Immigration Politics.

After the Civil War, the stream of European immigrants to the United States turned into a flood. By 1890, 14.8 percent of the people living in the United States had been born abroad. Many “old-stock” Americans found this deeply disturbing. While the First World War temporarily choked down on emigration from Europe, a powerful movement for immigration restriction had sprung up. In the early Twenties, new laws imposed a system of quotas on future immigrants. Decades later various new laws eased restrictions on legal immigration, while a large number of Mexican and Central American immigrants had entered the country illegally. By 2015, 13.7 percent of the population had been born abroad. Demographers now project that this share of the population will grow. By 2015, 14.9 percent of the population may be foreign-born.[1] Is there some kind of “saturation point”?

Today, Americans aren’t opposed to immigration. OK, I have to qualify that a bit. As recently as 2013, a huge majority of Americans (73 percent) thought that immigration was good for America, while only 24 percent thought that it was bad.[2] However, one recent Pew poll found that only 45 percent of Americans believe that immigrants improve America—over the long run at least.[3] A majority (55 percent) of Democrats and a minority (31 percent) of Republicans believe that immigrants improve America. On the other hand, that means that 45 percent of Democrats either don’t think immigrants make the country better or they’re not sure. In addition, 34 percent of Democrats think that immigrants are making the economy worse. Hilary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Tommy Carchetti should think about this. (See: Donald Trump in the general election.) On the other hand, the vast majority of Republicans either think that immigrants don’t make the country better or they aren’t sure. This is pretty bizarre within my own notion of what the Republican Party should be: an opportunity society that creams off the best and the brightest from all those sweat-soaked hell-holes around the globe. Of which there are a great many.

In a discombobulating perception, while at most (69 percent) Republicans (100-31=69) think immigrants do not make the country better, 71 percent of Republicans think that immigrants are making the economy worse. Apparently, at least 2 percent of Republicans think that immigrants are making the economy worse and also believe that this is good for the country. Probably some kind of sampling error. As in: Pew interviewed a bunch of idiots. Well, they get to vote so I suppose they deserve to be polled.

Still, there are intricacies to the issue that don’t always receive adequate discussion. For example, one tricky bit appears to be the difference between legal and illegal immigration. In November 2013, 63 percent of Americans favored a “pathway to citizenship” for illegal immigrants. In contrast, 18 percent want all the illegals rounded up and shipped home.[4] In June 2014, the great majority (62 percent) of Americans favored granting full citizenship to illegal immigrants who meet certain requirements; 17 percent favored granting “green cards,” but not full citizenship; and 19 percent wanted them all deported.[5]

Also, the composition of immigration has been changing. In 2010, Mexicans amounted to 45 percent of the immigrants to the US. In 2012 this fell to 14 percent of immigrants. Who picked up the slack? India sent 12 percent, and China 10 percent, while other Asian countries sent 23 percent. That makes Asia, at a total of 45 percent, the current chief source of immigrants to the United States.[6] According to the Census Bureau, in 2013 alone, 147,000 people of Chinese origin migrated to the United States. This puts China in first-place in the list of countries sending migrants to the United States. In 2013, Mexico sent 125,000.[7]

Liberals are counting on Hispanics to vote en mass Democratic. It may not happen. About one-sixth of Hispanics (16 percent) now identify as evangelical Christians (who lean Republican). Another 18 percent express no religious affiliation. Religious Hispanics remain overwhelmingly Catholic (55 percent) but that number is noticeably down from where it was in 2010 (67 percent).[8]

In one sense, Republicans have little to gain from seeking to the Hispanic vote. Only about 16 percent of Congressional districts held by Republicans have at least 20 percent Hispanics in their populations.[9] However, would swinging the Hispanic vote allow Republicans to make further inroads in currently Democratic districts?

Then, if one is to judge by the attacks on Asian shop-keepers during the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles, or the off-hand comments of people I know, African-Americans don’t much like Asians or Hispanics. Much of the traditional Democratic base is concentrated in a handful of major cities and in the South. The Democratic obsession with affirmative action is going to alienate the Asian and Hispanic voters.  In sum, the Democrats have some long-term problems cooking.

