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Build the wall: The utility of futility

Ayax Rangel

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“Who mows the lawn?” was the question asked to the students. –“The Mexican mows the lawn”, was the answer a young man in his late 20’s gave in return while practicing his Spanish language abilities.

There are few tricks that can be so ingeniously exploited for political gain as social identity issues: the rhetorical and often-times fictitious battle of “us” versus “them”.

We’ve been hearing much about this under the guise of “nationalistic” sentiment, a hijacked term to veil a form of anxiety brought about by ethnic diversity. A feeling of impending doom borne from blurring the lines between us, US citizens, and them, the illegal immigrants making a dash towards the southern border. To assuage those fears some elected leaders have promised constituents a border wall. Let them have it.

At first glance it would appear as though a border wall might play right into the hands of those who embrace racism and xenophobia, and negatively affect law-breaking immigrants who cross the border in search of security and a better life. Neither is accurate.

A border wall would be a gigantic, financial undertaking. An infrastructure project with a price tag of anywhere between $15 and 25 billion dollars, according to official estimates.To be certain, mega-projects the likes of this are usually wise policies when fighting-off recessions, and even though the US is not currently in one, economic indicators point to a decrease in GDP growth over the next two years.Add the ongoing trade war with China to the mix and the forecasts become shakier. Therefore, southern states -those more imminently threatened by hordes of immigrants- should embrace the idea of a wall, as it would bring a steady and robust stream of funds and create jobs for the next decade.

However, aside from the prospects of benefiting local economies, the wall would be a waste of resources akin to fraud, waste and abuse in all other regards.

For starters, estimates show that from 2015 onwards only about 200,000 people cross the border illegally every year. A wall of $20B means that US taxpayers would invest $100,000 dollars per illegal immigrant stopped the first year after completion. That’s roughly the salary of two border patrol agents per year per immigrant apprehended. To get a better idea of the ridiculousness of the thought, imagine a city that employed two police officers per every one resident. That’s not very cost-effective. And, even though the cost over time will even out, there’s still the problem of up keeping some 2,000 miles of border wall, a cost estimated at$150 million a year.

Still, a wall like this would be a good thing for illegal immigrants. For one, it would discourage many from trying to make the dangerous trek across the border, which in 2018 alone saw the deaths of 376 people, according to the Missing Migrants Project, which tracks this type of data worldwide. This would make immigrants seek asylum at official ports of entry, already beset in scores of applications, which in turn pile up backlogs, court filings and legal challenges, and fuel the merciless microscope of a public opinion ready to take aim at anything less than politically correct.

This leads to a third reason why a wall would be good for illegal immigrants: immigration reform. The visual representation of intolerance, in the form of a border barrier, will eventually become a shrine of shame, and it would make it difficult to take seriously any tolerance-advocating politician that supported it in the first place. That is a good thing for the immigrants’ cause. An ever-more diverse and cosmopolitan electorate would find it unpalatable to vote for nationalist-populists.

A word of caution.

Just as people have a tendency to forget history, history has a tendency to repeat itself. There was a time in the 1900s when the south was a homogenous, democratic-blue.It does not look that way nowadays. And, despite the myriad of explanations as to why the South is now solidly red, the fact remains: absent a force majeure, people will vote their values and, fortunately, politicians will vote their interests. It is true that, in some states, a “nationalistic” type of base would still put people into elected office. And yet, the likelihood of losing key states will loom larger every successive national election, prompting party leaders and politicians to reconsider their approach.

The genius of our political parties will not consist in chastising one another over a massive-albeit futile- construction project, nor in punishing federal employees in so doing by means of furloughs during their standoffs. The real coup will consist in avoiding political irrelevance. A border wall will only propel both parties into a structural transformation.

For their part, Democrats need only bemoan intolerance to earn popular favor. Human suffering, political correctness and the absence of major externalities such as a war, that unpredictably affect voting patterns, mean that democrats will be able to command suburban and minority votes, tallying larger and larger electoral successes. They will not, however, push through a comprehensive immigration reform. That would constitute political suicide, given how immigrants tend to espouse traditional, conservative-leaning values. To give this electorate the ability to vote on issues other than immigration would set back the party. Instead, Democrats will stick to the tried and true promise of change. When people have little or nothing, the offer of hope goes a long way.

