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Cracker Squire

THE MUSINGS OF A TRADITIONAL SOUTHERN DEMOCRAT

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Location: Douglas, Coffee Co., The Other Georgia, United States

Sid in his law office where he sits when meeting with clients. Observant eyes will notice the statuette of one of Sid's favorite Democrats.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Trump Was a Spark, Not the Fire - The establishments, both media and conservative, failed to anticipate how they’d be consumed.

Peggy Noonan writes in The Wall Street Journal:

God bless our beloved country as it again undergoes one of its quiet upheavals.

Donald Trump will receive the Republican nomination for the presidency and nothing will be the same. How we do politics in America is changed and will not be going back. The usual standards and expectations have been turned on their head, and more than one establishment has been routed.

A decent interval should be set aside for sheer astonishment.

We face six months of what will be a historically hellacious campaign. Yes, we picked the wrong time to stop taking opioids.

Before I go to larger issues I mention how everyone, especially the media, is blaming the media for Donald Trump’s rise. I hate to get in the way of their self-flagellation but that’s not how I see it. From the time he announced, they gave Mr. Trump unprecedented free media in long, live interviews, many by phone, some possibly from his bathtub. We’ll never know. It was a great boon to him and amounted, by one estimate, to nearly $2 billion worth of airtime.

But the media did not make Donald Trump’s allure, his allure made for big ratings. Mr. Trump was a draw from the beginning. If anyone had wanted to listen to Jeb Bush, cable networks would have been happy to show his rallies, too.

When Mr. Trump was on, ratings jumped, but it wasn’t only ratings, it was something else. It was the freak show at its zenith, it was great TV—you didn’t know what he was going to say next! He didn’t know! It was better than everyone else’s boring, prefabricated, airless, weightless, relentless word-saying—better than Ted Cruz, who seemed like someone who practiced sincere hand gestures in the mirror at night, better than Marco the moist robot, better than Hillary’s grim and horrifying attempts to chuckle like a person who chuckles.

And it was something else. TV producers were all sure he’d die on their show. They weren’t for Mr. Trump. By showing him they were revealing him: Look at this fatuous dope, see through him! They knew he’d quickly enough say something unforgivable, and if he said it on their air he died on their show! They took him down with the question! It was only after a solid six months of his not dying that they came to have qualms. They now understood they were helping him. Nothing he says is unforgivable to his supporters! Or, another way to put it, his fans would forgive anything so long as he promised to be what they want him to be, a human bomb that will explode by timer under a bench in Lafayette Park and take out all the people but leave the monuments standing.

In this regard today’s television producers remind me of the producers of 1969 who heard one day that Spiro Agnew, the idiotic new Republican vice president, was going to make a big speech lambasting the media for its liberal bias. They knew Agnew was about to make a fool of himself. Who would believe him? So they covered that speech all over the place, hyped it like you wouldn’t believe—no one in America didn’t hear about it. It made Agnew a sensation. The American people—“the silent majority”—saw it as Agnew did. “Nattering nabobs of negativism,” from the witty, alliterative pen of William Safire, entered the language.

The producers had projected their own loathing. They found out they and America loathed different things.

That’s a little like what happened this year with TV and Mr. Trump.

My, that wasn’t much of a defense, was it?

The Trump phenomenon itself would normally be big enough for any political cycle, but another story of equal size isn’t being sufficiently noticed and deserves mention. The Democratic base has become more liberal—we all know this part—but in a way the Republican base has, too. Or rather it is certainly busy updating what conservative means. The past few months, in state after state, one thing kept jumping out at me in primary exit polls. Democrats consistently characterize themselves as more liberal than in 2008, a big liberal year. This week in Indiana, 68% of Democratic voters called themselves liberal or very liberal. In 2008 that number was 39%. That’s a huge increase.

In South Carolina this year, 53% of Democrats called themselves very or somewhat liberal. Eight years ago that number was 44%—again, a significant jump. In Pennsylvania, 66% of respondents called themselves very or somewhat liberal. That number eight years ago was 50%.

The dynamic is repeated in other states. The Democratic Party is going left.

But look at the Republican side. However they characterize themselves, a majority of GOP voters now are supporting the candidate who has been to the left of the party’s established thinking on a host of issues—entitlement spending, trade, foreign policy. Mr. Trump’s colorfully emphatic stands on immigration have been portrayed as so wackily rightist that the nonrightist nature of his other, equally consequential positions has been obscured.

In my observation it is a mistake to think Mr. Trump’s supporters are so thick they don’t know his stands. They do.

It does not show an understanding of the moment to say Donald Trump by himself has changed the Republican Party. It is closer to the mark to say the base of the party is changing and Mr. Trump’s electric arrival on the scene made obvious what was already happening.

For this reason among others, I do not understand the impulse of the NeverTrump people to anathametize and shun those Republicans who will not vow to oppose Mr. Trump and commit to defeating him. They have been warned that if they don’t do these things they will not be allowed to help rebuild the party after Mr. Trump destroys it. Conservatives love to throw conservatives out of conservatism; it’s like an ancestral tic. But great political movements should not be run like private clubs. And have the anathemitizers noticed they aren’t in charge anymore? That in the great antiestablishment disruption of 2016 they have been upended, too?

We don’t know what’s coming in 2016, or what happens to the GOP if Mr. Trump wins or loses. If there is a rebuilding of the party, as opposed to an ongoing reinvention, we don’t know when that will commence. If it is a rebuilding, on what grounds do the NeverTrump forces think it will be rebuilt? As a neoconservative, functionally open-borders, slash-the-entitlements party?

I am not sure, whatever happens in 2016, that there will ever again be a market for that product. All this cycle I’ve been thinking of what Lee Atwater said when he wanted to communicate to a politician that a policy was not popular: “The dawgs don’t like the dawg food.”

Centers of gravity are shifting. The new Republican Party will not be rebuilt and re-formed in McLean, it will be rebuilt or re-formed in Massapequa.

Finally, can Mr. Trump win? Of course. Uphill but possible. If this year has taught us anything it is what Harrison Salisbury said he’d learned from a lifetime in journalism: “Expect the unexpected.”

Simple Patriotism Trumps Ideology - After 16 years, Americans have grown tired of both conservative and liberal abstractions.

Peggy Noonan writes in The Wall Street Journal:

The wind is at Donald Trump’s back, and it’s the kind that doesn’t lessen but build. Last week he won the New York primary with an astounding 60% of the vote to John Kasich’s 25% and Ted Cruz’s 15%. This week he swept the five-state Northeast regional primaries with numbers that neared or surpassed the New York results—54% in Maryland, 57% in Pennsylvania, 58% in Connecticut, 61% in Delaware and 64% in Rhode Island. He beat Mr. Kasich in Greenwich, Conn., the affluent enclave of the old moderate Republicanism. Amazingly, he carried every county in all five states, and every county in New York except Manhattan. With 10 million votes, Mr. Trump is on track to become the biggest primary vote-getter in GOP history. He did well with varied demographic groups, old and young, college graduates, rich and not.