[1] “Noted,” The Week, 9 October 2-15, p. 18.

[2] “Poll Watch,” The Week,

[3] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 16 October 2015, p. 17.

[4] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 6 December 2013, p. 17,

[5] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 20 June 2014, p. 17.

[6] “Noted,” The Week, 25 July 2014, p. 14.

[7] “Noted,” The Week, 15 May 2015, p. 16.

[8] “Noted,” The Week, 23 May 2014, p. 14.

[9] “Noted,” The Week, 19 July 2013, p. 14.


No Strings Attached.

In 1930 the U.S. Army’s Signal Corp created the Signal Intelligence Service (SIS). The tasks of SIS included the interception and cryptanalysis of the radio communications of foreign powers. Over time, SIS evolved into the current National Security Agency (NSA).[1]  It employs something between 30,000 and 40,000 people.[2] That’s more than double the number of people working for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).[3]

Several decades of dramatic advance in communications technology has allowed the NSA to extend its reach. When more and more communications began to pass through satellites, the NSA built parabolic dish aerials to snatch the messages out of the ether. When communications shifted to fiber-optic cables, the NSA both tapped the cables and accessed the data hubs of telecommunications companies.

Huge amounts of data flow through these systems, with useful intelligence buried in among the innocuous rest. How does the NSA find the needle in the haystack? It has a program called Echelon that searches the huge mass of collected messages for names, phone numbers, addresses, and even phrases that have been submitted by the intelligence community. Its computers look for patterns of interest to the intelligence community in among all the other patterns that are created by global business and migration.[4]

This powerful tool in the struggles waged in the shadows has raised concern about threats to the privacy of American citizens. Already in the 1970s it was revealed that NSA had files on 75,000 Americans. Well, it wasn’t against the law. Congress then passed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The Act barred the NSA from collecting data on Americans at home and required approval from a special (secret) court before carrying out foreign interceptions that might involve Americans.

The came 9/11. President George W. Bush signed a (secret) executive order allowing the NSA to engage in wiretapping of Americans who fell under suspicion of being in touch with foreign terrorists. Not even a FISA court warrant was required. Eventually, news did leak out. Instead of the outrage that had accompanied revelation of the NSA surveillance of Americans in the 1970s, however, the shock of 9/11 made Congress confirm the new course. In July 2007, Congress passed a new law that made legalized the work done under the secret executive order.

Much of what we know about the NSA comes from two sources. One is James Bamford, a former intelligence analyst-turned-journalist. He has written a series of books on the agency based on troves of information acquired through the Freedom of Information Act. The other is Edward Snowden, an NSA contractor who published immense amounts of information stolen from NSA computers.[5] Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. But is civil rights or vital intelligence the baby?

[1] Beginning in 1943 the SIS intercepted the radio communications of America’s then-ally, the Soviet Union. The code in which the messages were sent could not be broken, but the messages were archived. Subsequently, code-breakers found a way to read the messages. This led to a hunt for Soviet agents in the United States. The Rosenberg ring were among the agents captured as a result. In 1952, President Harry Truman signed a secret executive order creating the enlarged and empowered NSA.

[2] Once upon a time, being gay or even being suspected of being gay got one discharged from the U.S. government as a security risk. Now, NSA has an LGBT club.

[3] “America’s most secret agency,” The Week, 31 August 2007, p. 9.

[4] For example, cash flows to the Cayman Islands or Indonesians calling home on Friday evenings.

[5] Curiously, both Bamford and Snowden worked in Hawaii. Makes me wonder what goes on in the Haleakala Observatory on Maui.

On your own.

Once upon a time, each individual person in the Americans society and the American economy bore all sorts of risk associated with their life.[1] Then came the Great Depression of the Thirties.[2] Under Democratic auspices in the New Deal and the Great Society, mass-unionized workers got defined-benefit pension systems, “Cadillac” health insurance plans, unemployment insurance, near-full employment, and ever-more generous Social Security. In essence, risk became shared as if in an insurance model.