On the other hand, Republicans should cherish their electoral fortunes with a touch of worry. History will record how American workers paid for a political standoff in the form of a budget impasse and its accompanying government shutdown.And, should the wall be erected, people will remember the billions of dollars spent in a contraption of questionable efficiency, its environmental impact, its heinous aesthetics, and the promises not kept, such as the issue of who would fund the wall. Furthermore, voters will have a tangible memento of how nationalist-populists stoke fears for political gain: a constant reminder of intolerance wrapped as an eloquent, yet unconvincing, security issue. To peddle such policies will spell the end of their stranglehold along the southern border. That’s a good thing. In its pursuit for political relevance, and unable to credibly challenge Democrats in promising an immigration reform, the Republican party will have to overcorrect,not for the sake of immigrants per se, but to allow them to vote on issues other than immigration.

“Who builds the wall?”, should ask teachers when imparting English language to foreigners. –“The Americans build the wall” would be a formidable, tale-like response. The irony, though, is that US companies awarded contracts for this mega-project will seek to maximize profits. Construction work along the southern border will be carried out with immigrants’ labor, who usually command lower wages. It will be quite amusing when the first reports of illegal immigrants’ involvement in building the wall reach the national media outlets.  Only then we’ll realize that such a wall was not as useless as some had imagined. It will at least have given them jobs and a better life for years to come.

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Americas

Just What Is An American?

Rahul D. Manchanda, Esq.

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The greatest mistake any leader, or moneyed powerful individual, or even masses of people (all 3 of which tend to have the loudest voices) is to culturally appropriate unto themselves, just exactly what it means to be an American, based on their own selfish notion of what it means.

The fact remains that the ideal of Americanism is a concept – a truly growing, organic, ever changing, and ever expanding idea that is enshrined within its founding documents and laws.

For example, the Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights, US Constitution, Civil Rights Act, and the Equal Rights Amendment, among scores of other acts of legislation, point to an ever growing ongoing journey to forge a new nation, just like ancient Rome did, united by a common destiny, and drawn from different experiences, cultures, cuisines, religions, ethnicities, races, nationalities, and world views.

So when President Trump on July 15, 2019 told four minority female congresswomen in sum and substance to “go back to there they came from” if they “didn’t like America,” he trampled over their own views, ideals, and experiences as Americans.

Quite simply his statement was an appropriation of what it means to be an American, from the point of view of a German/ Irish American senior citizen male, to a group of Latin/ Somali/ Palestinian/ African-American younger females.

Perhaps President Trump should re-visit his own people’s racial history, wherein the Irish were systematically excluded by the previously arrived and established Anglican Protestants, or even with the Germans in America who were actually interred in camps during the periods of World War I & World War II.

The German-American Experience

During World War II, the legal basis for this detention was under Presidential Proclamation 2526, made by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt under the authority of the Alien and Sedition Acts.

With the U.S. entry into World War I, German nationals were automatically classified as “enemy aliens.”

Two of the four main World War I-era internment camps were located in Hot Springs, N.C. and Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia.

Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer wrote that “All aliens interned by the government are regarded as enemies, and their property is treated accordingly.”                                              

The Irish-American Experience

In 1836, young Benjamin Disraeli wrote: “The Irish hate our order, our civilization, our enterprising industry, our pure religion. This wild, reckless, indolent, uncertain and superstitious race have no sympathy with the English character. Their ideal of human felicity is an alternation of clannish broils and coarse idolatry. Their history describes an unbroken circle of bigotry and blood.”

Nineteenth-century Protestant American “Nativist” discrimination against Irish Catholics reached a peak in the mid-1850s when the Know-Nothing Movement tried to oust Catholics from public office.

Much of the opposition came from Irish Protestants, as in the 1831 riots in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

After 1860, many Irish sang songs about “NINA signs” reading Help wanted – no Irish need apply.

The 1862 song “No Irish Need Apply” was inspired by NINA signs in London.

Alongside “No Irish Need Apply” signs, in the post-World War II years, signs saying “No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs” or similar anti-Irish sentiment began to appear as well.

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Billionaires, Vanity and Modern Democracy

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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The bullying in Washington is the current trend.  On Monday, the British ambassador resigned his post after Trump refused to deal with him.  Well-liked in Washington and the halls of Congress, his downfall was an honest assessment of the Trump administration as ‘inept’ and ‘dysfunctional’.  The letters were leaked in the U.K.

Suppose the president tweets comments contrary to current established policy, does that mean a policy change?  Do departments adapt promptly.  Nobody knows.  That’s dysfunctional, and everyone knows it.  In the meantime, he has enjoyed 17 golf outings since February averaging three a month.  No wonder he is that rare president who does not seem to age in office from the stresses of the job.  Obama’s hair turned gray.