This is the kind of political momentum that tends to grow. A political saying attributed to Haley Barbour is that in politics this is the dynamic: Good gets better and bad gets worse. Very smart analysts and reporters have been translating all these victories into delegate counts, which of course is the key question. But as I look at where we are I think: Get your mind off 1,237; get your mind on the wind at Donald Trump’s back. After all the missteps and embarrassments of the past few months, his support is building.

“I consider myself the presumptive nominee,” Mr. Trump said in his victory remarks. He is.

Nothing wrong with Mr. Cruz and Mr. Kasich continuing to forge on. If you added their votes together the other night, Mr. Trump still would have beaten them. But they’re imagining they still have a shot, and Mr. Cruz just brought inCarly Fiorina as a reinforcement. His admiration of Ronald Reagan is such that he even imitates his blunders. That is what it was for Reagan in 1976 when he picked a running mate before the convention. Desperate gambits are more likely to work when they don’t look desperate.

Here I note an odd aspect of this cycle. Candidates at this point, roughly nine months in, are supposed to be dog-tired, near the end of their personal resources, exhausted and, if they’re not winning, depressed. That’s how it usually goes. But Mr. Kasich is clearly having the time of his life and told me as much in November. Mr. Cruz told me the same thing last week, at a Journal editorial board meeting. I expected to see him tired and dragging. No, fresh as a daisy. Mr. Trump too is clearly having a ball.

I find their joy distressing. America is faced with overwhelming problems, the voters are deeply concerned about our future, and they’re happy little chappies in the cable news town hall. I think they’ve absorbed too well the idea of the power of the happy warrior. I would respect them more if now and then they’d outline our problems and look blue.

In my continuing quest to define aspects of Mr. Trump’s rise, to my own satisfaction, I offer what was said this week in a talk with a small group of political activists, all of whom back him. One was about to begin approaching various powerful and influential Republicans who did not support him, and make the case. I told her I’d been thinking that maybe Mr. Trump’s appeal is simple: What Trump supporters believe, what they perceive as they watch him, is that he is on America’s side.

And that comes as a great relief to them, because they believe that for 16 years Presidents Bush and Obama were largely about ideologies. They seemed not so much on America’s side as on the side of abstract notions about justice and the needs of the world. Mr. Obama’s ideological notions are leftist, and indeed he is a hero of the international left. He is about international climate-change agreements, and leftist views of gender, race and income equality. Mr. Bush’s White House was driven by a different ideology—neoconservatism, democratizing, nation building, defeating evil in the world, privatizing Social Security.

But it was all ideology.

Then Mr. Trump comes and in his statements radiate the idea that he’s not at all interested in ideology, only in making America great again—through border security and tough trade policy, etc. He’s saying he’s on America’s side, period.

And because people are so happy to hear this after 16 years, because it seems right to them, they give him a pass on his lack of experience in elective office and the daily realities of national politics. They accept him even though he is a casino developer and brander who became famous on reality TV.

They forgive it all. Not only because they’re tired of bad policy but because they’re tired of ideology.

You could see this aspect of Trumpism—I’m about America, end of story—in his much-discussed foreign-policy speech this week. I have found pretty much everything said about it to be true. It was long, occasionally awkward-sounding and sometimes contradictory. It was interesting nonetheless. He was trying to blend into a coherent whole what he’s previously said when popping off on the hustings. He was trying to establish that there’s a theme to the pudding. He was also trying to reassure potential supporters that he is actually serious, that he does have a foreign-policy framework as opposed to just a grab bag of emotional impulses.

The speech was an attack on the reigning Washington foreign-policy elite of both parties, which he scored as incompetent and unsuccessful: “Logic was replaced with foolishness and arrogance, and this led to one foreign-policy disaster after another.” Mistakes in Iraq, Egypt, Libya and Syria threw the region “into crisis,” and helped create ISIS. He described democracy-promotion efforts as destructive, costing “thousands of American lives and many trillions of dollars.” Our resources are overextended, our allies must contribute more, our friends don’t trust us, nor do our allies respect us. He called for “a coherent foreign policy based on American interests.” His interest is “focusing on creating stability.” “We must stop importing extremism through senseless immigration policies,” including a “pause for reassessment,” which will help prevent the next San Bernardino.

He positioned himself to Hillary Clinton’s left on foreign policy—she is hawkish, too eager for assertions of U.S. military power, and has bad judgement. This will be the first time in modern history a Republican presidential candidate is to the left of the Democrat, and that will make things interesting. It reminded me of how Mr. Trump, in his insistence that he will not cut or add new limits to entitlement spending, could get to Mrs. Clinton’s left on that key domestic question, too.

He certainly jumbles up the categories. Bobby Knight, introducing him at a rally in Evansville, Ind., on Thursday, said that Mr. Trump is not a Republican or a Democrat. The crowd seemed to like that a lot.

Those conservative writers and thinkers who have for nine months warned the base that Mr. Trump is not a conservative should consider the idea that a large portion of the Republican base no longer sees itself as conservative, at least as that term has been defined the past 15 years by Washington writers and thinkers.

Saturday, April 09, 2016

In Defense of Bill Clinton - No Democrat will speak up for his record in reducing crime.


From The Wall Street Journal:

Unleashing Bill Clinton as a Hillary campaign surrogate carries risks, as the former President can morph from effective advocate to roving liability, often in one sentence. The press is calling Mr. Clinton’s verbal dismantling of Black Lives Matter activists on Thursday an example of the latter, but in this case he is right on the merits and it’s a shame no one else in the Democratic Party will say so.

Protestors at a Philadelphia event heckled Mr. Clinton over 1994 bipartisan legislation to reduce crime, blaming the measure for more incarceration. One wielded a sign saying “black youth are not super predators,” a reference to a term Mrs. Clinton deployed in 1996 to describe young gang members, which she’s since apologized for. This is when Bill erupted.

“This is what’s the matter,” he said, motioning at the agitators. “I don’t know how you would characterize the gang leaders who got 13-year-olds hopped up on crack and sent them out onto the street to murder other African-American children. Maybe you thought they were good citizens.” He dug in further: “You are defending the people who kill the lives you say matter!”

Over some 13 minutes Mr. Clinton ticked off statistics on the drop in crime over the past two decades, including declines in murder and gun violence. He’s right that the bipartisan efforts of that era helped reduce crime enough so that policy makers can now consider criminal justice and sentencing reforms. Progressives at the time were happy to go along with Mr. Clinton’s New Democratic policies when center-right positioning seemed essential to winning the White House. But now they’re too intimidated by Black Lives Matter to tell the truth.