Then, beginning in the Seventies, international competition eroded the complacency of the post-war decades. Coincidentally, at the same time, the mythic “American work ethic” eroded to the point where, for example, American-manufactured cars ceased to be stolen. OK, somebody might want to buy German cars or Japanese cars, but Americans cars? Who would steal a K-Car or a Gremlin? The car companies and the UAW pressured Washington into imposing quantitative limits on the number of Japanese cars imported into the United States. Again, the assumption of risk fell on the group or community rather than on the individual.

In the Eighties, risk began to be shifted back toward the individual. Both corporations and governments “de-leveraged” by cutting their formal obligations. Defined-benefit pension systems gave way to defined-contribution systems; health insurance slid toward high-deductible plans; a minimum of 5 percent unemployment became the definition of “full employment”[3] Rather than tolerate poor workmanship for high labor costs, companies began to shift their production overseas. American consumers got better products at a lower price.

All the same, those consumers were also producers. The new systems eroded both job-security and labor compensation. Several aspects of contemporary political radicalism (both Bernie Sanders and the Tea Party) may arise from this disorder.[4]

At the core of Hacker’s work is a life-cycle interpretation of political success and failure.[5] The 45 year-old Hacker believes that victory goes to the young, energetic, and imaginative. (People like him or Paul Ryan.) The Democrats were young and vigorous once. Then, over time, they turned into a party of old buffers. Meanwhile, licking their wounds in exile, the Republicans became a party with “that lean and hungry look.” They figured out how to market their ideas and developed an acute understanding of how the political system worked. Democrats fell in droves before the sword of Ronald Reagan. According to this narrative, old-guy Democrats thought that they could get by splitting the difference with fine young conservatives. Alligator Republicans just ate their lunch. Now what was needed, in the mind of Jacob Hacker is a younger, more dynamic Democratic Party.[6]

The possibility that labor costs (wages + benefits) relative to price and quality of the goods produced has gone beyond what is sustainable in a competitive global economy is not something that Democrats desire to discuss. Nor Republicans either.

[1] Jacob Hacker, The Great Risk Shift (New York: Oxford UP, 2006).

[2] The New Deal is what the Left has I n place of a revolution. Polemicists will debate whether it was a new American Revolution or a watered down Russian Revolution.

[3] Unemployment had sunk below 3 percent in the pre-management of the economy Twenties.

[4] Democrats are inclined to regard one—Sandism—as legitimate, if misguided, while they regard the other—what, evangelical Republicanism?—as illegitimate as well as unhinged. I’m not sure I see a real difference.

[5] It isn’t much different from Ibn Khaldun or Ma Joad.

[6] In the world of ideas, this meant people like Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz; in the world of the communication of ideas—or at least of notions and punch lines—it meant people like Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert.

Combative Women.

“Il y a etait un fois” (“Once upon a time), ambitious women military officers wanted to rise in rank, perhaps all the way to Chair-person of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. However, to get to that level, one had to have had combat experience. The military was not granting the highest ranks to people—male or female–who had only commanded office buildings. So a campaign began to allow women to serve in combat.[1]

Now we have the question directly before us. Should women be allowed to branch combat arms in the U.S. military? Liberals—most, but not all, of whom avoid military service like the plague—say “Yes!” Conservatives—most, but not all, of whom avoid military service like the plague—say “No!” So, it is difficult to see this question in an objective fashion. Isn’t there some kind of objective measure to help us decide?

