, after the initial noise generated by ISIS, around late 2014 the two series move in a strong lock-step fashion until late 2015.

To more formally test the relationship between terrorism deaths and oil prices, I estimated a simple linear regression model (I also tested a Poisson regression model — which is more appropriate for count data — and found similar results to the linear model. For simplicity of interpretation, I am reporting the linear model here).

Along with oil prices, I included statistical controls for serial autocorrelation (terrorism deaths lagged by one time period) and the expected impact a strong world economy might also have on the cash reserves of oil-producing Gulf states. Though originally collected at the monthly level, the data in the following model are at the quarterly level.

Other variables tested but found to be insignificant predictors of worldwide terrorism deaths were: Number of U.S. Troops Deployed to Iraq/Afghanistan/Syria, OPEC Oil Production, OPEC Oil Supply, U.S. Dollar Value Index and U.S. DoD Terrorism/War-related Budget.

Methodological Note: Including a lagged dependent variable, as I did, can sometimes soak up significant explanatory variance causing other independent variables, that may be still be significant predictors of terrorism deaths, appear insignificant. For the exercise here, however, I was comfortable with that risk given that oil prices remained statistically significant across the various tested models despite the presence of the lagged dependent variable. I am therefore confident in saying: “Oil prices and terrorism deaths are significantly and positively related (in this time period).”

The linear model tested was a follows:

The parameter estimates and statistical tests shown in Figure 3 were generated in the SPSS software package. The ‘Model Summary’ table indicates 74 percent of the variance in terrorism deaths can be accounted through our simple three-variable model. Not bad.

The third tables shows the parameter estimates and indicates that the oil price variable (WTI PRICE INDEX lagged 4 quarters) is significantly and positively related to terrorism deaths (b = 2.27, p = 0.028). In other words, for every 1-point increase in the WTI crude oil price index, there are 2.27 additional terrorism deaths per quarter. Keep in mind that the WTI Oil Price Index ranged between roughly 100 and 1000 points during this period with a standard deviation of 172. A one-standard-deviation increase in oil prices therefore could result in 390 additional terrorism deaths.

Also note that lag structure for oil prices. Apparently, it takes four quarters (one year) for an oil price level to impact terrorism deaths, suggesting this is the length of time between a decision to sell oil assets, distribute funds to militant groups, and operational activities by the militant groups.

Figure 3: SPSS-generated linear model estimates

Do we really believe oil prices are closely linked to terrorism levels?

Honestly, I was very skeptical going into this statistical exercise, despite the strong anecdotal evidence (such as the 2009 U.S. State Department Report) and the visual evidence from the time-series charts.

I still believe the relationship is more complicated than oil price and the amount of discretionary money in Saudi pockets. For one, while the Saudis are still almost entirely dependent on the sale of oil for their cash reserves, there are other investments in their portfolio (which is why I included worldwide GDP growth in the model).

Geopolitical strategic interests, independent of oil prices, also drive Saudi money (and the money of other oil-producing Gulf states) into the bank accounts of Islamic militants.

The Saudi’s still perceive Iran to be its biggest strategic threat and, for that reason, a better specified model explaining terrorism deaths should include year-to-year measures of the intensity of the Saudi-Iranian conflict. I this exercise I have not accounted for that major factor.

There is also a religious/ideological component to terrorism that is not considered here. As long as seemingly permanent U.S. military bases are sprinkled all over the Arabian peninsula, including the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the region will be an incubator of anti-West militancy.

Still, there is no doubt in my mind that stagnant and falling oil prices are hurting Islamic militant organizations and I believe there is sufficient evidence, quantitative and qualitative, to support that conclusion.

If oil prices should rise again (and they will, at least until we stop using so much cheap Middle East oil), will terrorism rebound?

If Morris is correct, the U.S. military and security establishment is skeptical of terrorism’s resurgence moving forward:

“Almost two decades the Department of Defense and its enablers have been focused on Islamic terrorism. For years the metastasized military-industrial complex sent tons of money and personnel sloshing towards anti-Islamic organizations like the Gatestone Institute and Jihad Watch. Some of that still definitely goes on, but it came to a sort of symbolic end in January of 2018. That month saw the release of the new national defense strategy. To quote directly, ‘Interstate strategic competition, not terrorism, is now the primary concern in U.S. national security.’”

Interstate strategic competition?

I wonder if that will cost as much to fight as it did to fight terrorists over the past 17 years?

Why do I even have to ask?

  • K.R.K.

 

Alan Dershowitz is wrong about the BDS movement and Rashida Tlaib

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; January 10, 2019)

I admire Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz and have for a long time.

Most recently, Dershowitz is one of the few Democrats (perhaps only) that sees clearly the inconsistencies and dangers intrinsic to the Democratic Party’s ad hominem obsession with the Robert Mueller-led Trump-Russia investigation.

For example, on whether President Donald Trump’s potential firing of Mueller would constitute an impeachable offense, Dershowitz says, “ “Firing the special counsel would not be impeachable offense, because it wouldn’t be a crime. The president would have authority to do it but it would be politically very damaging to do it.”

It is a direct threat to our democracy to criminalize political differences, Dershowitz argues objectively in his 2017 book, “Trumped Up: How Criminalization of Political Differences Endangers Democracy.”

So why does Dershowitz suddenly disabuse himself from his own beliefs when discussing the legality of anti-Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) laws in the U.S.?

A growing number of U.S. states that are passing anti-BDS laws that, among their provisions, prevent states from investing in or hiring companies that refuse to engage in commerce with Israel and boycott Israel or persons doing business in Israel or territories controlled by Israel. The U.S. Congress is debating its own anti-BDS legislation.

For anyone unfamiliar with the BDS movement, here is summary:

BDS stands for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. Among its tactics, BDS targets businesses and organizations deemed complicit in Israel’s known and alleged human rights violations against Palestinians. While Israel’s supporters charge the BDS movement as being inherently anti-Semitic and racist, BDS organizers contend their movement is comparable to the anti-apartheid movement which helped to isolate South Africa globally and end white rule.

In defending the legality of these laws, Dershowitz makes this distinction: “So long as these anti-BDS statutes do not prohibit advocacy of such boycotts, but focus instead on the commercial activities themselves — namely the economic boycotts — there are no serious freedom of speech concerns. The First Amendment protects freedom of speech, not freedom to discriminate economically based on invidious classifications.”

BDS organizers respond, flatly, anti-BDS laws violate First Amendment rights. “A boycott is an important and powerful form of expressive association protected by the First Amendment. Speech in support of a boycott encompasses the practice of people sharing common views banding together to achieve a common end, a practice deeply embedded in the American political process,” according to a legal brief prepared by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Iowa.

“By this collective effort, individuals can make their views known when, individually, their voices would be faint or lost. The Supreme Court has held that economic boycotts are protected by the First Amendment. *NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co.*, 458 U.S. 886 (1982).”

At the risk of over-simplifying Dershowitz’ argument, his claim is that boycotts are not protected speech if they are premised on bigotry — such as anti-Semitism — instead of specific actions (e.g., human rights violations).

That is the strongest aspect of Dershowitz’ argument in support of anti-BDS laws.

“Americans of any religion have the right to support Israel, and most do, without being accused of disloyalty, just as Americans of any religion have the right to support the Palestinian cause,” argues Dershowitz. “It is both bigoted and hypocritical to apply a different standard to Jews who support Israel than to Muslims who support the Palestinian cause.”

But, in basically restating Israeli politician Natan Sharansky’s three D’s of anti-Semitism — delegitimization, demonization, and double standards — Dershowitz is implicitly acknowledging not all criticisms of Israel are rooted in anti-Semitism.

Yet, the entire BDS movement gets tagged as such by Dershowitz, as he claims its mission, by definition, is anti-Semitic.

Dershowitz writes: “Congress is considering legislation dealing with companies that boycott only the nation state of the Jewish people, and only Jews within Israel. To single out only the ‘Jew among nations,’ and not the dozens of far more serious violators of human rights is bigotry pure and simple, and those who support BDS only against Israel are guilty of bigotry.”

It is here where Dershowitz starts going off the rails.

“What is unacceptable (about BDS) is discriminatory actions, and nothing can be more discriminatory than singling out an ally with one of the best records of human rights in the world for a boycott, while continuing to do business with the worst human rights offenders in the world,” writes Dershowitz. “Many of the same bigots who support BDS against Israel, oppose boycotting Cuba, Iran, China, Russia, Venezuela, Syria, Saudi Arabia and other human rights violators. Legislation designed to end such discriminatory actions would be constitutional, if it did not prohibit advocacy.”

And, yet, according to Dershowitz, who in other domains of American law and policy understands the sanctity of political differences, wants to criminalize an economic boycott of our close ally, Israel.

In making his argument, Dershowitz ignores the fundamental difference between Israel and countries like Cuba, Iran, Russia, Syria and Venezuela (where the U.S. has imposed sanctions). The former is an ally. The politics often demand we hold our allies to different human rights standards than our adversaries.

That Saudi Arabia could be called a close American ally and also be one of the world’s worst human rights violators (infinitely worse than Israel) is shocking.

If there is a double standard at play, it is not the BDS movement targeting Israel, it is that we don’t put as much pressure on Saudi Arabia to change their behavior.

Criticizing and boycotting Israel for its treatment of the Palestinian people in the occupied territories is entirely rooted in politics. Such actions don’t delegitimize the State of Israel. They don’t demonize the Israelis. If anything, it contrasts the higher ideals of individual Israelis with the morally inconsistent actions of their government.

And, finally, the BDS movement is not engaged in a double standard. For one, there is nothing in the original BDS charter stating that what Israel is doing to the Palestinians is wrong, but if other countries are doing it to a similarly aggrieved group, fine. That would be a double standard. The BDS movement is under no obligation to address every human rights violation across all nations. The BDS was started by Palestinians to exclusively address Palestinian grievances with Israel. Period.

But because some BDS organizers and supporters are vocally critical of Israel yet silent (or even supportive) of other nations that commit far worse human rights violations, Dershowitz feels comfortable outlawing their specific goal of putting economic pressure on Israel to change its policies regarding the Palestinians.

Rep. Rashida Tlaib being sworn into the U.S House as it first Palestinian-American representative (Photo credit: AFP/Getty Images)

 

One of Dershowitz’ targets for this criticism is Michigan Representative Rashida Tlaib, who, to the best of my knowledge, has never voiced support for human rights violations in Cuba, Iran, China, Russia, Venezuela, Syria, Saudi Arabia, or any other country.

In fact, some Palestinian activists have complained that Tlaib is not sufficiently anti-Israel and had, at one point, accepted the endorsement of the political action committee J Street, an Israel lobby group opposed to the BDS.

Prior to the 2018 midterm elections, Ali Abunimah, a writer for The Electronic Intifada, wrote: “Rashida Tlaib is endorsed and supported by the liberal Zionist Israel lobby group J Street through its political action committee JStreetPAC.” [That endorsement was ultimately withdrawn when Tlaib stated her support for a One-State Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.]