Mr. Clinton told a crowd at Penn State-Behnrend on Friday that he “almost” wanted to apologize for the incident, and it’s a sign of the progressive times that even a former President must kowtow to radical children with a political megaphone but no historical memory. The Black Lives Matter agitators should thank President Clinton, not excoriate him.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Unite to Defeat Radical Jihadism - Unite to Defeat Radical Jihadism

Peggy Noonan writes in The Wall Street Journal:

In striking at the political heart of Europe, home of the European Union, the ISIS jihadists were delivering a message: They will not be stopped.

What we are seeing now is not radical jihadist Islam versus the West but, increasingly, radical jihadist Islam versus the world. They are on the move in Africa, parts of Asia and of course throughout the Mideast.

Radical jihadism is not going to go away, not for a long time, probably decades. For 15 years it has in significant ways shaped our lives, and it will shape our children’s too. They will have to win the war.

It will not be effectively fought with guilt, ambivalence or double-mindedness. That, in the West, will have to change.

The usual glib talk of politicians—calls for unity, vows that we will not give in to fear—will produce in the future what they’ve produced in the past: nothing. “The thoughts and the prayers of the American people are with the people of Belgium,” said the president, vigorously refusing to dodge clichés. “We must unite and be together, regardless of nationality, race or faith, in fighting against the scourge of terrorism.” It is not an “existential threat,” he noted, as he does. But if you were at San Bernardino or Fort Hood, the Paris concert hall or the Brussels subway, it would feel pretty existential to you.

ISIS is essentially “medieval” in its religious nature, and “committed to purifying the world by killing vast numbers of people.” They intend to eliminate the infidel and raise up the caliphate—one like the Ottoman empire, which peaked in the 16th century and then began its decline.

Normal people have seen that a long time, but the leaders of the West—its political class, media powers and opinion shapers—have had a hard time coming to terms. I continue to believe part of the reason is that religion isn’t very important to many of them, so they have trouble taking it seriously as a motivation of others. An ardent Catholic, evangelical Christian or devout Jew would be able to take the religious aspect seriously when discussing ISIS. An essentially agnostic U.S. or European political class is less able. Thus they cast about—if only we give young Islamist men jobs programs or social integration schemes, we can stop this trouble. But jihadists don’t want to be integrated. They want trouble.

Our own president still won’t call radical Islam what it is, thinking apparently that if we name them clearly they’ll only hate us more, and Americans on the ground, being racist ignoramuses, will be incited by candor to attack their peaceful Muslim neighbors.

I end with a point about the sheer power of pride right now in Western public life. Republican operatives and elected officials in the U.S. don’t want to change their stand on illegal immigration, and a key reason is pride. They’re stiff-necked, convinced of their own higher moral thinking, and they will have open borders—which they do not call “open borders” but “comprehensive immigration reform,” which includes border-control mechanisms. But they’ll never get to the mechanisms. They see the rise of Donald Trump and know it has something to do with immigration, but—they can’t bow. Some months ago I spoke to an admirable conservative group and said the leaders of the GOP should change their stand. I saw one of their leaders wince, as if I had made a faux pas. Which, I understood, I had. I understood too that terrorism is only making the border issue worse, and something’s got to give.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

It’s Time for The Speech - Like JFK, Nixon and Obama, the moment is now for a big, campaign-saving speech.

Daniel Henninger writes in The Wall Street Journal on 3-3-2016:

It’s time for The Speech.

Readers who have spent a lifetime absorbing the melodramas of America’s presidential election politics, such as this one, will recognize instantly what I am proposing here. It is time for Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz to deliver The Speech—or lose. Lose the campaign, the party, the Supreme Court and an already diminished country’s next four years.
“The Speech” is the title history has conferred on Ronald Reagan’s 1964 speech called “A Time for Choosing.”

Reagan delivered the speech in October 1964 on behalf of the foundering presidential campaign of the Republican Party’s nominee, Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona. Goldwater suffered a historic loss to President Lyndon Johnson, but the televised, roughly 30-minute speech, launched Reagan’s political career. It was an electrifying—and accessible—definition of conservatism in America’s politics then.

An understanding of when the moment has arrived to give The Speech requires naming three other masterpieces of the art: Sen. John F. Kennedy’s address in 1960 about his Catholicism to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association two months before the election; Sen. Richard Nixon’s 1952 Checkers speech, also less than two months before the election; and Sen. Barack Obama’s speech on race, “A More Perfect Union,” in March 2008.

Their purpose: to rescue a campaign on the brink of dying for reasons seemingly beyond the candidate’s ability to control. All these speeches accomplished what no one thought possible. They overcame an enormous political obstacle, reversed the candidate’s fortunes and reopened a path to victory.

The political obstacle now is Donald Trump and a roiling base of support for Mr. Trump—revealed again in Super Tuesday’s results as about 35% of those voting.

The Trump candidacy is thought to be a political colossus, virtually unstoppable. The problems faced by Kennedy, Nixon and Obama were also said to be campaign killers.

Nixon’s Checkers speech, derided by some today, was in fact an astonishing feat of political reversal. Accused of financial improprieties, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower’s running mate was regarded as beyond saving. The televised speech, which Nixon paid for, was watched by 60 million people and produced an overnight outpouring of support for the beleaguered candidate.

Point: The concrete never sets in American politics. Opinions can change, or be changed.

In Kennedy’s case, a well-organized, public opposition of Protestants alleged that the first Catholic president would be a tool of the pope. It threatened to kill Kennedy’s chances in a tightly fought election. JFK’s reply, in the Houston speech before the ministers, was so powerful that it eliminated the issue from American politics.

Sen. Obama’s “More Perfect Union” was of course his Rev. Wright speech. The “fiery preacher” stories had brought the Obama campaign to a standstill. Essentially, Mr. Obama used the speech to elevate race in America to such sublime heights that it subsumed the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. The Speech righted the campaign.

Critics of these speeches to this day carp about the details. Their side lost.

The GOP Establishment’s Civil War - A free-for-all between Christie, Rubio, Cruz and others, while Trump hovers above it all.

Peggy Noonan writes in The Wall Street Journal back on 1-9-2016:

He said he’d build a wall and close the border and as the months passed and his competitors saw his surge, they too were suddenly, clearly, aggressively for ending illegal immigration.

Mr. Trump touched an important nerve in opposing the political correctness that has angered the American people for a quarter century. He changed the debate when he asked for a pause in Muslim immigration until America “can figure out what’s going on.” In the age of terror, that looked suspiciously like common sense. Americans do not want America to become what Europe is becoming.