Well, yes, there is such a measure.[2] Kinda-Sorta. The Marine Corps ran a nine-month study comparing the performance of all-male units with the performance of gender-integrated units. In the study All-male units out-performed gender-integrated units on 93 of 134 specific categories. Gender dimorphism played a big role in this evaluation—as it does in infantry combat. Men are bigger and more heavily muscled than are women.[3] Where women fell short was in the multiple physical tasks of combat infantry. The combat load—weapons, rations, water, and other equipment—is standardized, rather than scaled for body mass. It has to be if soldiers are to fight effectively in the field. Smaller bodies shoulder a proportionately heavier load than do bigger bodies. Smaller bodies have a harder time keeping up on the march or in running an obstacle course. It isn’t that women are less mentally tough than are men.[4] The study found that about 40 percent of female Marines suffered injuries striving to keep up with their unit. That is, they pushed themselves beyond safe limits. In the process, they exerted a drag on their own comrades. Other jar-heads slowed down to help their lagging sisters-in-arms. So, if you rely on the Marine Corps study, women can’t branch combat arms without undermining the essential combat performance of the units in which they serve.

Liberal abuse rained down on the Marines after the study was published. What about the two women who graduated from the Army’s elite Ranger School? Well, what about the many more men whom graduated from the school? Conservatives answered that “the facts are the facts.” So, if all but the exceptional woman[5] cannot become an infantry-person,[6] does that mean that they cannot branch combat arms?

But wait! Marines are the quintessential light infantry.   They are troops with flat noses and flat guts. However, among ground forces, infantry are only one of the combat arms. The others are artillery, armor, and combat aviation. Then there is the Air Force and the Navy. Basically, all of these people ride around in death-dealing vehicles. How many gunners, tankers, Apache pilots, carrier fighter-jocks, let alone guys controlling drones from an air-conditioned trailer in Nevada or practicing Armageddon at a missile silo in Nebraska could match the USMC standards for physical performance? Is it possible to use an extreme case to make a judgement about the whole? The question of women in combat arms remains open.

[1] Doubtless, this movement opened a gap between female career officers and short-term females soldiers.

[2] “Women in combat: flunking a Marine test,” The Week, 25 September 2015, p. 16.

[3] “Testosterone! Hero of song and story, Testosterone!”

[4] Otherwise guys would be signing up to attend their wife’s child-birth like it was fantasy football. Nor should they. It’s like that scene in “Aliens.” Jus sayin’. JMO.

[5] See :G.I. Jane.” (dir. Ridley Scott, ).

[6] OK, I admit I’m being a jerk here.

The Iran deal after the shouting.

Once upon a time, Iran signed up for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.[1] Under the treaty the development of nuclear power was acceptable, but the pursuit of nuclear weapons was not acceptable.[2] After n1979, the Islamic Republic of Iran pursued a secret program to develop nuclear weapons—not just nuclear power—until 2003. Then the hunt eased up, without entirely stopping. By 2006, Western nations had grown suspicious of Iranian actions, so they slapped on a series of increasingly painful economic sanctions. The vise kept tightening until the Iranians agreed to negotiate with a coalition of powers: the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany, the European Community, Russia, and China.

The Iran deal that was recently technically-not-disapproved by Congress does certain things. It does not seek a permanent end to Iran’s nuclear weapons program. It does try to extend Iran’s “break out” time to a nuclear weapon from the current estimated three months to one year.

What’s the up-side? The agreement imposes controls on Iran for ten to fifteen years. Some of this involves Iran backing away from its current level of development by surrendering 97 percent of the enriched uranium it already possesses, dismantling two-thirds of its existing enrichment centrifuges, and reconstructing its existing heavy water reactor. Some of this involves “intrusive”[3] inspections of Iranian sites all along the supply-chain from mines and centrifuge factories to enrichment facilities.

What’s the down-side? Iran fended-off really intrusive inspections that would have allowed inspectors to look wherever they want. Only certain sites are open to free inspection. Other sites where Iran might seek to reconstitute its program out from under Western eyes can be visited only with Iranian permission. Refusal sets in train an appeals process; rejection of the Iranian position—in theory—triggers a “snap back” of the sanctions that brought Iran to the negotiating table in the first place. Then, the agreement suspends the sanctions regime. Iran stands to earn up to $150 billion a year.