Abunimah was particularly critical of Tlaib’s public statements about Israel during the 2018 campaign.

“We need to be honest about the dehumanization on both sides, frankly,” Tlaib told The Washington Post. “And more importantly, we need to be not choosing a side.”

“Is Tlaib serious that we should be neutral and not ‘choose a side’ when it comes to Israel’s brutal military occupation, colonization and apartheid in her parents’ homeland?” wrote Abunimah.

Though she is excessively anti-Trump, by any reasonable standard, Tlaib is no bigot or anti-Semite. [Palestinians are Semites, by the way, but that is an argument for another day.]

Nonetheless, Dershowitz uses her as his chief antagonist in promoting his transitive logic that the BDS is inherently anti-Semitic, therefore, if you support the BDS, you are anti-Semitic.

Dershowitz is engaging in the ‘guilt by association’ tactic that has become hard-coded into the national political dialogue.

Any suggestion Tlaib is an anti-Semite is an ugly slur unsupported by evidence. Its beneath Dershowitz’ otherwise clear-eyed perspective on American and Israeli politics to suggest as much.

  • K.R.K.

An example of a state-level anti-BDS law:

https://www.legis.iowa.gov/legislation/BillBook?ba=HF%202331&ga=86

The slow escape (and rise) of Saudi women

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; January 9, 2019)

No story has made my heart sink faster than the recent one about Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun — a Saudi Arabia teen allegedly fleeing to Thailand from her family (living in Kuwait) out of fear they would kill her.

At this point in the story, events are fluid and many facts are still unknown. The evidence we do possess is mostly a series of conversations between Rahaf and her Twitter followers, along with officials statements coming from the Thai government and the United Nations Refugee Agency stating, at least for now, support for her staying in Thailand until her case can be resolved.

 

In less than 48 hours of her first asylum plea via Twitter, Rahaf’s Twitter account has attracted tens of thousands of new followers. Whether Rahaf’s story ends happily is still to be determined.

Similar stories of Saudi women but did not end well have emerged in the past few years. Here are two of them:

Where is Dina Ali Lasloom?

Dina Ali Lasloom is a Saudi woman who sought asylum in Australia but was detained at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila, Philippines on April 10, 2017, and deported back to Saudi Arabia, accompanied by two of her uncles, on April 11, 2017.

Below is the last known picture of Dina (see talking to her two uncles at the Manila airport).

The last known photo of Dina Ali Lasloom (L)

 

Her reason for trying to leave Saudi Arabia? In a self-recorded video, Dina says that she is seeking asylum and will be killed if forced to return to her family. In another video, taken by a Canadian tourist in the Manila airport while Dina was being detained by Philippine authorities, captures Dina screaming at a Saudi woman, who had accompanied Dina’s uncles.

 

According to eyewitnesses on Dina’s return flight to Saudi Arabia, she was covered by a blanket, her mouth taped shut, and physically resisting as her uncles forced her onto the plane.

Since returning to Saudi Arabia on April 11, Dina has never been seen again. A anonymous Saudi government official told Bloomberg that, upon arrival in Riyadh, Dina Ali was taken to a detention facility for women aged under 30 but did not face any charges. However, feminist activist Moudhi Aljohani, who says she talked to Dina on the phone while she was detained in the Manila airport, is less sanguine. “It is most likely that she is not alive,” she says.

The “Double Suicide” of Two Saudi Sisters in New York’s Hudson River

This next story is perhaps more chilling. On October 24, 2018, the bodies of sisters Tala and Rotana Farea, Saudi citizens living in Virginia with their family, were found along the banks of New York’s Hudson River bound together by duct tape in a way suggesting it was meant to hold them together but not bind them. According to New York City Police, there was no evidence of foul play as they concluded the deaths were part of a suicide pact.

Assuming the conclusions of the NYC Police are correct, it still begs the question, why would two sisters do such a thing?

Sources told investigators that the sisters once said they would “rather kill themselves than return to Saudi Arabia.” Their mother reportedly told local reporters that the Saudi embassy in Washington told the family they would need to return to Saudi Arabia.

Tala Farea, 16, and Rotana Farea, 23, were found dead in a New York river in October 2018.

 

As the sisters’ full story remains a puzzle, the basic outline sounds familiar to human rights observers that track the fate of Saudi women attempting to find asylum outside the Kingdom.

“Although there are no official statistics, anecdotal evidence from cases reported in Saudi media and from human rights advocates suggest dozens of Saudi women — some with their children — have attempted to flee abroad in recent years,” says journalist Aya Batrawy who has covered a number of these stories in her career.

Whether the stories of Rahaf, Dina and the Farea sisters represent a trend is difficult to say. If they do, these asylum cases are happening at a time when Saudi women have seen recent gains in freedom, including the right to drive, and the right to run and vote in local elections. That those gains occurred because of growing discontent among Saudi women is entirely possible as well.

The Data Paints a Bleak Picture for Saudi Women (and Muslim Women, in general)

As the anecdotal evidence of systematic abuse continues to emerge from Saudi women seeking asylum in the West, the quantitative evidence substantiates their stories.

As part of its annual computation of the Human Freedom Index (HFI’s), the CATO presents the “state of human freedom in the world based on a broad measure that encompasses personal, civil, and economic freedom.” Among the HFI’s many sub components is a Women Security Index (WSI) which is computed for over 170 countries and is based on: (1) the prevalence of female genital mutilation, (2) the gender bias in mortality, and (3) the inheritance rights of wives and daughters. The WSI ranges between 0 and 10 where ‘0’ indicates low security for women and ‘10’ indicates high levels of security.

Figure 1 shows the Bottom 15 countries on the WFI — the lowest index score going to Brunei (WFI = 0.0), followed by Egypt (WFI = 2.8), Mauritania (WFI = 3.4) and Sudan (WFI = 3.7). Saudi Arabia has the 12th lowest WFI at 5.0 (tied with Suriname and Pakistan).

The relationship of the WFI to a country’s dominant religious culture is strong. Fourteen out of 15 countries at the bottom of the WFI are predominately Islamic or have a large Islamic minority.

Figure 1: Women (In)Security Index 2017 (Source: CATO Institute, 2018)

 

Another quantitative measure related to women’s equality and compiled annually is the World Bank’s Global Gender Gap Index (GGI).

The Global Gender Gap Index is the combination of four components: (1) Economic Participation and Opportunity, (2) Educational Attainment, (3) Health and Survival and (4) Political Empowerment. The highest possible country score is 1 (equality) and the lowest possible country score is 0 (inequality).

As seen in Figure 2, the GGI and WSI are positively correlated (Pearson r= .62) and reveal Islamic countries (the blue dots) again cluster on the low end for both indexes.

Figure 2: The World Bank’s Gender Gap Index (GGI) and CATO’s Women Security Index (WSI) — The Relationship to Religious Culture

 

The World Bank has been computing the GGI since 2006. Between 2006 and 2016, only one country, Sri Lanka, experienced a significant decline in their GGI (-0.05). Figure 3 shows the Top 10 countries experiencing the most significant increases in gender equality: Nicaragua (0.12), Nepal (0.11), Bolivia (0.11), Slovenia (0.11), and France (0.10).

Figure 3: Changes in Gender Gap Index (2000 to 2016) (Source: World Bank, 2016)

 

Among Islamic countries, Bangladesh (0.07), Chad (0.06), Saudi Arabia (0.6), Yemen (0.6) and UAE (0.5) saw the most significant increases in gender equality between 2006 and 2016.

If the World Bank’s GGI is any indication, there have been substantive improvements to women’s lives in Saudi Arabia since 2006.

Political scientist James Davies once postulated in the 1960s that “revolutions are most likely to occur when a prolonged period of objective economic and social development is followed by a short period of sharp reversal.” Since called the “J-curve” theory, Norwegian political scientist Carl Henrik Knutsen has offered tentative quantitative evidence supporting one aspect of the J-curve theory: “Short-term economic growth rates systematically affect the probabilities of attempted and of successful revolutions. Regimes in countries that experience economic crises are at increased risk of facing revolutionary threats and of eventually being thrown out of office because of them.”

Whether this finding relates to the propensity of Saudi women to carry out their own smaller, personal revolutions is highly speculative.

What we do know, anecdotally, is that (young) Saudi women are routinely putting their lives at risk in seeking asylum outside the Kingdom. The most recent example (Rahaf) may have a relatively happy ending. Many most likely have not.

It is also impossible to disentangle the human rights issue from the diplomatic necessities of the U.S. and Western democracies. Saudi Arabia is too critical to world economic growth to expect political leaders to lead on the issue of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia.

A long list of American notables — Barack Obama, Bill and Hillary Clinton, an assortment of Bushes, Michael Bloomberg, John Kerry, Condoleezza Rice, Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch, Elon Musk, Peter Thiel, Tim Cook, and Bob Iger— lined up to meet the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman during his charm offensive in March 2018.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman © ordering coffee with former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg (Photo credit: AFP PHOTO / Saudi Royal Palace / BANDAR AL-JALOUD)

 

That fact is Saudi Arabia remains one the closest U.S. allies in the Middle East and will be for as long as the country needs their cheap oil (which might not be for as long as you think). Said President Donald Trump recently, “Saudi Arabia has been a great ally to me.” Sadly, the Saudi royals are not as great to their own people, especially Saudi women.

  • K.R.K.

 

The End of Empathy and the Locking of the American Mind

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; January 8, 2019)

We want to believe our every thought is the product of free will and from that foundation we self-select what thoughts we choose to share with others.

“Let me speak my mind,” we often say.

But do we? And even if think we do, are the thoughts we select from truly representative of our personal realities?

Deep down, we know a genuinely free mind is far too much work. It is simply not practical to be too open-minded and we can all think of times when we said something to sound polite or well-informed, even if we didn’t believe it or know what to say in the first place.

When recently asked if I liked the movie Green Book, my response was immediate: “I really enjoyed it. It was a very thought-provoking movie about racism in the 1960s.” (But it isn’t. It is the ‘See Spot Run’-level, nuance-free type of anti-racism movie I expect from Hollywood. Shallow and self-consciously important. I hated it.). But I still said I liked it — a lot.

[Side note: This is one reason why opinion survey results, particularly when related to personal attitudes and preferences, have to be analyzed with a healthy dose of skepticism. People don’t generally lie on surveys as much as they mold their responses to fit the moment.]

More broadly, we tend to believe things uncritically, especially things we don’t experience firsthand. We take others’ word for it, not because they are necessarily experts but because we are not. Or we deliberately ignore contradictory information just to maintain the peace in our head and within our social interactions.

Its a ‘go-along-to-get-along’ frame of mind. It’s social constructivism with hints of Marxism. The system causes us to think the way we think.

When our thoughts become speech, the words we use are often chosen for us by the people we socialize with, the media we consume, the churches where we congregate, and the schools we attend. The gentle tyranny of social norms and peer pressure consistently narrow our perspectives and therefore our potential for creative thought and expression.