You only have to look at what is reported to have happened in Cologne, Germany, on New Year’s Eve to get a sense that Europe’s establishment, with its politically correct thinking, is losing control. Angela Merkel is a great lady and most of her leadership has been sound as a drum, but she will probably lose her job eventually because of her epic miscalculation in accepting more than a million Middle Eastern refugees.

Her decision was no doubt driven by heart and sympathy, but it reminds me of the fall of Margaret Thatcher. In 1989 Thatcher moved to impose a change in the British tax system. This caused resentment and then unrest. She wouldn’t back down, and the next year she fell. Years later she told me what she’d learned. People are afraid, she said; they live closer to the margins than we understand. When you propose a big change you can leave people feeling as if the rug is being pulled from under them. That’s a big thing to learn, and she spoke of it with humility.

She lost her job by being too tough. Ms. Merkel has imperiled hers by being too soft. But the lesson is the same: know how close to the edge people feel, how powerless, and respect their anxiety. Don’t look down on it, and them.
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Monday, February 22, 2016

How Donald Trump’s Army Is Transforming the GOP - Populist agenda trumps traditional conservative ideologies for the new breed of Republican voter

Gerald Seib writes in The Wall Street Journal:

Amid all the odd changes unfolding in this election cycle, the most startling may be the way the Republican Party is transforming right before our eyes.

Whether Donald Trump is responsible for this transformation, or merely the beneficiary of it, is a chicken-and-egg question for history to decide. But the change now has been unleashed regardless of his electoral fate.

Through balloting in three states, it appears that a new set of voters is driving the GOP now. Their agenda is more populist and less ideological than has been the case for Republican voters in the past. They are prepared to break with the party’s traditional positions on a number of fronts, particularly on issues important to the Republicans’ core business constituency. They have little respect, and to some degree outright antipathy, for the party’s leaders.

Some of these voters appear new to the GOP, but many have been bouncing around in the party, lured in over the years by their differences with Democrats on cultural issues. The difference now is that they are energized, as opposed to apathetic, and united behind a single candidate. They are driving the primary process and changing the party in the process.

The voters Mr. Trump has pulled together in winning New Hampshire and South Carolina and coming in second in Iowa is a coalition of the economically and culturally alienated, voters who look angry but also a bit frightened. It is a far cry from the traditional GOP winners’ coalition.

In each of the first three states that have voted, Mr. Trump has carried by a wide margin Republican voters with a high-school education or less, according to polls of voters. In New Hampshire, he won almost half of such voters. In South Carolina, he also won 40% of those with some college education but not a college degree.

He also has won in each of the first three states among ideologically moderate Republicans and among those who consider themselves politically independent. He does better among older voters than younger ones; in both New Hampshire and South Carolina, he won among those age 65 and older. He does better among those on the lower half of the income scale than those on the upper half.

It’s important to note that Mr. Trump is drawing votes from across a broad spectrum of Republican voters; he fishes in every pond. But his core voters are in this new populist alignment.

To some extent, the Trump core looks like the voters who propelled Pat Buchanan, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum in earlier Republican election cycles. But not exactly: Their coalitions were more heavily tinged with evangelical voters, who are part of but not the heart of the Trump crowd. And those earlier contenders eventually became marginal candidates, not front-runners.

To some extent, this coalition also is a descendent of the tea-party movement that sprang to life in 2010, largely in response to the health-care law of President Barack Obama and his Democratic Party. Yet this coalition is different from that as well. Tea-party adherents were, by and large, ideologically conservative. The Trump coalition isn’t conservative in the traditional sense, or ideological at all.

This isn’t the country club, Wall Street, Chamber of Commerce or religious-conservative set within the GOP. It isn’t the deficit-hawk coalition, either, for Mr. Trump has proposed a tax plan that, according to outside analysts, would blow the biggest hole in the side of the budget. And he’s the GOP candidate most outspoken about not cutting benefits for Medicare and Social Security recipients.

Nor is this the coalition of neo-conservatives on security policy, for Mr. Trump has blasted the Iraq war those neo-cons inspired, and has kind words to say about Vladimir Putin, the Russian leader they abhor.

Ronald Reagan used to define the Republican Party as a three-legged stool made up of social conservatives, fiscal conservatives and national-security conservatives. The Trump coalition isn’t precisely any of those three.

This is a populist coalition, and Mr. Trump has won its support in part by breaking defiantly with traditional Republican economic policies. He mocks free-trade agreements that have had broad support within the party, and particularly within its normally powerful business wing. He has shredded the more open Reagan philosophy on immigration. He can sound more like a Democratic populist than a Republican one when talking about taxing hedge funds and private-equity firms.

He has openly ridiculed the last three presidential contenders of the Republican Party: Sen. John McCain, former President George W. Bush and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. He is critical of his party’s leaders in Congress and mocks his party’s donor base.

The voters drawn to these apostasies have moved from the GOP fringes to its heart—and other candidates trying to catch Mr. Trump ignore them at their peril.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Thorny Economics of Illegal Immigration - Arizona’s economy took a hit when many illegal immigrants left, but benefits also materialized

From The Wall Street Journal:

MARICOPA, Ariz.—After Arizona passed a series of tough anti-immigration laws, Rob Knorr couldn’t find enough Mexican field hands to pick his jalapeño peppers. He sharply reduced his acreage and invested $2 million developing a machine to remove pepper stems. His goal was to cut the number of laborers he needed by 90% and to hire higher-paid U.S. machinists instead.

“We used to have many migrant families. They aren’t coming back,” says Mr. Knorr, who owns RK Farms LLC, an hour’s drive from Phoenix.

Few issues in the presidential campaign are more explosive than whether and how much to crack down on illegal immigration, which some Republican candidates in particular blame for America’s economic woes. Arizona is a test case of what happens to an economy when such migrants leave, and it illustrates the economic tensions fueling the immigration debate.

Economists of opposing political views agree the state’s economy took a hit when large numbers of illegal immigrants left for Mexico and other border states, following a broad crackdown. But they also say the reduced competition for low-skilled jobs was a boon for some native-born construction and agricultural workers who got jobs or raises, and that the departures also saved the state money on education and health care. Whether those gains are worth the economic pain is the crux of the debate.

Gordon Hanson, a University of California at San Diego economist who has studied the issue for the nonpartisan Council on Foreign Relations, has detailed how large-scale immigration undermines wages for low-skilled workers. In Arizona’s case, he thinks the state is paying an economic price for its decision. “As the U.S. economy continues to recover, the Arizona economy will be weighed down by slower growth and by less export production in traditional industries” such as agriculture where illegal immigrants play a big role, he says.

Proponents of doing more to curb illegal immigration say the mass departures helped the state economically in several ways. Government spending on health care and education for illegal immigrants and their U.S.-born children dropped. Wages for plasterers, landscapers, farmworkers and other low-skilled laborers jumped because of scarcity, according to employers and federal data.