But then a lighter hand on the tiller has kept us out of war, whereas Obama, the Nobel Peace Laureate, destroyed Libya and escalated in Afghanistan.  The consequences are still being felt in Southern Europe particularly, through the hordes of refugees still continuing to arrive.  Also in the resurgence of anti-immigration political parties in northern Europe.

The supreme irony is the fact of refugees being rescued from ramshackle boats and dinghies or often dying in one part of the Mediterranean while the Obamas cruise on a billionaire’s luxury yacht in another.  Is that a metaphor for democracies in the modern world?  One is also reminded of Mr. Modi’s specially woven pinstripe cloth repeating his name endlessly on the stripes in the material. 

Fortunately, the current president does not like the sea, or we would never see him in Washington.  As it is he has had 14 visits to golf clubs (not as much time on the course however) since the beginning of June.  He once had a small yacht that lay anchored in New York until he sold it.  His pleasures have generally centered on the more mundane:  cheeseburgers and women — the younger the better, although perhaps not as young as those that have gotten his friend Jeffrey Epstein in trouble again.  To be fair, Trump had a falling out with him ‘about 15 years ago’ he said recently.  ‘I was not a fan of his, I can tell you,’ he added although he called him a ‘terrific guy’ in 2002.

At least one party had 28 girls to a so-called calendar-girl party at Mar-a-Lago (Trump’s estate and club) in Florida, meaning selection of a calendar girl.  The male celebrities attending, according to the man assigned the task of finding the girls, happened to be Trump and Epstein, and no one else!  So surprised, the man still remembers the story.  The falling out between Trump and Epstein was rumored to have been a business deal.

It brings us to the second resignation, that of Alex Acosta the Labor Secretary.  A Harvard-educated lawyer, Mr. Acosta was the US attorney for the Southern District of Florida when he made a generous agreement with Epstein who had been charged with sex crimes.  For a 13-month sentence of mostly community work, usually from his mansion, Mr. Epstein was protected from further prosecution.  In a clear rebuke to Acosta, the case has been re-opened with a new charge of sex-trafficking minors.

As a result, Mr. Acosta has had to bow to the chorus of calls for his resignation.  The real question:  How ever did Trump get elected?  A mainstream press failure?

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What has happened to Western liberal idea?

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In the recent interview with President Putin, the Financial Times seems to have launched a discussion on liberalism only at its own peril. Inadvertently, a real problem was touched upon, whose pressing nature is no longer denied by anyone in the West. The newspaper had to admit it in its Editorial of 29 June. Its authors claim that the threat to liberalism comes from within, including President Trump and his policies, Brexit and, certainly, the rise of “populist nationalism”. They refer to voters’ disillusionment with liberalism and loss of confidence in the economic system and trust in political elites. The latter are invited to redouble their efforts to take into consideration issues raised by voters and “to renew liberalism”.

Hence, the Russian leader has only identified a problem that Western elites are unable to acknowledge, desperately defending the status-quo as having no alternative. But where is the problem?

The systemic crisis of Western society, if we are to call a spade a spade, has its roots in Reaganomics and Thatcherism. In early 1980s, disregard for the lessons of the Great Depression led to Anglo-American attempts to sort of try the pre-1929 Pure Capitalism. This unleashed the forcers of a “self-regulated market” with the state playing a minimal role – a key concept of liberal economics. The idea of social accountability of business had no place in that system.

At the same time, financial sector was deregulated through the step-by-step repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, which was one of key elements of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. Its architect was British economist John Maynard Keynes. It was only natural that the 2008 crisis also started in the financial sphere which had practically lost touch with the real sector of economy.

Then neoliberalism (as it became known) came to be imposed by Anglo-Saxon nations on the whole of the EU through the Lisbon agenda. The then Prime Minister Tony Blair was pretty good at it. When asked what she considered as her key legacy, Margaret Thatcher pointed to Blair who continued her economic policies under the “New Labour” slogan.