If freedom of speech means the self-regulated articulation of ideas drawn from a narrow set of socially(elite)-determined alternatives, then, yes, we have free speech. But it is seldom interesting speech.

For society to function relatively smoothly from day-to-day, all alternatives cannot be available and debated at every moment. If the sign at my intersection says ‘No Right Turn On Red’ today, I expect to see it tomorrow too. A well-functioning, civil society has necessary boundaries.

But the dysfunction we see now in our political system is at least partly rooted in the scarcity of ideas we are exposed to at any given time. If most of our information comes from the AP wire and cable news networks, we are seeing but a thin slice of our world. The irony is that the Information Age’s social media-stoked period offers up fewer perspectives and weaker ideas than ever.

Every minute we spend on social media is a minute we spend with our head planted firmly up our arse. And I include myself in that ‘head-up-butt’ metaphor.

Some have argued that our ability to empathize is dying as a result. Whether through compassion fatigue, confirmation bias, or the over-simplification of social relationships, today’s young adults are showing less empathy than prior generations.

However, the issue may be more than just decreasing levels of empathy, but how individuals determine towards whom to extend their empathy.

Our ability to empathize independently may be the biggest victim of today’s social media obsession. We have to be told (typically by social elites and respected peers) who deserves our empathy and who does not. We may be losing the capacity to make that decision on our own.

This is why we witness these grotesque inconsistencies in whom some deem worthy of our protection and those who are labeled unworthy. In today’s partisan political world, a person can freely label Iran has the ‘world’s biggest supporter of terrorism,’ while calling Saudi Arabia a ‘trusted ally’. Never mind that the 9–11 terrorists were mostly Saudi and funded by a Saudi national. Never mind that ISIS and al Qaeda-aligned terrorists find their ideological roots in Saudi-sourced Wahhabism, not Shia Islam.

In an empathy-starved environment, diplomats can call Gaza Palestinians ‘terrorists’ for launching Katyusha rockets at Israel from locations near schools and hospitals, but when Israeli bombers allegedly shield their maneuvers by shadowing (and endangering) civilian airliners, that is legitimate ‘self-defense’.

Facts really stop mattering when others tell you how to think.

And this empathy deficit is not unique to Donald Trump, or his supporters, or neoconservatives. Liberals, progressives and left-right centrists routinely engage in the same behavior. In fact, it is the new normal for everyone.

When some believe that a conspiracy occurs when a presidential campaign operative, in pursuit of evidence of wrongdoing by an opponent, meets with a Putin-linked Russian lawyer, but are unwilling to hold the FBI accountable for using unsubstantiated, unvetted foreign-sourced opposition research to authorize surveillance of a presidential campaign operative, they are applying inconsistent standards.

When some are convinced crudely designed Russian Facebook memes can alter a presidential election, but ignore the culpability behind and potential impact of a false-flag disinformation campaign linking a Republican U.S. Senate candidate to the Russians, they are applying inconsistent standards.

The consistent use of empathy is hard work, made harder because we don’t generally experience national and world events directly and are dependent on others to educate us on these events. That is a fact driven by our natural limitations.

But that shouldn’t make us wholly dependent on others to interpret such events and to link them to larger constructs.

Yet, that is where we are today. We too often let others do our thinking for us. On the one hand, it makes getting through the day much easier. On the other hand, it can lead us into intellectual cul-de-sacs that may serve others’ interests more than our own. Inconsistencies and hypocrisies we would otherwise correct instantly are ignored, or even worse, embraced.

Why? Because we are told to do so.

Our current propensity for selective outrage and withholding empathy is damaging not just our democracy, but our society in general. It is almost passé to say that anymore. Still, we all know it and we literally do NOTHING about it.

Part II of this essay will discuss the importance of information diversity and how search engines (such as Google) and social media networks might benefit their businesses and society by more systematically introducing the power of random selection into their services.

  • K.R.K.

Please send comments and gentle insults to: kroeger98@yahoo.com

 

Things I’ve been told that might be true

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com, January 5, 2019)

Over time I compile a list of assertions, statements, and rumors told to me by friends, colleagues, online stalkers and perfect strangers at the TGIF Friday’s bar in Princeton, New Jersey. Occasionally, for the claims I find particularly interesting, I even try to verify them. Here are five that I found most interesting and might be true:

Conditions in countries have worsened where the U.S. has recently pursued regime change.

This statement I heard at the TGIF Friday’s bar and was attributed to Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. It is a harsh indictment of U.S. military interventions…and hard to prove.

But…when I returned home I looked up the historical data from the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Index (HDI) (see Figure 1 below).

Figure 1: Human Development Index (1990–2017)

Source: UNDP, Human Development Index

 

With any time-series analysis, where you establish the start and end points are critical to what conclusions are drawn. However, the three most recent countries in which the U.S. military has directly or indirectly intervened in pursuit of changing an existing regime — Libya 2011, Syria 2011 and Yemen 2015 — all have experienced significant declines in human development from the point U.S. involvement started to the present.

Even the two countries where the U.S. has had its most significant combat engagements (Afghanistan and Iraq), while they have seen an increase in their absolute human development index scores, their relative position worldwide has not increased significantly. Iraq, in fact, has gone from being ranked 114th in 2004 on the HDI down to 120th in 2017. Afghanistan’s HDI rank has moved from 170th in 2004 to 168th in 2017.

While there have been specific areas where the U.S. has improved conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan (e.g., access to education, particularly for females), the overall development measures have not witnessed substantive improvements.

In comparison, it is interesting that Iran — perhaps the one country the U.S. most wants to see the ruling regime fail — has seen dramatic human development improvements. In 2004, Iran ranked 90th on the HDI — as of 2017, the country now ranks 60th. This improvement has been aided by the Iraq War, the Obama administration’s rapprochement and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (“The Iran Nuclear Deal”) in 2015. Sadly, Iran’s HDI score is most certainly going to decrease going forward given the renewal of U.S. economic sanctions against the country.

Overall, the assertion attributed to Sen. Rand about U.S. regime change wars is largely accurate.

Of its own volition, the U.S. military never leaves a country where it has stationed combat troops.

By definition this is true, since the U.S. military cannot independently make the decision to deploy combat troops, or decide to remove them once they’ve been deployed. That is a decision reserved for the Commander-in-Chief and the military’s civilian leadership. However, I cannot think of a single instance in U.S. history when the military led an initiative to get out of a country where combat troops were deployed. It just doesn’t happen that way — and maybe it shouldn’t. Per the Constitution, civilian leaders are supposed to lead defense and security policy, not the military. So this statement can be marked down as an absolutely true one.

Liberal academics are renouncing their U.S. citizenship and leaving the country.

This one I heard from a friend married to an academic. “How will we survive?” was my sarcastic response. He didn’t laugh either.

Unfortunately, I cannot find any evidence supporting the claim that PhDs are increasingly choosing to live in other countries, much less renouncing their citizenship. However, there is one interesting trend among Americans regarding citizenship. Since changes to U.S. tax law by the Obama administration, it has become more difficult for Americans to evade taxes by hiding money offshore.

The result has meant many Americans living overseas face an overly complex filing process at tax time, leading some to even renounce their citizenship in order to simply their life.

According to the Internal Revenue Service, in the first quarter of 2018, 1,099 Americans gave up their citizenship and more than 5,000 did so in both 2016 and 2017.

Among those thousands renouncing their U.S. citizenship are sure to have been some academics, so I cannot categorically dismiss my friend’s claim, who did in fact offer a specific story about someone so offended by the Trump presidency they chose to leave the country. But that is merely anecdotal evidence. For now, assume liberal academics are choosing to stay put.

Even under the most pessimistic assumptions about climate change, the U.S. economy is still expected to grow close to its current 10-year average.

In critiquing the last fall’s U.S. Government’s Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA2018), Michael Bastasch, energy editor for DailyCaller.com, highlighted one of the more speculative forecasts made in the NCA2018:

According to the NCA2018, “global greenhouse gas emissions is expected to cause substantial net damage to the U.S. economy throughout this century,” including a 10 percent hit to gross domestic product (GDP) in one extreme scenario where global temperatures exceed the pre-industrial average by 8°C.

This economic forecast, based on an extreme case scenario which few climatologists expect to occur (Representative Concentration Pathway [RCP] 8.5), has become a straw man for climate change skeptics. Never mind that any 80-year (!) economic forecast must be accepted with a grain of salt, the researchers behind the forecast recognize the extraordinary methodological challenges in linking rising temperatures to economic costs.

I would normally, therefore, be content scolding The Daily Caller’s energy editor for setting up an obvious straw man argument by taking out of context a single, speculative economic forecast from a 1,600-page report containing many more substantive conclusions.

Unfortunately, the climate change extremists in the mainstream news media jumped on the “10 percent hit on GDP” forecast with even more unrestrained relish than the climate change skeptics.

Climate change will severely affect the U.S. economyABC News (Nov. 24, 2018): “A newly released report issued by 13 federal agencies on Friday explains in great depth the potential consequences of climate change on the United States and warns that neglecting to take action could drastically impede economic growth over the next century.”

Mass deaths and mayhem: National Climate Assessment’s most shocking warnings, CBS News (Nov. 25, 2018): “An estimated loss of up to 10 percent gross domestic product by 2100. By comparison, that would be more than twice the 4.3 percent GDP loss of the Great Recession.”

3 big takeaways from the major new U.S. climate report, Vox.com (Nov. 24, 2018): “By the end of the century, warming on our current trajectory would cost the US economy upward of $500 billion a year in crop damage, lost labor, and extreme weather damages. This is almost double the economic blow of the Great Recession in the early 2000s.”

After a few days of national media hyperventilating, an actual climate scientist pumped the brakes and pointed out how the ’10 percent GDP decline’ was unrealistic and did not reflect current thinking within the climate science community.

Univ. of Colorado climatologist Roger Pielke, Jr. noted that the ‘10 percent GDP decline’ prediction was based on a temperate rise scenario (+8°C) twice as extreme as any made elsewhere within the NCA2018.

The following chart is pulled from the original research paper the NCA2018 used to draw the ’10 percent GDP decline’ conclusion (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Direct damage forecasts (% of GDP) due to global warming

Source: Solomon, Kopp, Jina, Rising, Delgado, Mohan, Rasmussen, Muir-Wood, Wilson, Oppenheimer, Larsen, and Houser, Science 356, 1362–1369 (2017)

 

The ’10 percent GDP decline’ conclusion is derived from drawing an horizontal line from the last data point forecast (RCP 8.5) at the 8-decade time period (far right). As Pielke, Jr. points out, the RCP 8.5 global warming forecast is far outside mainstream expectations.

The far more reasonable takeaway from Figure 2 is that the predicted economic losses range from −0.1 to 1.7% GDP (at 1.5°C of warming), 1.5 to 5.6% GDP (at 4°C of warming), and 6.4 to 15.7% GDP annually (at 8°C warming).

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) produced the following graph (Figure 3) showing the recent predictions about the global warming through 2100, given different scenarios on how quickly humankind limits greenhouse gas emissions.