“Even if the size of the state’s GDP decreased, the decrease in immigration redistributed income from employers to employees, particularly at the bottom end of the labor market,” says Steven Camarota, research director of the Center for Immigration Studies, in Washington, which favors reduced illegal immigration. “That’s a good deal.”

 Big drop

Between 2007 and 2012, Arizona’s population of undocumented workers dropped by 40%—by far the biggest percentage decline of any state—according to the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan think tank whose numbers are cited by pro and anti-immigration groups. California, the biggest border state, lost just 12.5% of its illegal immigrants during that time period. Since 2012, Arizona’s illegal-immigrant population hasn’t grown much, if at all, according to state economists and employers and preliminary data from Pew. Since 2007, about 200,000 undocumented immigrants have left the state, which has a population of 6.7 million.

The cost of illegal immigration has been a big political issue in Arizona for years. But pinning down exactly how much it costs the state, and how much is collected from illegal immigrants through taxation, is surprisingly hard to do. The state doesn’t count it. Estimates vary widely, depending in part on debatable issues such as whether to include the cost of educating U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants.

In 2004, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a Washington-based group that seeks to reduce immigration, calculated that undocumented workers cost Arizona taxpayers more than $1 billion a year for education, medical care and incarceration, after subtracting the estimated taxes they pay.

Four years later, Judith Gans, then manager of the immigration-policy program at the University of Arizona’s Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy, examined the issue for all immigrants, not just illegal ones. She concluded that immigrants accounted for nearly $1 billion more in annual tax revenue than they cost the state.

Moody’s Analytics looked at Arizona’s economic output for The Wall Street Journal, with an eye toward distinguishing between the effects of the mass departures of illegal immigrants and the recession that hit the state hard beginning in 2008. It concluded that the departures alone had reduced Arizona’s gross domestic product by an average of 2% a year between 2008 and 2015. Because of the departures, total employment in the state was 2.5% lower, on average, than it otherwise would have been between 2008 and 2015, according to Moody’s.

The recession, of course, also hurt the state’s economy. Mr. Hanson, the immigration economist, said the economic downturn led many migrants to leave.

Economic activity produced by immigrants—what economists call the “immigration surplus”—shrank because there were fewer immigrants around to buy clothing and groceries, to work and to start businesses.

These days, construction, landscaping and agriculture industries, long dependent on migrants, complain of worker shortages. While competition for some jobs eased, there were fewer job openings overall for U.S.-born workers or legal immigrants.

According to the Moody’s analysis, low-skilled U.S. natives and legal Hispanic immigrants since 2008 picked up less than 10% of the jobs once held by undocumented immigrants. In a separate analysis, economists Sarah Bohn and Magnus Lofstrom of the Public Policy Institute of California and Steven Raphael of the University of California at Berkeley conclude that employment declined for low-skilled white native workers in Arizona during 2008 and 2009, the height of the out-migration. One bright spot: the median income of low-skilled whites who did manage to get jobs rose about 6% during that period, the economists estimate.

Arizona’s population of illegal immigrants grew nearly fivefold between 1990 and 2005, to about 450,000, according to Pew Research. Starting around 2004, the state approved a series of measures, either by ballot initiatives or legislation, aimed at discouraging illegal immigration. Undocumented immigrants in Arizona, about 85% of whom came from Mexico, are barred from receiving government benefits, including nonemergency hospital care. They can’t receive punitive damages in civil lawsuits. Many can’t get drivers’ licenses and aren’t eligible for in-state tuition rates. Arizona developed a national reputation for tough enforcement of the rules.

Some current Republican presidential contenders also take a tough line on immigration. GOP front-runner Donald Trump backs a “deportation force” to send home those here illegally, and he wants to build a wall on the Mexican border to keep out others. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz also wants a wall and would end Obama administration measures that have halted deportations of many undocumented workers.

On the Democratic side, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders would allow illegal immigrants already here to become citizens, and would continue the Obama administration policies.

Arizona’s immigration flow started to reverse in 2008 after the state became the first to require all employers to use the federal government’s E-Verify system, which searches Social Security records to check whether hires are authorized to work in the U.S. That law coincided with the collapse of the construction industry and the recession. The combination persuaded many illegal immigrants to leave for neighboring states or Mexico.

In 2010, as the state economy began to recover, the Legislature stepped up pressure. Under a new law, SB 1070, police could use traffic stops to check immigration status. Another section of the law, later struck down by the Supreme Court, made it illegal for day laborers to stand on city streets and sign up for work on construction crews.

“It was like, ‘Where did everybody go?’ ” says Teresa Acuna, a Phoenix real-estate agent who works in Latino neighborhoods. Real-estate agent Patti Gorski says her sales records show that prices of homes owned by Spanish-speaking customers fell by 63% between 2007 and 2010, compared with a 44% drop for English-speaking customers, a difference she attributes partly to financial pressure on owners who had been renting homes to immigrants who departed.

SB 1070 prompted some unions and other organizations to boycott the state, in some cases canceling conventions. In Latino neighborhoods, sales declined at grocery stores and other businesses catering to migrants. At the Maryvale Market, in an immigrant community of ranch homes, Ashok Patel says his business is down by half since 2008.

On the other side of the economic ledger, government spending on immigrants fell. State and local officials don’t track total spending on undocumented migrants or how many of their children attend public schools. But the number of students enrolled in intensive English courses in Arizona public schools fell from 150,000 in 2008 to 70,000 in 2012 and has remained constant since. Schooling 80,000 fewer students would save the state roughly $350 million a year, by one measure.

During that same period, annual emergency-room spending on noncitizens fell 37% to $106 million, from $167 million. And between 2010 and 2014, the annual cost to state prisons of incarcerating noncitizens convicted of felonies fell 11% to $180 million, from $202 million.

“The economic factor is huge in terms of what it saves Arizona taxpayers,” primarily on reduced education costs, says Russell Pearce, who as a state senator sponsored SB 1070.

Worker shortage

As the Arizona economy recovered, a worker shortage began surfacing in industries relying on immigrants, documented or not. Wages rose about 15% for Arizona farmworkers and about 10% for construction between 2010 and 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Some employers say their need for workers has increased since then, leading them to boost wages more rapidly and crimping their ability to expand.

Before the immigration crackdown, Precise Drywall Inc., of Phoenix, would deploy 50 people for jobs building luxury homes. “I could pull out phone books where I had 300 or 400 guys’ numbers” to fill out crews, recalls company President Jeremy Barbosa. No longer. Many immigrants left and haven’t returned, while other workers moved on to other industries.

“Now you have to put out feelers, buy ads, go on Craigslist, tap job agencies just to get a few men,” says Mr. Barbosa. “Growth is based on the ability to hire.”