So, this deal will delay the Iranian pursuit of nuclear weapons for ten to fifteen years. What happens then? Both the Americans and the Iranians are wagering that people in the future will see their best interests clearly. The Obama administration appears to hope that Iranians in the future will see things differently than do members of the revolutionary generation that overthrew the Shah. Iranians appear to be thinking that the survival of the current regime depends on ending sanctions and that the future will take care of itself.

Will Iran try to cheat? Probably, but they are going to have spies all over them thicker than ticks on a hound.

What happens in 2025-2030? The Iranians may rush to “break out.” Or they may not care about nukes anymore. It’s hard to say.

How much confidence should people have in this agreement? Some. However, the opinion polls appear to show that Americans don’t want a big war right now. Give it ten years, and….   Then, neither Russia nor China has an interest in denying nukes to Iran.

So, take the deal, put the clutch down on war for ten to fifteen years, but don’t get confused about the possibility of hitting Iran if things don’t work out.

[1] “The Iran deal,” The Week, 9 October 2015, p. 11.

[2] Yes, there is gross hypocrisy in countries with nukes telling countries without nukes that they can’ t have nukes. Welcome to life.

[3] UN inspectors, video-cameras, and sensors.


President Barack Obama has long insisted that any solution to the Syrian civil war will require President Bashar al-Assad to yield power to his “moderate” opponents. Russia and Iran don’t care what President Obama thinks.[1] The Russians decided to intervene on behalf of Assad in late Summer 2015.[2] Planes and personnel began arriving in September. Now the Russians have expanded their firepower in Syria with a long-range artillery system, while Iran has sent a small force that may be a spear-head for a larger contribution. Early Russian airstrikes chiefly have hit the non-ISIS opponents of Assad. Meanwhile, the American effort to raise, train, and arm a force of “moderates”[3] to fight just ISIS has turned into a highly-public exploding cigar.

For their part, both Turkey and the Sunni Arab states insist that Assad has to go as part of any negotiated peace. Neither Shi’ite Iran nor the Shi’ite Hezbollah group in Lebanon will agree to one of their chief allies being sent off, to be replaced by conservative Sunnis. Then there is the whole problem of ISIS, which is equally dangerous to the Shi’ite regimes in Iraq and Syria.[4]

All this is deeply frustrating for President Obama, who has had several chances to involve the United States more deeply in Syria and wisely did not take them. Equally frustrating is the torrent of abuse that he has suffered from Republican critics.[5] President Obama described the recent Russian intervention in the civil war as born “not out of strength but out of weakness.” In an obvious allusion to the “Arab Afghans” who flocked to oppose the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s, the President argued that attacking non-ISIS forces as well as attacking ISIS will “turbocharge ISIS recruitment and jihadist recruitment.” President Obama went on to say that “an attempt by Russia and Iran to prop up Assad and try to pacify the population is just going to get them stuck in a quagmire and it won’t work. And they will be stuck there for a while if they don’t take a different course.”

Perhaps spurred by the Russian intervention, the Obama administration began touting a new initiative of its own.[6] A projected 3,000 to 5,000 Arabs in northeastern Syria will be armed in order to co-operate with the much larger Kurdish forces and both will be better supported by air strikes from Turkey. The objective of the offensive will be to isolate the ISIS capital city of Raqqa. The U.S. also hopes that its Syrian clients can cut off a 60 mile stretch of the border with Turkey between Kilis and the Euphrates River to end the influx of foreign fighters to ISIS. However, the new plan seems intended to counter Russia as much as ISIS: an expanded area of air operations might cause the Russians to restrict their own strikes.

One possibility is that the Russo-Iranian intervention will not turn into a quagmire. Additional fire-power might turn the tide against the non-ISIS opponents of Assad. It could reduce the flow of foreign fighters to ISIS. It could presage a greater involvement of Iranian forces in opposing ISIS in Iraq. Another possibility is that the Russians aren’t opposed to a protracted struggle against ISIS. Russia has been fighting Islamists in Chechnya for a long time. Success could give the Russians diplomatic leverage over their intervention in Ukraine.