Figure 3: Projected global temperature change

Source: NOAA, 2014

 

The red line (A2) from the above chart is the temperature change prediction assuming the world does almost nothing to curb greenhouse gas emissions through this century. That scenario is already OBE (overtaken by events). The U.S. is no longer building coal plants and Europe is projected, at current trends, to transition to 100-percent renewable electricity generation by 2050.

The blue line (B1), on the other hand, shows the temperature change prediction under the scenario that the world experiences significant emissions reductions, though not necessarily due to aggressive climate change policies. In other words, the world will convert to renewable energy sources only as the economics makes them more profitable than fossil based energy sources. In this scenario, the world will be 4°C warmer (than the pre-industrial period) by 2100.

That is a realistic view of global warming and suggests, based on the economic impact research, that the U.S. GDP will be 5.6 percent lower in 2100 unless we (which includes China, India, and Brazil) address climate change more aggressively.

To put that in perspective: Let us assume today’s U.S. economy is re-denominated at $100 Trump dollars (annual GDP). If our GDP grows between now and 2100 at the same rate as the past 10 years (1.4 percent), the U.S. economy will be at $308 (constant) Trump dollars.

Shave off 5.6 percent due to climate change and the U.S. is instead at $291 Trump dollars. That translates to an annual average GDP growth rate of 1.33 percent between 2018 and 2100. Or, as a comparison, it would be like having an annual GDP growth rate slightly lower than what we averaged during the Obama administration (1.5 percent).

In other words, climate change is a slightly bigger threat to the U.S. economy than was Barack Obama.

I would never argue that losing 5.6 percent of our GDP is insignificant, should this occur. But experience tells me that economic predictions looking 80 years into the future are more notional than practical. A nation certainly can’t make multi-billion or even trillion dollar policy decisions today based on such phantasms. It would be irresponsible to ourselves and future generations.

Frankly, the news media’s promotion of the ’10 percent GDP loss’ narrative is doing the climate change movement a terrible disservice. Even a ten percent under-performance in an 80-year forecast (!) is little more than statistical decimal dust. It’s noise in the forecasting model. For love of God, you certainly don’t draw up public policies based on such predictions.

Furthermore, there is no risk in making such a prediction The forecasters responsible for it will be long dead. And the immediate professional reward is potentially huge.

It’s not fake news. It’s worse. It’s junk economics cloaked in legitimate sciencethat could irreparably damage this economy if the climate change extremists should ever gain control of U.S. tax and regulatory code.

Let us all take a deep breath and not do anything stupid to wreck the economy.

Since Trump’s election, job and economic growth has been strongest ‘red states’.

Any economic claim should be accepted with a grain of salt, as economic benchmarks, aggregation levels and time periods used to draw conclusions are often subjective and easily manipulable. Nonetheless, in the most recent Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) report, quarter-to-quarter GDP growth was significantly stronger in ‘flyover’ country (see Figure 4).

Figure 4: Percent change in real GDP by state (2018:Q1 to 2018:Q2)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA)

 

Of the ten fastest growing states between 2018:Q1 and 2018:Q2, seven were Trump-voting states (Arkansas, Florida, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, Montana and Texas).

The job growth data is a little more complicated. Since March 2018, year-to-year job growth was stronger in ‘red states’ than ‘blue states,’ according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) (see Figure 5).

Figure 5: Job growth by state

Source: hiringlab.org and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

 

But when the focus is on counties — and not states — it is the ‘blue counties’ (often suburbs) that are leading the growth in the ‘red’ states, according to an analysis conducted by the AP. Could it be the best place to grow the economy is from a highly-educated ‘blue county’ in a low-tax ‘red state’? Now that is real bipartisanship.

So which number is correct? They both are, but I would caution using county-level data to understand an economy. Tax laws and other policy tools that most significantly impact an economy are typically implemented at the national and state-levels. Showing that highly-educated and employable people tend to live in nice suburbs is not an interesting finding and says little about the impact of economic policy. State-level job and economic growth data, however, is more informative about how economic policy impacts an economy and according to the most recent data, ‘red states’ are outperforming ‘blue states’ by a healthy margin.

How we express knowledge is like hitting in baseball: We fail most of the time (myself included)

We can never take for granted any fact we read or hear in the news media. It is not that the news media always lies or propagates ‘fake news’ on purpose (though it does, and here is a possible recent example). It is the fact that even science, where objectivity is an inviolable standard, is not immune from political bias. By our human nature, we tend to use evidence that conforms to our expectations and too readily ignore contradictory evidence.

Maybe you can get away with that as president, but for the rest of us, that is not a good way to go through life.

  • K.R.K.

Comments and insults can be sent to: kroeger98@yahoo.com

 

The liberal international order gave us failed regime change wars - good riddance to both

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; January 3, 2019)

You know Trump has turned the world upside down when filmmaker and progressive activist Michael Moore takes the side of Secretary of Defense James Mattis, a consistent defender of current U.S. military interventions in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan (though admitting to Congress last year that we are not winning in the latter case), over a president attempting to extract the U.S. from at least two of those open-ended military engagements.

“I was just watching the stuff with Mattis and I really, I think maybe this is the first time I’ve actually been frightened for the country in these almost two years,” Moore said to MSNBC host Ali Velshi.

“Frightened, really?” asked a skeptical Velshi.

Supporters of the liberal international order, with whom Moore has apparently aligned himself as he tunnels deeper into his anti-Trump psychopathy, and its requisite regime change wars, find themselves on the defensive.

“The choice we face isn’t a tactical matter between war and diplomacy, debating which tool of statecraft best serves a common goal,” warns Bill Scher in a recent Commentary article. “It’s a choice between two deeply divergent worldviews: an interconnected, international order that elevates human rights standards, versus a nationalist derby where autocrats roam unchecked.”

Christopher R. Hill, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia, argues that the U.S. military effort in Syria was prompted by our better angels and that pulling out too soon is relinquishing the country’s innocent citizens, particularly the Kurds who have fought bravely in fighting ISIS, to humanity’s worst actors (Assad, ISIS, Russia, and Turkey).

“No Middle East conflict is as complex as the one raging in Syria,” according to Hill. “The fight involves a government that is antithetical to Western values and a Sunni extremist insurgency that at one point captured the borderlands between Syria and Iraq and fought all the way to the gates of Baghdad.”

What Scher and Hill (along with other interventionists) fail to recognize however are these facts about the Syrian Civil War which work against U.S. objectives:

  • As the Arab Spring spread in 2011, the effort to overthrow the Assad regime was dominated by Sunni extremist groups, not pro-democracy moderates.
  • When the U.S. began to aid the anti-Assad rebels (presumably only the ‘moderate’ ones) in destabilizing the Assad regime, it effectively opened up the ISIS floodgate.
  • The rollback of ISIS began in earnest only after the U.S. stopped its two-front strategy of fighting both Assad and ISIS and allowed Assad’s forces to reorganize (with Russia’s help) and concentrate their efforts on fighting ISIS.
  • Assad’s pro-government forces (with Russia’s assistance and without U.S. regime change efforts) are capable of defeating the remaining ISIS and anti-Assad rebel strongholds in Syria (Hajin, Albu Kamal, and Idlib). Expect Assad’s forces to be exceptionally brutal in their suppression of the remaining ISIS and rebel forces.
  • Russia has a strategic interest in Syria : Its naval facility in Tartus — which happens to be Russia’s only overseas naval base. Russia was never going to sit back and let Assad fall. And that will remain true in the immediate future.
  • As heroically as the Kurds have fought in repelling ISIS and Assad forces from their home areas in northeast Syria, eventually they will need to negotiate a peace treaty with Assad and the Turks. The U.S. has never endorsed the establishment of an independent Kurdish state in Syria or Iraq and a U.S. withdrawal from Syria in the near future serves to accelerate acceptance of this fact and the start of substantive peace talks, hopefully soon.

Defenders of this country’s multiple ongoing regime change wars, like Hill and Scher, remind me of legendary New York Governor Al Smith’s term for idealists and reformers that thought their good intentions more than compensated their sub optimal policy results: He called them “Goo Goos.”

Cloaked in moral righteousness conferred when using terms like ‘human rights’ and ‘justice’, interventionists (like other idealists) too frequently fail to see the bigger, secular trends that undercut their country’s actual interests.

No better example of that dynamic can be found than Iraq.

Where once the military option was only exercised in defense of vital national interests, since George H. W. Bush’s 1991 Gulf War, increasingly human rights have been the public justification for U.S. military interventions.

Now a distant memory, a few of us still remember the challenge Bush Sr. had in selling a U.S.-led liberation of Kuwait (having been invaded by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq) to the American people.

Soon after the August 1990 invasion of Kuwait by Iraq, Bush justified a potential U.S. military intervention based on Iraq’s violation of international law. Iraq invaded a sovereign country without provocation or justification.

Source: Gallup Poll

Yet, U.S. public support for such an invasion lumbered around 20 percent, according to the Gallup Poll. So Bush tried a different justification: “It’s about oil.” But when that argument fell flat with the American people, the Bush PR team launched a far more sophisticated disinformation campaign designed to portray Hussein’s Iraq as the closest thing to Hitler’s Germany since…well, Hitler’s Germany.

In a October 1990 hearing, hastily organized by the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, witnesses to reported Iraqi atrocities in Kuwait were brought before the panel to share their stories.

Journalist Joshua Holland recalled one of the more dramatic stories: “A young woman who gave only her first name, Nayira, testified that she had been a volunteer at Kuwait’s al-Adan hospital, where she had seen Iraqi troops rip scores of babies out of incubators, leaving them ‘to die on the cold floor.’ Between tears, she described the incident as ‘horrifying.’”

The potency of the human rights angle is hard to ignore:

A decade after the end of the 1991 Gulf War, Christian Science Monitor writer Tom Regan shared a story about how his family responded to the Kuwaiti incubator testimony:

I can still recall my brother Sean’s face. It was bright red. Furious. Not one given to fits of temper, Sean was in an uproar. He was a father, and he had just heard that Iraqi soldiers had taken scores of babies out of incubators in Kuwait City and left them to die. The Iraqis had shipped the incubators back to Baghdad. A pacifist by nature, my brother was not in a peaceful mood that day. “We’ve got to go and get Saddam Hussein. Now,” he said passionately.

Amnesty International and independent journalists would later document that, while the Iraqis did loot Kuwaiti hospitals, the ‘babies dying on the floor’ story was entirely bogus — yet, it was a critical element in selling the invasion of Kuwait to the American people.

On January 9, 1991, three days before the Bush administration requested congressional authorization for using force to remove Iraqi forces from Kuwait, only 46 percent of the public supported a military invasion (47 percent supported continuation of economic sanctions). While not a majority or even a plurality, the public’s support for the military option was growing and Bush seized on the momentum and launched the air campaign on January 16th.

You might think that experience would immunize the American people from falling for such tricks in the future, but who are we kidding? Every war we’ve fought since Vietnam has been predicated, at least partially, on lies and fabrications told us by our government. If it works and nobody is ever held accountable, why stop?