At a Home Depot store in Maryvale recently, a dozen men from Mexico and Central America milled around the parking lot looking for work. Juan Castillo, a gregarious Mexican who said he had regularly crossed the border illegally over the past 10 years, said he and his colleagues can do landscaping, concrete work, drywall or whatever else is needed.

Before E-Verify, 30 to 40 men would show up at 4:30 a.m. and would usually find jobs by 10 a.m. Since then, the job seekers rarely thin out during the day despite the worker shortage because employers are shying away from hiring undocumented workers.

“E-Verify is a problem for us,” Mr. Castillo said. “We can work for a week. It takes that long for the paperwork. Then we’re out.”

Another would-be worker, Manuel Bernal, noted that because the Mexican economy has improved, laborers with families in that country are more inclined to stay there. Pew Research says that, nationally, more Mexicans now are heading home than coming into the U.S. The Center for Migration Studies estimated the number of undocumented immigrants fell to 10.9 million in 2014, from 12 million in 2008.
 
The labor shortage has caused some wages to rise. Carlos Avelar, a placement officer at Phoenix Job Corps, a federal job-training center, says graduates now often mull two or three jobs offers from construction firms and occasionally start at $14.65 an hour instead of $10.

At DTR Landscape Development LLC, the firm’s president, Dick Roberts, says he has increased his starting wage by 60% to $14.50 an hour because he is having trouble finding reliable workers.

One immigrant-heavy industry, construction, has added about 15,000 jobs in Arizona since 2011 and now has total employment of 127,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, half the number of 2006. Employment in farming, which also depends on immigrants, has rarely exceeded 9,500 since 2008, according to the bureau, whose numbers mainly cover workers on large farms.

Mr. Knorr, the pepper grower, says he planted just 120 acres last year, down from as many as 550 in years past, because he couldn’t find enough harvest workers.

Some peppers he was unable to harvest by Thanksgiving turned red on the vine—“chocolate,” in farmer parlance. That made them useless to salsa makers, who want only green peppers. He plowed the plants under.

He says mechanization is his future. He continues to pour time and money into a laser-guided device to remove stems from peppers, which pickers now do by hand in the field. Another farmer in the area developed a mechanical carrot harvester.

Mr. Knorr says he is willing to pay $20 an hour to operators of harvesters and other machines, compared with about $13 an hour for field hands. He says he can hire skilled machinists at community colleges, so he can rely less on migrant labor.

“I can find skilled labor in the U.S.,” he says. “I don’t have to go to bed and worry about whether harvesting crews will show up.”

Write to Bob Davis at bob.davis@wsj.com

 

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Hillary Clinton’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad answer on whether she’s ever lied

Chris Cilllizza writes in The Washington Post:

CBS's Scott Pelley interviewed Hillary Clinton on Thursday night. One exchange tells you everything you need to know about Clinton's struggles in the Democratic primary race so far and why she continues to be dogged by questions about her honesty and trustworthiness. Here it is:


PELLEY: You know, in ’76, Jimmy Carter famously said, “I will not lie to you.”

CLINTON: Well, I have to tell you I have tried in every way I know how literally from my years as a young lawyer all the way through my time as secretary of state to level with the American people.

PELLEY: You talk about leveling with the American people. Have you always told the truth?

CLINTON: I’ve always tried to. Always. Always.

PELLEY: Some people are gonna call that wiggle room that you just gave yourself.

CLINTON: Well, no, I’ve always tried —

PELLEY: I mean, Jimmy Carter said, “I will never lie to you.”

CLINTON: Well, but, you know, you’re asking me to say, “Have I ever?” I don’t believe I ever have. I don’t believe I ever have. I don’t believe I ever will. I’m gonna do the best I can to level with the American people.


I mean, what? W-H-A-T? "I've always tried to" tell the truth? On what planet is this a good answer for a politician?

The answer, of course, is on no planet. While I am less familiar with politics on Mars than I am with those on Earth, I am pretty sure that being unable to simply say, "Yes, I have always been truthful with the public," would be a problem on the Red Planet, too.

This a double whammy of bad for Clinton.

First, it does nothing at all to quell concerns about her ability to be honest and straightforward. In the New Hampshire exit poll, more than one in three (34 percent) of all Democratic primary voters said that honesty was the most important trait in their decision on which candidate to support. Of that bloc, Bernie Sanders won 92 percent of their votes as compared to just 6 percent for Clinton.

That's broadly in keeping with national polling over the last year, which has consistently shown large majorities of voters voicing skepticism about Clinton's trustworthiness. Her answer to that criticism has, to date, been to blame it on a Republican Party obsessed with her and willing to say or do anything to tarnish her reputation. There's truth in that, but, as the New Hampshire exit numbers suggest, the problem is bigger than just Republicans out to get her.

Second, the answer from Clinton on honesty reinforces a perception that the former secretary of state tries to play with words, giving a heavily couched response when a simple one would — and should — do. You can imagine people rolling their eyes or saying, "Why doesn't she just answer the question?" while watching that painful response by Clinton.

I think I understand why she answered the way she did. She knows she has been in public life for a long time and that she has said lots and lots of things. Because of that, it's possible that at some point in the future, someone will unearth a statement in which it could be construed that she wasn't telling the whole truth. Clinton is protecting against the damage incurred by such a revelation.

But when you have the problems regarding honesty and trustworthiness that Clinton does, the only right answer to Pelley's question is: "Yes, I have always been truthful. Of course." That Clinton didn't give that simple answer suggests she is either (a) unaware of or doubts the depth of voters' concerns with her ability to be honest, or (b) she is so naturally cautious as to get herself in trouble even on a question she has to know is coming.

Either way, Clinton just made things harder for herself with that answer to Pelley.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Will the Supreme Court strike back at Obama’s overreach?

George Will writes in The Washington Post:

During Watergate, Henry Kissinger’s mordant wit leavened the unpleasantness: “The illegal we do immediately; the unconstitutional takes a little longer.” President Obama often does both simultaneously, using executive authoritarianism to evade the Constitution’s separation of powers and rewrite existing laws.

Last week, however, the Supreme Court took a perhaps-momentous step toward correcting some of the constitutional vandalism that will be Obama’s most significant legacy. The court agreed to rule on Obama’s unilateral revision of immigration law.

Seeking reelection in 2012, Obama stretched the idea of “prosecutorial discretion” — supposedly “on an individual basis” — to cover a delay in efforts to deport more than 1 million persons who were brought to the United States illegally as children. But he said that with this he had reached the limit of his powers: “If we start broadening [this executive action], then essentially I would be ignoring the law in a way that I think would be very difficult to defend legally.”

In 2014, however, he expanded the sweep and protections of that program. His executive fiat would have shielded perhaps 4.5 million illegal immigrant adults with children who are U.S. citizens or lawful residents. His expansion made them eligible to work and receive Social Security retirement and disability benefits, Medicare, the earned-income tax credit, unemployment insurance, driver’s licenses, etc.