For instance, everyone knows what the nationalization of British railways led to. Profits are reaped by operators, while costs are borne by taxpayers who finance UK Rail, the state-run company responsible for railroad infrastructure. And this is not the only way to privatise profits while collectivising costs. In fact, globalisation has become one such practice for Western elites. Its original motive was quite liberal and far from being altruistic or even geopolitical (Donald Trump has reassessed this part of it when he blamed globalisation for China’s economic rise). It was about cheap labour for increased profits. The jobs  that were to be transferred abroad should have been compensated for by a new technological revolution. But it’s not happening, not even in the second generation. Information technologies do not create as many jobs, and we are already talking of robotisation and artificial intelligence, as well as a universal minimum living allowance as a solution to the problem of poverty and unemployment. It was Keynes who said: “Free trade assumes that if you throw men out of work in one direction you re-employ them in another. As soon as that link is broken the whole of the free trade argument breaks down”.

Liberalism in politics, especially after the end of the Cold War, has degenerated into averaging and alternative-free policies in the “end of history” spirit. Even Henry Kissinger admitted in his “World Order” (2014) that Western elites had again relied on automaticity, as was the case with the market. But as it was shown by Karl Marx supported by modern economists (Joseph Stiglitz, Paul Krugman, Thomas Picketty and others), free markets always give advantage to the investing classes, which only leads to more inequality.

In this respect, the 45-year post-WW2 period was an exception to the rule due to the creation of a social welfare state – the one that is now being destroyed by the neoliberal economics. Along with it the middle class is being destroyed – the pillar of Western democracy. For these reasons the real discourse of democracy is being substituted in the West by a discourse of liberalism. This involves labelling all protest voters as “populists” and “nationalists”, allowing to side-step the issue of the inability of the actual political system to represent this silent majority. Yet, that is what’s going on when differences blur between the Right and the Left, Tory and Labour in Britain, Republicans and Democrats in the US, or Christian Democrats and Social Democrats in Germany’s “Grand coalition”. Is it any wonder that when an opportunity arises to have a say, this majority votes for Brexit, Trump, or newly-created anti-system parties and movements, often with marginal ideologies?    

In social terms, as BBC is trying to explain in this ongoing debate, liberalism is about protecting the rights of minorities of all kind, including transgender persons. It turns out that there’s nobody to protect the interests of the majority. Yet, we are speaking of the post-war “social contract”, which simply does not work in liberal economics. Anglo-Saxons are on the path of further liberalisation, which the continental Europe cannot afford. Boris Johnson, contributing to the discussion, has said the other day that Brexit is precisely aimed at giving a new lease of life to it by following the US in income tax reductions for business and private individuals.    

British political analyst David Goodhart (in “The Road to Somewhere: The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics”, 2017) shows another perspective of the issue. In his opinion, the elites have become cosmopolitan, but the majority has remained rooted in their own countries, regions and communities. In other words, the majority sticks to its national identity, unlike the elites. Even the European middle class, united by similar living standards and occupations, becomes aware of its nationality when hit by bad economic times.

Those who accuse Russia of meddling in internal affairs of Western countries are essentially denying their voters the right to vote, while the genesis of the liberalism crisis clearly points to its roots and origins inside the system. It was no-one else but Angela Merkel who in 2010 spoke of failure of multiculturalism in Germany, while calling for intensifying efforts at integrating immigrants into German society.

It was not Moscow that drew the attention to this problem. As early as 2007, the Economist wrote of a “secular overreachl” in the West, while today many are voicing concerns over a “liberal overreach”. Speaking broadly, it can be said that in the absence of a competitive environment in the realm of ideas after the end of the Cold War (which ended up doing a disservice to Western elites), liberalism has mutated into a dogma, a totalitarian ideology which does not tolerate dissent or pluralism of ideas. No wonder that the elites have resorted to political technologies, media control and political correctness to tighten the grip on the freedom of speech and generate semblance of an alternative-free existence. Social media have put an end to this, becoming a tool for politically alienated electorate to self-organize. As a measure to protect the status quo, the elites are now constructing an artificial dichotomy of liberalism vs authoritarianism, i.e. if not one, it’s definitely the other.

It is, therefore, not about the end of the liberal idea, just as President Putin pointed out, but that it cannot claim to be a one-size-fits-all model negating the wealth of ideas in Europe and the world. The problem is that any ideology, as history has shown, is always aggressive when it claims the ultimate truth, exceptionalism and, as a result, becomes a threat to the world. The notion of a “liberal world order” has also been introduced only recently, as a defensive reaction of the West when its dominance in global politics, economy and finance is coming to an end. Everything could have been different, had Western elites bothered to make this order, Bretton Woods institutions included, truly liberal, open and inclusive. Nobody was preventing them from doing so.

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