Fast forward to today. Since the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the U.S. has invaded Iraq again, replaced Saddam Hussein, installed a new government, and left Iraq (only to return in lower numbers). And what has been the BLUF (bottom-line-up-front) outcome of the billions financed by the U.S. Treasury to fight this regime change war?

Iraq is now a Shia-dominated client state of Iran.

That is not how it was supposed to end up.

But name a recent U.S.-led (or supported) regime change war that has worked out — or is working out — well.

Afghanistan?

According to now former Secretary of Defense James Mattis during congressional testimony in 2017, this was his summary of the situation in Afghanistan: “We are not winning in Afghanistan right now. And we will correct this as soon as possible,” he said.

Seventeen years and billions of dollars later and the Taliban is still not defeated? What evidence or assurance could be offered to cause any rational person to think the U.S. will ever win in Afghanistan?

Conservative radio host, Steve Deace, a well-known Trump critic from the evangelical right, calls the Afghan War “the greatest waste of money in U.S. history.” He’s not alone in that opinion.

If it were a private business venture, the U.S. effort in Afghanistan would have been defunded many years ago.

But this is what happens when a country socializes its defense and security functions. When the government starts something, it can always find a justification for never stopping it.

Where once the idea of privatizing national defense seemed absurd, now I’m not so sure.

At the very least, Trump’s introduction of chaos into the defense and security establishment’s decision-making apparatus should cause them to reflect more on how this country justifies its military interventions and the overwhelming evidence suggesting regime change wars never succeed, no matter how noble the intentions.

Libya? Syria? Iraq? Yemen? All fails. Afghanistan? If, after 17 years, the answer is still ‘to-be-determined’, that must be classified as a fail as well. And then there is Yemen. One million civilians now threatened by famine and diseases such as cholera because the region’s two greatest powers (not including Israel) — Iran and Saudi Arabia — would rather engage in a fruitless proxy war than meet at a negotiating table.

How about going back farther in time to Nicaragua? Forty years ago the Reagan administration was funding and training insurgents to overthrow Daniel Ortega’s Soviet-aligned government. And where are we now? Daniel Ortega is back in power and, if we believe recent American press accounts, is launching a brand new ‘reign of fear’ on his people.

If the U.S. can’t get it right in our own backyard, what are the chances we can engineer a successful regime change war in Iran ?— which, by many accounts, is our nation’s next great regime change project.

I’m sorry to say this, Joe Biden, but there is no urgent need to defend the liberal international order. Let it die.

  • K.R.K.

Comments and insults can be sent to: kroeger98@yahoo.com

Things we will learn in 2019

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; December 28, 2018)

Every year we gain new information that shocks our political and social system.

For example, in the year 2018, we learned that Donald Trump is subject to the same political laws of gravity as every previous president. The party of a president with approval in the low-40s is going to get clobbered in the midterm elections and lose around 40 U.S. House seats. [OK, maybe that was known before 2018, but given 2016, more than a few people wondered if perhaps Trump and the GOP had discovered a new formula for electoral success. In fact, they have not.]

We also learned that Donald Trump is not going to change. He’s is not rising up to the office’s status, as many would like, but in reality the office is conforming to him. And that is not a criticism or a compliment of the man. It is an observable fact, for better or worse.

And finally, in 2018, though shocking to some, it is still possible to end a U.S. military engagement. In the most recent case it is Syria, where the wailing outcries of the corporate, warmongering media has been met by Trump’s stone cold resilience to their emotional seizures.

History will record the Syrian civil war as a first-order humanitarian disaster exacerbated by an Obama administration that, in pursuing regime change, actively destabilized not just Syria but two other countries (Libya and Yemen), only to see hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians die in the process. The Bashar al-Assad regime is brutal and culpable in the vast majority of those deaths, but so are the countries that thought arming anti-Assad Islamic extremists was a good idea. An man of integrity would have returned his Nobel Peace Prize in the light of such results.

So, what are we going to learn in 2019?

The most significant revelation in 2019 will probably happen towards the end of the year: Donald Trump will announce he will not run for re-election in 2020.

After months of secret negotiations with the Robert Mueller team and investigators with the FBI’s Southern District of New York, Trump will walk away from the presidency in exchange for — at a minimum — the neutering of any current or likely investigations into his children’s business and political dealings; and, more likely, there will also be an agreement to minimize Trump’s own exposure to criminal prosecution after he leaves office.

It will be a tough pill to swallow for Trump’s most ardent supporters, but equally hard to accept for the political mob that will, figuratively speaking, demand his public execution (i.e., impeachment and Senate conviction).

For the good of the Republic, that will not happen.

Like the removal of U.S. missiles in Turkey as part of the deal to end the Cuban Missile Crisis, we may never know the exact nature of the Mueller-Trump deal. But the results will be observable to everyone. Donald Trump will walk away a one-term president, his supporters lionizing his Quixotic presidency and his opponents celebrating the end of their self-imposed, four-year nightmare.

But this is where the good news might end for the Democrats, however, as they will be forced to rationalize one of the core findings likely to emerge from the Mueller investigation: Pursing evidence on a political opponent’s possible illegal activities is not illegal, even if this includes making direct or indirect contact with Vladimir Putin-connected Russians.

A more complete discussion of the legal questions surrounding the Trump-Russia collusion story can be found here. However, here is a short summary of that essay:

There is no question, based on the known evidence, that the Trump campaign aggressively pursued what they internally believed to be their golden ticket to the presidency. Find Hillary’s missing emails and win the presidency.

[Clinton-haters assume there is something incriminating in the 30,000 missing emails. I do not assume that. When has either Clinton ever written something interesting or embarrassing— much less incriminating — in an email? Never, to my knowledge. They are too smart to be that stupid.]

But finding those emails was Donald Trump Jr.’s motive when he attended the Trump Tower meeting with a Putin-connected Russian lawyer. And that is what Roger Stone was doing when he was communicating with the hacker(s) Guccifer 2.0.

And why pursue the missing Clinton emails? Set aside the presumption that Clinton was involved in illegal activities that would have been revealed had the emails been released. [The Clinton’s prefer to engage in unethical activities for which there is legal cover.] Still, the act of allowing a private email server for work communications and then deleting the emails was a major set of missteps on Hillary Clinton’s part, and probably illegal (independent of any crime being revealed in the emails themselves).

It is a federal crime (a felony) to knowingly or unknowingly destroy evidence subpoenaed by a congressional committee. Furthermore, to premeditatively prevent or impair the ability of the federal government to possess federal records (e.g., work-related emails) in an effort to avoid public transparency laws (e.g., FOIA) is also a crime.

In a court of law would Clinton or her associates have been convicted of such crimes? Probably not, particularly if establishing motives becomes relevant to prosecution.

Nonetheless, it would have been a derelict of duty for the Trump campaign not to make the effort to find the missing emails.

Unfortunately, for the Trump campaign, they were so outside the established political system that they didn’t understand how such opposition research is normally done.

A professional, well-run presidential campaign would have farmed out the task of investigating Hillary Clinton’s 30,000 deleted emails to a friendly journalist and/or private investigative firm. That is what Fusion GPS did for the Democrats and anti-Trump Republicans. In compiling the Trump dossier on the Democratic Party’s dime, what Christopher Steele did was legal. Now, what the FBI did with the dossier in its effort to justify “spying” on the Trump campaign may not have been legal. Hopefully, someday a full accounting of what really happened within the FBI in 2016 will be brought to light. Color me skeptical, however.

That said, there is already evidence of the many legal landmines Trump operatives tripped over in their pursuit of dirt on Hillary Clinton. First and foremost, you do not lie to the FBI about the existence or nature of contacts with Russians. Roger Stone, the most experienced and sophisticated of the political shitmeisters employed by Trump during the campaign, was by most accounts the most aggressive operative in getting close to the Russians. He appears to have kept those contacts indirect (e.g. Wikileaks, Guccifer 2.0) and focused on ascertaining the existence of stolen emails, as opposed to participating in their theft, providing material support to the theft, or coordinating their release subsequent to the theft.

The latter three actions would be, quite likely, illegal…and, because he is a slimy shitmeister, Roger Stone knows that.

Don’t forget that Roger Stone, perhaps more than any single human, is responsible for George W. Bush winning the presidency in 2000. It was Stone who organized the protests outside Florida’s county election offices during the recount period. It was those protests that significantly slowed down the recount effort to the point where the election officials were destined to miss the court-imposed deadline; and, hence, had the entire issue passed up to the U.S. Supreme Court. We all know how that turned out. You can thank Roger Stone.

But what the Mueller investigation has revealed so far does not constitute a conspiracy-level of wrongdoing by the Trump campaign — and certainly not by the president himself. The public evidence simply doesn’t exist.

Even prior knowledge of Russia’s social media trolling activities would not necessarily constitute a crime.

In terms of concrete evidence about a conspiracy to manipulate the 2016 presidential election, all we have is speculation and conjecture. For example,

What if Cambridge Analytica, a data analytic firm hired by the Trump campaign, shared targeting information with the Russians? [That would be illegal.]

Or how about the Israeli data firm, Psy-Group, which had a cooperative agreement with Cambridge Analytica? What if they manipulated content on social media in a coordinated effort with the Trump campaign? [That would be illegal.]

And did foreign contributions end up in the Trump campaign coffers? [Not that such a thing would be unprecedented in American political history; but that would be illegal.]

All would be interesting facts…and, if true, possible elements of a conspiracy. But such evidence has never been offered by the Mueller team or the news media.

And that is where the Mueller investigation is likely to end: A lot of interesting conjecture short on proof. A few Trump associates will be indicted for mostly process crimes (George Papadopoulos, General Michael Flynn), and perhaps low-order conspiracy charges against Roger Stone (and possibly others) for coordinating with foreign agents the release of the Russia-stolen Democratic National Committee and John Podesta emails.

If you believe the Russians stole the 2016 election (and I offer empirical evidence Wikileaks’ release of the Podesta emails did have an impact), the final Mueller report is likely to be a big letdown.

Mueller is unlikely to reveal a grand conspiracy — certainly not on the scale still promoted by the establishment media. However, Mueller has opened the door into Trump’s business and tax activities that do significantly threaten his presidency (and, possibly, his freedom). That, far more than the ersatz Trump-Russia collusion narrative, is sufficient to scare the president into an early political retirement.

And, finally, perhaps the biggest reveal in 2019 will be how much the Washington establishment has lost control and may never get it back they way they’d like.

Trump is an invasive species, much like the python snakes taking over the Florida everglades. Once they’ve invaded, the damage is not only done, it is all but impossible to reverse.

Trump, himself, may not survive politically past 2020. But what he represents — imperfectly as he does — will not go away. Power centers independent of the political establishment are already emerging within D.C. that the current establishment leaders cannot control, at least not completely.

This is particularly the case for a Democratic Party, led by Rep Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer, that has offered no answer to the demands of the party’s progressive caucus.