Led by Texas, a majority of states (26) asserted standing to sue because of the costs of complying with the new policy. When they won an injunction, the Obama administration appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit. The administration lost there, too, and then asked the Supreme Court to rule on the legality of Obama’s action. The court should not, and probably will not, rule for the president.
 
The court has asked to be briefed on a matter the administration must be reluctant to address; the Justice Department requested that the court not insert a “constitutional question” into the case. The question the court will consider is: Did Obama’s action violate the “ take care clause ”?

Obama has sworn to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution,” which says the president shall “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” Josh Blackman of the South Texas College of Law in Houston and adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute in Washington says that only three times has the court relied on the take care clause to limit executive actions, and the justices have never asked for a briefing on this clause.

In their brief, the states argue that “Congress has created a detailed, complex statutory scheme for determining” who qualifies for “lawful presence” in this country. No statute empowers the executive to grant this status to any illegal immigrant it chooses not to deport, let alone to confer “lawful presence” status on a class of many millions.

The states say presidents cannot “change an alien’s statutory immigration classification.” So, Obama is not merely exercising discretion in enforcing the Immigration and Nationality Act. He is altering this act so that previously prohibited conduct no longer violates the act.

Executive overreach has been increasing for decades. For example, although the Troubled Asset Relief Program was for financial institutions, the George W. Bush administration diverted more than $17 billion for auto companies. Obama’s usual justification for his unusually numerous acts of unilateral legislating is that Congress refuses to act on this or that subject. But regarding who qualifies for legal status and for the right to work, Congress has acted with notable specificity. Obama simply wants to grant to millions of people various benefits in violation of Congress’s will as written into law.

For seven years, Obama has treated the take care clause as a mild suggestion. He considers it insignificant compared with his virtuous determination to “work around” Congress to impose his policies regarding immigration, health care, education, contraception, welfare, gun control, environmentalism, gay rights, unauthorized wars and other matters.

Both leading Democratic presidential candidates praise Obama’s radical understanding of the Constitution’s Article II presidential powers. The leading Republican candidate would replace the Constitution’s 7,591 words with the first-person singular pronoun: He promises many unilateral presidential wonders, including a global trade war and a holier national vocabulary: “If I’m president, you’re going to see ‘Merry Christmas’ in department stores.”

But no Obama executive action has yet repealed Article III’s judicial powers. So, come June we will learn whether the judicial branch will do its duty by policing the borders of the separation of powers.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Obama Is a Man of Political Paradox

Gerald Seib writes in The Wall Street Journal:


When President Barack Obama makes his final State of the Union address Tuesday, one of the guests seated in the box of first lady Michelle Obama will be Edith Childs. Mrs. Childs enjoyed a brief period of fame when, at an early Obama campaign stop in South Carolina in 2007, she energized the small crowd by starting the chant, “Fired up! Ready to go!”


That became something of a rallying cry for Mr. Obama’s presidential campaign and aptly captured the excitement that accompanied his historic victory run.


Over time, the excitement gave way to the more sober realities of governing amid deep partisan divisions. His election will always be a historic one, but what is most striking as Mr. Obama makes his final visit to the well of the House of Representatives are the many paradoxes that have come to mark his presidency.


He has never become either wildly popular or broadly unpopular with the country. His job-approval rating in the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll in December stood at a mediocre 43%. Over the seven years he has been in office, it has never gone above 61%—a level reached only in his early months in office—and never below 40%. It has generally hovered just below 50%.


He has never reached either the periods of high popularity enjoyed by Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton or the levels of unpopularity endured by his predecessor, George W. Bush, whose job-approval rating stood at 34% at this point in his presidency.


The power of his Democratic Party has declined significantly during his time in office. It has lost 13 seats in the U.S. Senate and 69 in the House, as well as 11 governorships, 910 state legislative seats and the majorities in 30 state legislative chambers.


Yet he remains the Democrats’ strongest figure. He generates higher positive feelings among Americans than either of his would-be Democratic successors, Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders, and higher than any of his potential Republican successors. His support among African-Americans remains rock solid. His support among young people and Hispanics is diminished, but still strong. The electoral coalition that can win the White House for Democrats remains identified with him.


Some of the key positions he espouses—action on guns and climate change, keeping troops out of the Middle East, preserving the main elements of his health-care overhaul—are more popular among Americans than is his advocacy for them. Indeed, public polling suggests that attaching his name to a policy position means that some Americans, who otherwise might voice support for it, will oppose it.
How can these paradoxes be explained?


It may be that Mr. Obama was simply destined to serve in a time of unprecedented ideological division in the nation and a near-even split of partisan power in Washington, a situation that limits everybody’s latitude. Perhaps the divides have been too deep for anybody to overcome. Or perhaps he has so far failed to find the voice or the political operating style that would allow him to continue that sense of unity that greeted his election and inauguration.


Perhaps his big twin early achievements—a big economic stimulus package and the Affordable Care Act—were always bound to be polarizing. Or perhaps his inability in those early days to win any bipartisan support for them set a polarizing precedent that has stuck.


Perhaps recovery from the twin traumas he inherited—a costly war in Iraq and a financial crisis that produced broad aftereffects—left the country both angry and cynical.


Mr. Obama serves at a time when virtually every institution, save for the military, is falling in Americans’ esteem.


There’s one other little-discussed but inescapable question: Has Mr. Obama always confronted a ceiling in how widely he would be loved or even accepted because he is the nation’s first African-American president?


In any case, this is where he stands at the beginning of his eighth year. Both Messrs. Reagan and Clinton used a final year to overcome earlier traumas, achieve some goals and rise in public esteem. Mr. Obama now has the same opportunity.


The political math suggests little chance of big domestic legislative achievements in an election year, with Congress controlled by the opposition party. But the Republicans now running Congress—House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell—have shown they are willing and able to get at least some things done with Democrats.


Most of the big goals that could be achieved—ratifying a Pacific trade deal, for example, and formally authorizing the fight against Islamic State—lie in the foreign-policy zone. Maybe that is where Mr. Obama can get fired up and ready to go for his stretch run.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Why former Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel’s coming out against the White House matters (Hagel also said he felt micro-managed — something that Gates, Panetta and other defense officials have all expressed.)

From The Washington Post:

When Chuck Hagel resigned as defense secretary last year, the narrative was clear: President Obama and he did not see eye-to-eye on how to prosecute the war against the Islamic State, so Hagel needed to go. White House officials, speaking anonymously, said at the time that the president had lost faith in Hagel’s ability to lead — a charge that Hagel’s advisers brushed aside.