[1] Peter Baker and Neil MacFarquhar, “Obama Sees Russia Failing In Syria Effort,” NYT, 3 October 2015.

[2] See: “The Teeter-Totter.”

[3] See: “Arming the Moderates.”

[4] It is possible that the current Syrian refugee crisis in Europe was facilitated by Turkey in an effort to exert pressure on the Europeans to demand action against Assad. See: “the Syrian Refugee Crisis.” At the same time, Turkey is equally unable to prevent the crossing of its territory by foreign fighters going to join ISIS. Perhaps the Turkish state is just really weak. Or perhaps not.

[5] They seem to have learned nothing from the Iran disaster.

[6] Eric Schmitt and Michael Gordon, “U.S. Aims To Put More Pressure on ISIS in Syria,” NYT, 5 October 2015.

Strategic Leaking.

Early in life, Jason Chaffetz (R, Utah) had a notion that he could be a Secret Service agent. Or maybe an outfielder for the Yankees. Or maybe Superman. (But I repeat myself.) So, in 2003, he filled out the Secret Service application. (May have worked on his fielding skills or bought a spandex costume for all I know.) Kids often don’t have a sense of their own real talents or inclinations. Chaffetz didn’t make the cut as a Secret Service agent. He got a letter that said that “better qualified applicants existed.”[1] Then they go on and do something better suited to themselves. See: For his part, Chaffetz went into politics, ending up—so far—as a Congersman. (See: Pogo). Chaffetz serves on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.[2]

Then the Secret Service (which is mostly charged with protecting the President of the United States), got in the glue. In April 2012, it was alleged that eleven members of the president’s security detail (and some U.S. military personnel) hired prostitutes while protecting the President at an international conference at Cartagena, Colombia. More revelations of frat-boy behavior followed. Worse, there have been several incidents in which White House security has been breached without much difficulty. Then, in early 2015, a couple of senior Secret Service officers went out “for a taste,” as they delicately phrase it in “The Wire.” Upon returning to duty at the White House, they crashed their car into one of the security barriers. The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform investigated the widely-reported incident.

One of the scathing interrogators on that committee was Jason Chaffetz. He issued a bunch of subpoenas for more information. In the wake of that interrogation, a bunch of Secret Service officers began digging for information (i.e.”dirt”) on Chaffetz. Some gained access to Chaffetz’s failed application for the Secret Service. Doubtless, the files contained information explaining the rejection of Chaffetz.[3]

Then Faron Paramore, the head of public affairs for the Secret Service sent the information to Edward Lowery, an assistant director. Lowery replied that “Some information that he might find embarrassing needs to get out. Just to be fair.” Two days later, the story about Chaffetz’s failed application to join the Secret Service appeared in “The Daily Beast.”

This led to an investigation by the Inspector General (IG) for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Paramore stated that he did not reply to Lowery’s e-mail; Lowery stated that he did not order anyone to leak the information to the press. The IG could not determine who among the “likely…hundreds” of Secret Service agents who had received the information leaked it to the press.

Why does this squalid little story matter? It matters, first, because of the misuse of damaging or embarrassing information by the late long-time director of the F.B.I, J. Edgar Hoover. His “Personal and Confidential” files were used to intimidate politicians and government officials. It matters, second, because of Edward Snowden’s initial revelations about the bulk interception of phone and other media communications of Americans by the NSA.[4]

The chilling effect could run from Congressional critics to ordinary citizen activists.

[1] That’s nothing. I got a letter from Harvard that said that “many (my emphasis, although actually it might have been their emphasis) better qualified applicants existed.” My life-course supports their judgment.

[2] Michael Schmidt, “Senior Secret Service Official Proposed Embarrassing a Critic in Congress,” NYT, 1 October 2015.

[3] I have no idea what that information might be. What do you want people to not know about you?

[4] See: and