Progressive Democrats have at least one model for how to impact Washington politics going forward:

For 10 years the Republican’s congressional Freedom Caucus has effectively marginalized the power of the GOP’s congressional leadership — despite, as a party, controlling Congress. The Democrats’ progressive caucus is likely to do the same to their leadership with one big, BIG difference. Where the Freedom Caucus never had a true field general — Sarah Palin could have been that person had she shown a capacity for self-improvement and offered more than just her charisma and marketability to the GOP base — the progressive Democrats have deep bench of charismatic and articulate leaders.

Most of the media attention goes to newly-elected New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, but she is hardly the progressive’s only field general. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) is already running intellectual circles around party dinosaurs like Howard Dean, whose “grotesque smear” of Khanna’s stance that our military occupation of Afghanistan has run its course gives a good sense of how out-of-touch the Democratic Party establishment has become.

Ocasio-Cortez, Khanna and other progressive movement leaders is perhaps even more revolutionary than the Trump phenomenon. With the exceptions of Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin, no female politician in my lifetime has been the target of as many personal attacks in such a short period of time — including questions about her intelligence — than Ocasio-Cortez.

And, yet, she hits back twice as hard as she receives.

Here is her response to a DC Examiner columnist who thought he was clever calling Ocasio-Cortez a ‘bitch’:

 

While sometimes she gets her objective facts wrong (on usually minor details), Ocasio-Cortez makes up for it with a natural savvy for tactical politics that Bill Clinton would envy.

Ocasio-Cortez’ prompt responses to attacks are always mixed with “grace and wit”— which makes her very un-Trumpian — but pointed enough to discourage even her most prominent critics from pursuing an extended fight on social media.

And this hasn’t happened just once or twice. She does it almost every friggin’ day. She’s like the pride-leading, female velociraptor in Jurassic Park, when she targets you, there is nowhere to run. [My wife warns me that comparing the New York congresswoman to a carnivorous dinosaur is sexist and demeaning. I vigorously disagree and I’m sticking with the comparison…]

Source: Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment

And it is not just Ocasio-Cortez showing considerable fortitude amidst constant attacks. Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) are repeatedly trolled on social media by agents of Persian Gulf governments, often over their opposition to the Saudi-led war in Yemen and efforts to isolate Iran.

“Academics, media outlets, and commentators close to Persian Gulf governments have repeatedly accused Omar, Tlaib, and Abdul El-Sayed (who made a failed bid to become governor of Michigan) of being secret members of the Muslim Brotherhood who are hostile to the governments of Saudi Arabia and the UAE,” writes Ola Salem in a recent issue of Foreign Policy.

Source: REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Of course, none of those accusations have any merit, but highlight the challenges these women, and the progressive Democrats in general, are likely to face in the future.

It may be too soon to write the obituary for Bill Clinton’s New Democrats, but this new progressive surge feels somehow different.

The new Democratic establishment darling, Beto O’Rourke — another centrist Democrat posing as a progressive without ever voting like one— may not be enough to make Americans forget how disconnected the national party is from the issues discussed across most kitchen tables in this country.

The corporatist Democrats have had a good twenty or so year run, funneling money into the pockets of their core constituencies — Wall Street bankers, pharmaceutical executives, Hollywood, Silicon Valley, the defense industry, etc. — and using the divisiveness of culture war issues to distract average Americans from more substantive matters.

That is all about to change…in a big way…and that is the most important thing we will learn in 2019.

  • K.R.K.

Comments and insults can be sent to: kroeger98@yahoo.com

Reality is the real winner if the U.S. pulls out of Syria

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; December 23, 2018)

Leave it to Hawaii Democratic Representative Tulsi Gabbard to give a reasoned and thoughtful criticism of President Donald Trump’s decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria.

“We need to get our troops out of Syria ASAP, but it must be done responsibly,” she tweeted son after Trump’s decision was announced. “Turkey will see this as an invitation to invade northern Syria, decimate our Kurdish allies and strengthen jihadists like al Qaeda, ISIS, etc., undermining our national security and causing more suffering.”

She followed up with another tweet:

“The underlying problem is that for too long our leaders have had no clear direction or objective when it comes to foreign policy. So without a clear mission and objective, it’s impossible to know whether any particular decision will help us achieve that mission.”

Many serious observers of the situation in Syria, like Gabbard, understand the urgent need for the U.S. to leave Syria but also realize the U.S. needs to do so in an orderly and deliberate manner so the Kurds are not completely abandoned and ISIS is not allowed to re-establish itself.

If Gabbard is anything, she is a realist. A personal quality seriously lacking in Washington, D.C.

Syrian government troops are already dashing eastward to fill in the void that will be left after the U.S. pullout, the first goal being to secure the oil and gas rich areas critical to financing Syria’s reconstruction efforts. If Trump has gifted Assad anything, it will be the revival of Syria’s energy revenue stream.

Concurrently, the Kurdish forces in northeast Syria are fast creating and reinforcing trenches and defense barriers in preparation for what now looks like an imminent Turkish offensive against the Kurds (which, if it occurs, will be an illegal act likely to be broadly condemned within the international community).

There was no reason to believe — even a week ago — that Trump was going to make this move in Syria.

“We’re not going to leave as long as Iranian troops are outside Iranian borders, and that includes Iranian proxies and militias,” said National Security Adviser John Bolton said just last September, publicly acknowledging that the U.S. presence in Syria was now less a counter-terrorism operation than a strategic maneuver to contain Iran.

Specifically, U.S. troops in Syria, particularly those stationed at Al Tanf on the Syrian-Iraqi border and near Jordan, are impeding Iran’s ability to move freely between western Iraq and Lebanon.

Presumably, Iran, Bashar al Assad, Hezbollah and ISIS are the big winners in the U.S. pullout, and the Kurds and Syria’s Sunni majority are the big losers.

But as detailed by Joost Hiltermann and Maria Fantappie for Foreign Policy magazine, the intent of the U.S. occupation in northeastern Syria has never been about establishing an independent Kurdish state (in Syria and Iraq). The Kurds were never going to be the winners once ISIS was defeated (or near defeat, as in the current situation).

“ U.S. officials had long opposed any changes to the Middle East’s borders for fear of setting off an unstoppable domino effect,” they write.

Critics of Trump’s Syria pullout are merely manipulating the Kurdish plight to justify an open-ended occupation of one-third of Syria by U.S. forces. Long before the Trump administration, the Kurds knew the U.S. was never a reliable ally.

Trump just confirmed it.

Instead, Trump just forced a level of realism into Syrian Kurdish thinking that may, in fact, lead to a sustainable arrangement between the Kurds and the Assad regime (and perhaps the Turks as well).

Despite her disapproval of Trump’s pullout decision, Maha Yahya, Director of the Carnegie Middle East Center, notes that the pullout will force the Kurds to negotiate with the Assad regime.

That is a good thing, because there was never going to be an independent Kurdish state in northeast Syria, no matter how loudly critics of the U.S. pullout scream about how close we are to achieving it.

Reality may be the big winner in Syria after the U.S. pullout.

  • K.R.K.

(Send comments and insults to kroeger98@yahoo.com)

Bella gerant alii (Let others wage war)

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; December 21, 2018)

The spread of Trump derangement syndrome is worse than previously thought.

President Trump offers an eminently defensible idea, that even progressive Democrats support, and the D.C. Beltway establishment becomes downright dotty in the head.

Upon Trump’s announcement of his decision to remove U.S. ground troops from Syria within 30 days, a predictable din of disapproval arose from the GOP war hawks, foreign policy establishment, neoliberal interventionists, and the battlefield tourists in the Beltway press.

“President Trump’s abrupt decision to pull American troops from Syria…ends a low-cost, high-impact mission and creates a vacuum that will be filled by one of a series of bad actors — Iran, Russia, Turkey, Islamic extremists, the Syrian regime — take your pick, they’re all dangerous for American interests in the Middle East,” writes Washington Post columnist David Ignatius.

“Low cost” relative to the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions and subsequent occupations, perhaps. But it is precisely these small footprint, low visibility U.S. troop deployments — dozens of which are currently ongoing across the globe — that aggregate into significant budget (taxpayer) commitments and, more ominously, increase the probability the U.S. will get drawn into larger entanglements sometime in the future.

As recently as last February, at least 200 Russian mercenaries (if they were Americans we’d call them ‘contractors’) were killed by U.S. troops during a 4-hour skirmish in Syria’s Deir al-Zour region.

Even the slightest chance that another such event like that one could spiral the U.S. and Russia — the two countries with the world’s largest nuclear arsenals — into a broader conflict should chasten even the loudest chicken hawks in the U.S. Congress and Beltway press.

The Deir al-Zour battle alone should have been enough to start the process of removing U.S. troops from Syria.

But, alas. It was not enough for our warmongering class. Since they pay no price for our forever wars and reap many of its financial benefits, the mere suggestion of the U.S. leaving Syria is heresy.

“A lot of American allies will be slaughtered if this retreat is implemented,” warned Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse.

“Russia, Iran, Assad… are ecstatic!” declares South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham.

Never mind growing evidence that Russia and Iran, situational allies at best, have disparate motives in Syria (Russia wants stability and Iran wants to pester Israel to placate the home audience) that keep open the real possibility that the Russians might limit Iran’s influence once the U.S. has left.

Furthermore, the downing of a Russian military plane in September 2018 by the Syrians, killing all 15 on board, which the Russians blamed on the Israelis, has a had a surprisingly positive impact on Russian-Israeli relations. The tragedy heightened awareness by both that the Syrian conflict cannot be allowed to bring their two countries into a direct state-of-war.

Since the downing of the Russian plane, Russia and Israel are increasingly cooperating on issues related to Syria and Hezbollah, perhaps leaving Russia, not the U.S., better positioned to stem Iranian influence in Syria.

However, my favorite soulless platitude about Trump’s Syria decision comes from one of the reporters who pushed the ‘Iraq has WMDs’ story line in the Iraq War run up and now Bloomberg columnist Eli Lake. “Trump Courts Catastrophe in Syria,” his latest column starts.

As if things had been going so well in Syria for the past seven years. We passed ‘catastrophe’ about six years ago.

Sure, Syria has stabilized in the past two years. But that was after the Obama administration ended its neocon-inspired strategy of fighting both the Bashar al Assad regime and ISIS, and to instead, with marginal cooperation from the Russians, focus on ISIS alone. To the Trump administration’s credit, they built upon the Obama strategy shift and the result has been a significant contraction in ISIS’ strength.

Yet, it is fair for critics of the Syria pullout to note that ISIS is not exactly ‘defeated,’ nor is al Qaeda. As long as their energy source remains plentiful — U.S. troops deployed throughout the Middle East — they will have a healthy number of devotees and sympathizers, with many willing to die for the cause, inshallah.

But 4,000 U.S. troops in Syria is not what stands between the end of ISIS and the rise of a new Sunni caliphate. It never was and won’t be going forward. Stabilizing Assad’s Syria has been the more direct cause of ISIS’ steady decline, as loathsome as his regime may be.

Once the Syria decision is finalized, is Afghanistan next?

In re-crafting Trump’s original tweet announcement, columnist Pat Buchanan offers this clear-eyed rationale of the intended Syria pullout:

“ We are extricating America from the forever war of the Middle East so foolishly begun by previous presidents. We are coming home. The rulers and peoples of this region are going to have to find their own way and fight their own wars. We are not so powerful that we can fight their wars while we also confront Iran and North Korea and face new Cold Wars with Russia and China.”

And once (or if) Trump’s Syria pullout is finalized, eyes will turn to Afghanistan where the U.S. has been leading an occupation for 17 years. Trump has already indicated a desire to extricate the U.S. from that morass as well. And why not? After 17 years, the end game is not in sight. What will be different if we stay another 17 years? Probably not much.

After all, what has U.S. troop surges in Afghanistan in 2010 and 2017 reaped? Where previously the Taliban controlled 40 percent of Afghan territory, now they control 70 percent. In the business world that is called a bad investment. To the forever war crowd, its the justification for another surge — only a bigger, better one.

In the end, there is no significant U.S. strategic interest in Syria or Afghanistan. It is time to let others wage war in those conflicts — bella gerant alii. It is simply not our fight. It never was.

  • K.R.K.

Comments and insults can be sent to: kroeger98@yahoo.com

Tracking possible war crimes in Yemen

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; December 19, 2018)

With the U.S. Senate recently voting to end U.S. assistance in the Saudi-UAE-led war in Yemen, the symbolic gesture may represent a genuine turning point in the three-and-a-half year conflict.

…or maybe just more false hope.

The Yemen civil war, in which no resolution is in sight, is generally portrayed as a conflict between the Houthi militia in western Yemen, a movement affiliated with the Zaidi sect of Shia Islam, and forces allied with Houthi-deposed Yemen President Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, a Sunni Muslim re-elected president in 2012 in a contest where he ran unopposed and received 100 percent of the popular vote.

Figure 1. Religious Map of Yemen

Source: European Council on Foreign Relations

 

Layered within Yemen’s complex domestic situation, however, is a proxy war between Saudi-UAE-led forces and Iran, who backs the Houthis, though their level of support is disputed. But even this proxy war is itself embedded within a larger regional contest fueled by a U.S.-Israel-Saudi-led obsession with containing Iran’s growing (but limited) influence in the Middle East. The Israeli’s have a palpable and legitimate concern with Iran’s potential to control a continuous land-based supply route between Tehran and the potent and highly-trained Hizballah forces in southern Lebanon. The long-term posture of the U.S. occupation of Syria’s eastern provinces is, in fact, largely predicated on preventing this from becoming a reality.

From the Iranian perspective, their involvement in Syria in supporting the Bashar al-Assad regime, is a much higher priority than Yemen.

“Iran has an obtainable objective in Syria: protecting one of its few allies in the Arab world,” says Dr Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “Its goals in Yemen are far less defined.”

“Although both Syria and Yemen have been within the geopolitical radar of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) for at least the last decade, the former is much more important geostrategically as it constitutes a bridge to Hizballah and the Mediterranean,” says Dr Ali Fathollah-Nejad, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center. “Iran’s Yemen activities are primarily geared towards bogging down its regional rival Saudi Arabia.”

As such, the atrocities being perpetrated against the Yemenis are predominately owned by the Saudi-led coalition forces, which is why American and British complicity is so problematic.

The civilian toll in Yemen (as best we can discern)

Any attempt to measure civilian deaths and casualties resulting from the civil war is fraught with difficult and likely to be imperfect. Nonetheless, growing international attention to the conflict is bringing with it conscientious efforts to measure its social costs.

An effort to measure Yemeni civilian deaths by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), an independent group formerly associated with the University of Sussex (UK), is one such example.

“We estimate the number killed to be 56,000 civilians and combatants between January 2016 and October 2018,” says Andrea Carboni, an ACLED researcher who focuses on Yemen. ACLED further estimates that 2,000 Yemeni civilians are now dying each month largely due to malnutrition and diseases such as cholera.

The ACLED estimate of 56,000 deaths is significantly higher than previous estimates that have typically assessed the civilian death toll in Yemen to be around 10,000.

“One reason Saudi Arabia and its allies are able to avoid a public outcry over their intervention in the war in Yemen, is that the number of people killed in the fighting has been vastly understated,” writes long-time Middle East correspondent Patrick Cockburn. “The figure is regularly reported as 10,000 dead in three-and-a-half years, a mysteriously low figure given the ferocity of the conflict.”

Why 10,000 deaths wouldn’t be sufficient to inspire a public outcry is unclear, but regardless of the precise number, what is clear is the consistent attention now being placed on the Yemen civil war by the European media. [Sadly, the U.S. media can’t seem to break away long enough from their mostly dishonest Trump-Russia collusion narrative to actually cover the Yemen conflict with any depth.]

And as this light is being directed towards Yemen, more attention is being focused on the genuine possibility that war crimes have been committed by the Saudi-UAE-US-UK coalition.

What is a war crime?

The body of statutes often used to define a war crime are the Geneva Conventionsthe Hague Convention on land warfare of 1907 (concerning the Laws and Customs of War), and the 1998 International Criminal Court Statute.

Article 23 of the 1907 Hague Convention expressly states that it is forbidden:

(a) To employ poison or poisoned weapons;
(b) To kill or wound treacherously individuals belonging to the hostile nation or army;
(c) To kill or wound an enemy who, having laid down his arms, or having no longer means of defence, has surrendered at discretion;
(d) To declare that no quarter will be given;
(e) To employ arms, projectiles, or material calculated to cause unnecessary suffering;
(f) To make improper use of a flag of truce, of the national flag or of the military insignia and uniform of the enemy, as well as the distinctive badges of the Geneva Convention;
(g) To destroy or seize the enemy’s property, unless such destruction or seizure be imperatively demanded by the necessities of war;
(h) To declare abolished, suspended, or inadmissible in a court of law the rights and actions of the nationals of the hostile party. A belligerent is likewise forbidden to compel the nationals of the hostile party to take part in the operations of war directed against their own country, even if they were in the belligerent’s service before the commencement of the war.

Similarly, Article 147 of the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention defines war crimes as:

“Wilful killing, torture or inhuman treatment, including biological experiments, wilfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health, unlawful deportation or transfer or unlawful confinement of a protected person, compelling a protected person to serve in the forces of a hostile Power, or wilfully depriving a protected person of the rights of fair and regular trial prescribed in the present Convention, taking of hostages and extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly.”

Finally, in creating the International Criminal Court (ICC), the 1998 International Criminal Court (Rome) Statute formally established the ICC’s functions, jurisdiction and structure. Specifically, it empowered the ICC to investigate and prosecute four international crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and crimes of aggression.

The “extensive destruction…of property, not justified by military necessity” constitutes a war crime according to the Geneva Conventions and Rome Statute and, in the case of Yemen, this would seem to describe the coalition’s attacks on Yemen, particularly its water and food infrastructure (see Figure 2).

Figure 2. Number of Daily Coalition Attacks on Farms and Food-related Targets (March 2015 to November 2018)

The Laws and Customs of War allow for states to attack an enemy combatant’s economic and military infrastructure in order to degrade its military effectiveness. But the primary consequence of destroying a nation’s food production and distribution system is famine among the civilian population.

That is a war crime.

In an independent report submitted in October 2018 to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, London School of Economics and Political Science Professor Emeritus Martha Mundy, the report’s author, offered this observation:

“If one places the damage to the resources of food producers (farmers, herders, and fishers) alongside the targeting of food processing, storage and transport in urban areas and the wider economic war, there is strong evidence that Coalition strategy has aimed to destroy food production and distribution in the areas under the control of Sanaa,” wrote Mundy.

“Deliberate destruction of family farming and artisanal fishing is a war crime,” she concluded, citing the 1977 Protocol I additional to the Geneva Conventions, which, through International Humanitarian Law, protects objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population.

In building the report’s case, Mundy relied heavily on data from the Yemen Data Project (YDP), which has been tracking coalition military strikes and incidents in Yemen since 2016.

Along with the ACLED, the evidence collected through the YDP’s systematic and comprehensive data collection may prove indispensable should the Saudis and its coalition partners be investigated for war crimes in the future.

The Yemen Data Project

The Yemen Data Project (YDP) is an independent, non-profit data collection project aimed at increasing the transparency over the conduct of the Yemen civil war.

The YDP collects military event data through open sources that are “cross-referenced with local and international news agencies and media reports; social media accounts, including Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other video footage, and WhatsApp; reports from international and national NGOs; official records from local authorities; and reports by international human rights groups.” When independent reporting is unavailable, the data has been cross referenced with sources from opposing sides to the conflict as to ensure the reporting is as accurate and impartial as possible.

In YDP’s words, their data represents the “best current current understanding of incidents” in Yemen.

Characteristics of coalition attacks on Yemen

Many years ago I taught an introductory international politics class at The University of Iowa and one of its obligatory class segments covered the “laws of war.” As I always allocated the last 15 minutes of the class to an open discussion about the lecture topic of the day, this particular segment elicited strong opinions among students. Even the most marginal students seemed to have an opinion about how wars the acceptable rules of war.

From class to class, variants on these questions would inevitably emerge:

“How is that chemical weapons are unacceptable, but dropping atomic bombs (on Hiroshima and Nagasaki) is OK?”

“If you are at war with another country, aren’t you also at war with its citizens?”

“How can there be rules for war? It’s war!”

Unlike today’s educational environment, my classes in the early 90s made no attempt to suppress or censor ideas or opinions. The class debates were lively, contentious and open-ended, never ending in a broad consensus on what constitutes a ‘war crime’ or acceptable laws for war.

Differences of opinion were exciting in the day.

At some point during the class discussion, I would offer these quotes from U.S. Air Force General Curtis LeMay, best known for his role in planning and executing a massive bombing campaign against cities in Japan during World War II, in addition to his tenure as Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force from 1961 to 1965:

“There are no innocent civilians. It is their government and you are fighting a people, you are not trying to fight an armed force anymore. So it doesn’t bother me so much to be killing the so-called innocent bystanders.”

“Killing Japanese didn’t bother me very much at that time… I suppose if I had lost the war, I would have been tried as a war criminal…. Every soldier thinks something of the moral aspects of what he is doing. But all war is immoral and if you let that bother you, you’re not a good soldier.”

In no way did I endorse General LeMay’s views on civilians and warfare (in fact, I despise the man), but I shared the quotes as I felt he conveyed the fundamental argument (still made today) as to why civilians are legitimate targets in war.

Like it or not, ‘war crimes’ often depend on the eye of the beholder.

Had the U.S. lost World War II, the Allies’ fire bombing of Hamburg, Dresden and Tokyo would have defined ‘war crimes’ for generations. As it turned out, such attacks, at least from the Allies’ perspective, were just the realities of war.

Why should the war in Yemen require different rules?

Because human thinking has evolved since World War II, that’s why.

Two hypotheses about civilian targeting in the Yemen civil war

With over 18,900 military incidents between March 2015 and November 2018 in their database, the YDP offers the best open-source information available on the Yemen conflict. Along with the date and the time of day (daypart) of the incident, the YDP database also includes location and summary target information.

In analyzing this data, while I use the YDP’s data to reference the ‘target,’ it is dangerous to assume the intended ‘target’ for each incident. What we can assume, however, is that anyone on the receiving end of a coalition bombing attack felt like a ‘target’ and so that is how I define the term in the following analyses.

The guiding purpose in this analysis, therefore, is to describe the anti-Houthi coalition’s ‘targeting’ as part of the process in determining whether civilians were systematically targeted.

The YDP dataset alone, however, cannot discern the targeting intent of the coalition’s military leadership, but it offers one of the best open-source insights into this question: How would we know if civilians were systematically targeted by the coalition?

Short of possessing internal coalition communications and targeting process memos, we are forced to discern targeting intent through identifying patterns within the attacks. And to do that, we must start with hypotheses regarding the patterns we’d expect to see in the YDP data if the targeting of civilians was premeditated and systematic.

Let us start with a hypothesis, if true, would go a long way in exonerating the coalition from charges of targeting civilians.

H1: If coalition attacks against Yemeni civilians were incidental, their occurrence within the YDP data should be patternless, random events that otherwise track closely to the coalition’s non-civilian attack patterns.

And even if this hypothesis (H1) is rejected by the data and we find a pattern within civilian attacks, we may still find evidence that the coalition, while targeting civilians areas, systematically made an effort to avoid excessive civilian casualties.

Our second hypothesis addresses how the data might reflect that reality.

H2: If, in targeting civilian areas in pursuit of military objectives, the coalition attempted to minimize civilian casualties, we should expect coalition targeting of civilian areas to be concentrated on dayparts when civilians tend to be away from their homes.

Specifically, civilians tend to be at home in the evening, nighttime, and early morning hours and away from home in the morning, midday and afternoon hours. Did the coalition systematically try to avoid hitting civilian areas during dayparts when people tend to be home?

Let’s to go the data and see what we find…

Characteristics of coalition attacks on Yemen

Before testing our two hypothesis, let us describe the YDP data more generally.

Figure 3 (below) breaks out the targets of every coalition attack since March 2015 and finds that 35 percent of the coalition’s targets since March 2015 were military or security related, followed by ‘unknown’ targets (33%) and civilian targets (13%). Infrastructure targets (transportation and economic, etc.) accounted for 14 percent of all coalition targets.

Figure 3. Coalition Targets

 

Military and civilians targets were the primary focus of coalition attacks against Houthi forces between March 2015 and November 2018. And as seen in Figure 4 (below), the coalition attacks tended to occur at all parts of the day, though most occurred between midday and the early evening hours.

Figure 4. Coalition Attacks by Daypart

 

A mapping of coalition attacks (Figure 5) closely correlates with the tribal and religious clusters within Yemen, with the most intense bombing experienced in areas populated by the Zaidi (Shia) and Isma’ili (Shia) tribes in the Saada governorate.

Figure 5. Coalition Attacks by Governorate (March 2015 to November 2018)

 

The distribution of coalition attacks over time highlights two other major features of the Yemen civil war (see Figure 6). First, the number of daily attacks have generally decreased over time, going from about 20 per day between March 2015 and March 2017 to about 10 per day after March 2017. The second feature is a more dramatic decrease in attacks during a ceasefire period in May 2016.

Figure 6. Number of Daily Coalition Attacks (March 2015 to November 2018)

Besides the modest decline in the coalition’s daily attack tempo over the three-and-a-half years of the civil war, there are no other obvious patterns (e.g., seasonal) within the YDP data. However, the task here is to discerns patterns (or lack thereof) within the coalition’s attacks on civilian targets.

To do that, let us look closer at the YDP’s civilian target data.

Are Yemeni civilians being targeted by the coalition?

At this point, a brief understanding of what was included (and not included) in the YDP’s definition of a civilian target is helpful. Almost 75 percent of civilian targets in the YDP database were residential areas, followed by vehicles/buses (12%) and market places (9%). There were even 51 attacks on mosques, representing two percent of all attacks on civilian targets.

Figure 7. Sub-categories of Civilian Targets

Source: Yemen Data Project (Data covers period from March 2015 to November 2018) 

There are other civilian targets such as schools and medical facilities which YDP breaks out separately; though, those targets represent less than three percent of all coalition targets (see Figure 3 above).

My sub judice presumption is that, if civilian attacks are not the conscious result of military targeting, then their occurrences over time (‘accidents’ if you will) should be distributed randomly.

That is essentially the argument the Saudis have made when confronted by the international community about civilian casualties in the Yemen conflict.

In October 2018, after the Saudis had killed over 40 school children during an airstrike in August, Saudi Defense Minister Osaiker Alotaibi told an international investigatory panel that the Saudi-led alliance had a list of 64,000 civilian targets in Yemen that they would never attack, including schools and hospitals. Alotaibi stated further to the panel that previous civilian casualties were the result of “unintentional mistakes” and were not premeditated.

But in his testimony to the panel, Alotaibi also said the Houthis were putting civilians — including children — in harm’s way by using schools and hospitals as “refuges” for Houthi fighters.

Houthi representatives strongly deny Alotaibi’s accusation.

Regardless, if the Saudi ‘sloppy targeting’ defense is truthful, we should see evidence of it in the YDP data. Specifically, we should find the number of civilian attacks from day-to-day to be strongly correlated with the number of non-civilian attacks (primarily military/security-related targets); and, where they are not related, the variation in civilian attacks should be randomly distributed over time. Noise, in other words.

Figure 8 (below) plots civilian and non-civilian attacks over time, as well as the trend for each. Clearly, civilian and non-civilian attacks are correlated. Notice in both charts the three spikes in attacks between October 2015 and August 2016. Also, both show a similar downward trend in daily frequency.

On the surface, therefore, there is evidence to support the Saudi’s ‘sloppy targeting’ defense.

Figure 8. Number of Daily Coalition Attacks on Civilian and Non-Civilian Targets (March 2015 to November 2018)

But surface looks can be deceiving, and a more formal analysis was done to see if civilian targeting was, in fact, merely collateral damage resulting from an otherwise legitimate military targeting process.

To do that, I first regressed the number of civilian target events on the number of non-civilian target events and used the residual from that equation to represent variation in civilian target events unrelated to non-civilian target events. Subsequently, I conducted a residual analysis to determine if the model residuals were normally-distributed, random noise.

Figure 9 (below) shows that the variation in the number of civilian attacks not explained by non-civilian attacks (i.e., the residual) is not a normal, randomly distributed variable.* More importantly, we can conclude that the day-to-day variation in coalition attacks on civilian targets cannot be explained by the military necessities of non-civilian targeting.

*The Shapiro-Wilk test of normality was highly significant, indicating the data was not normally distributed.

Figure 9. Normal Q-Q Plot and Detrended Q-Q Plot of Unstandardized Residual from a Linear Model of Number of Civilian Targets Regressed on Number of Non-Civilian Targets

We have rejected our first hypothesis (H1) that civilian attacks by the coalition were merely the product of a legitimate military targeting process, but is there any evidence the coalition tried to minimize civilian casualties when they targeted civilian areas?

To answer that question, I looked at coalition attacks on civilian and non-civilian targets by daypart (early morning, morning, midday, afternoon, evening, night). It is reasonable to presume that any attempt by the coalition to minimize civilian casualties would involving striking civilian targets (typically residential areas) during a time of day when civilians would not be home: namely, the midday and afternoon dayparts.

In Figures 10 and 11 (below) we see evidence of exactly that.

Where non-civilian attacks have tended to occur in the early morning (11%), evening (15%) and night (13%) dayparts, civilian attacks have tended to occur at midday (19%) and in the afternoon (15%). This is consistent with the Alotaibi claim that the coalition has in place procedures to avoid unnecessary civilian casualties.

Still, approximately 28 percent of coalition attacks on civilian targets — most often residential areas — have occurred at times when people tend to be home (evening, night, early morning) — which translates into 688 separate and verifiable incidents (about one incident every other day) that the coalition attacked a civilian target at time when people will tend to be home.

Figure 10. Coalition Attacks on Yemeni Civilian vs. Non-Civilian Targets (by Daypart)

Figure 11 offers further evidence that the coalition may have preferred the midday and afternoon dayparts for attacks on civilian targets. Where civilian targets constitute around 13 percent of all attacks, they represent percent of between 22 and 25 percent of attacks in the midday and afternoon. This suggests the coalition may make an effort to minimize civilian casualties by conducing their attacks on targets in civilian areas at times when people tend to be at work, school or away from home.

This finding may not fully exonerate the Saudi-led coalition for possible war crimes committed against Yemeni civilians, but should the coalition partners face an ICC inquiry, it may offer at least partial exculpatory evidence.

Figure 11. Coalition Attacks by Target and Daypart

Final thoughts and next steps

What is most striking in the YDP data is the unrelenting consistency of the coalition’s operational tempo against Yemen. The bombers take very few days off.

Apart from the brief ceasefire period in May 2016, the coalition has unleashed almost 19,000 separate attacks on Yemen within less than four years (1,333 days). That works out to between 10 to 20 attacks every day.

And to what end? There is no evidence that the Houthis are going to relinquish power in western Yemen, and while there has been a slight decline in the coalition’s operational tempo since the Saudi’s assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, the coalition’s attacks show no sign of ending soon either. And as long as the conflict continues, the work of the YDP and other similar independent groups are going to be critical for the foreseeable future.

And who will be paying attention to this unfolding tragedy that the UN calls the ‘world’s worst humanitarian disaster?

With all due respect to the U.S. Senate vote condemning the Saudi’s actions in Yemen, don’t expect much more from the America’s greatest deliberative body. There are few Capitol Hill advocates for Yemen, which controls no major oil or gas reserves and is home to not one oligarch likely to attend Davos next year. Taken together, this all but guarantees Yemen will not stay on the front burner of Senate business.

Even the world’s news media organizations have taken a ho-hum approach to covering the Yemen tragedy, as they have been far more more preoccupied with the conflict in Syria. The U.S. media, in particular, continues to show little interest in Yemen. In an analysis by media journalist Adam Johnson, it was found that between July 3, 2017 and July 3, 2018, MSNBC (the number one cable news network in that period) dedicated “zero segments to the US’s war in Yemen, but 455 segments to Stormy Daniels.”

That pretty much sums up American broadcast journalism today.

With that backdrop, this article represents the first in a series of data analyses I will be conducting on the YDP data. Additionally, I will be augmenting the YDP event data with other data sources (such the temporal-geographic distribution of cholera cases) to further investigate the impact the coalition’s attacks have had on the Yemen civilian population.

Only with transparency will there be any chance to hold Saudi Arabia, UAE, and their coalition partners accountable for their actions in Yemen.

-K.R.K.