Now, a little over a year later, Hagel is swinging back. In an interview with Foreign Policy magazine published Friday, he said he remains puzzled why White House officials tried to “destroy” him personally in his last days in office, adding that he was convinced the United States had no viable strategy in Syria and was particularly frustrated with National Security Adviser Susan Rice, who he said would hold meetings and focus on “nit-picky” details.

“I eventually got to the point where I told Susan Rice that I wasn’t going to spend more than two hours in these meetings,” Hagel told Foreign Policy. “Some of them would go four hours.”

Hagel said the administration struggled with how to handle Syria — hardly a surprise, given the way Obama said in August 2012 that it would be a “red line” for the United States if Syria moved or used its chemical weapons stockpiles, but did not intervene militarily the following year when Syria did so. Hagel said that hurt Obama’s credibility, even if declared stockpiles eventually were removed through an agreement reached with Damascus.

“Whether it was the right decision or not, history will determine that,” Hagel told Foreign Policy. “There’s no question in my mind that it hurt the credibility of the president’s word when this occurred.”

The White House declined to comment on the article. However, an administration official disagreed anonymously with many assertions in Hagel’s interview. Waiting before launching cruise missiles provided a window for the chemical weapons agreement reached, the official said.

Hagel is far from the first former Pentagon chief in Obama’s administration to later criticize the president and his staff. But he just might be the most unlikely. A former Republican senator from Nebraska, he saw eye-to-eye with Obama on many national security issues before he was nominated. Like Obama, he also was a strong critic of President George W. Bush’s war in Iraq — one of the first in the Republican Party.

The two men also still have a friendly relationship, Hagel told Foreign Policy. Nonetheless, he just took several large steps down the same road as Robert Gates and Leon Panetta, who preceded Hagel at the Pentagon and later laid out their grievances in memoirs written after they left office.

Gates, who served for both President George W. Bush and Obama, wrote in a book released early last year that he was “seething” and “running out of patience with on multiple fronts” with the administration. All too often, he wrote, “suspicion and distrust of senior military officers by senior White House officials — including the president and vice president — became a big problem for me as I tried to manage the relationship between the commander in chief and his military leaders.”

Panetta followed last fall with his own book, saying Obama had a “frustrating reticence to engage his opponents and rally support for his cause” and too frequently “relies on the logic of a law professor rather than the passion of a leader.” In an interview promoting the book, he added that the president had “kind of lost his way” and was partly to blame for the collapse of the Iraqi government last year because he didn’t press harder to keep American troops in the country in 2011, ahead of a complete military withdrawal.

Hagel, for his part, told Foreign Policy that he got “the hell beat out of him” figuratively at the White House for delaying in signing transfer orders to release detainees from the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, when he had concerns about the individuals involved. He also said he felt micro-managed — something that Gates, Panetta and other defense officials have all expressed.

“There is a danger in all of this,” Hagel told Foreign Policy, referring to White House micromanagement and the administration’s expanding national security staff. “This is about governance; this isn’t about political optics. It’s about making the country run and function, and trying to stay ahead of the dangers and the threats you see coming.”

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Nonprofits and Governors Clash Over Syrian Refugees - As states push back, settlement groups say they plan to continue helping new arrivals find homes, jobs and assistance aid

From The Wall Street Journal:

The debate over Syrian refugees in the U.S. is stoking an unusual struggle between nonprofit groups helping people from broken lands and governors in about two dozen states who object to their arrivals.

Once the Department of Homeland Security clears refugees after reviews by multiple agencies, the heavy lifting falls to nine resettlement agencies, all nonprofits, and their hundreds of local offices and affiliates. The agencies, many with religious affiliations, perform a range of tasks, from meeting Syrian refugees at airports to helping them find jobs and apartments. They also aid families in navigating states’ public-assistance systems and enrolling children in schools.

But lately, these groups have found themselves at odds with many governors, almost all Republicans, who are voicing concerns about Syrian refugees or actively trying to halt their settlement, citing possible security risks in the wake of the Nov. 13 terror attacks in Paris. Perpetrators included Europeans radicalized after travel to Syria, and French officials said one attacker posed as a Syrian refugee in order to enter Europe.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, shortly after the attack, announced an executive order barring state agencies from any involvement in accepting Syrian refugees.

“Until the federal government and Congress conducts a thorough review of current screening procedures and background checks, we will take every measure available to us at the state level to ensure the safety of Georgians,” he said at the time.

That didn’t stop World Relief, an agency based in Baltimore, from placing a Syrian family in Atlanta. Joshua Sieweke, who heads World Relief’s Atlanta office, said Thursday the Syrian family is still waiting to hear if the state will grant basic benefits like food stamps and Medicaid. Mr. Deal is waiting for an opinion from the state attorney general, his spokeswoman said.
 
The Obama administration plans to bring in at least 10,000 Syrian refugees in the current fiscal year, part of an overall rise to 85,000 refugees from around the world, up from 70,000 the prior fiscal year. Proponents have said refugee screening, which can take years, is the most intensive vetting process for any travelers to the U.S.

Those reviews may include several hours of interviews with the U.N. refugee aid agency, which also collects personal documents and could take months to complete its security review. The U.N. agency also scans applicants’ irises. From there, the U.S. reviews include interviews and screening by multiple intelligence and security agencies. Syrians go through an added security layer with classified details, according to the State Department.

The State Department pays the resettlement agencies $2,025 per refugee to cover the cost of helping them for their initial 30 to 90 days in the U.S. After that, the Department of Health and Human Services offers support, though the amount differs from state to state.

A State Department representative said the agency gives state refugee coordinators detailed reports each month on recent and coming arrivals. Each quarter, the State Department provides lists of refugees who could be sent to given states because of family or personal contacts there. But personal details regarding individual refugees are considered confidential.

Although nonprofits have helped refugees for decades, the 1980 Refugee Act solidified the resettlement process, said Courtland Robinson, deputy director at the Center for Refugee and Disaster Response at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Back then, the U.S. had an influx of refugees from Communist regimes in Southeast Asia.

Officials with resettlement groups said they were surprised by the states’ positions because they are accustomed to bipartisan support for their work. “We’ve never seen anything like this before,” said Mark Hetfield, the chief executive at HIAS Inc. Previously known as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, the New York-based resettlement agency traces its roots to 134 years ago, when it helped Jews escape pogroms in Russia and what is now Eastern Europe. Today, it helps refugees from around the world, including Syria.

Catholic Charities in Indianapolis challenged Indiana by settling a Syrian refugee family there this month. The family, with two small children, had lived in a refugee camp in Jordan, according to Greg Otolski, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

A spokesman for Gov. Mike Pence said in a recent statement that Indiana would “continue to suspend its participation in the resettlement of Syrian refugees until the federal government takes action to address the concerns raised about this program.”

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission sought a temporary restraining order in federal court to block refugees. But a judge denied the latest request, ruling that concerns about terrorist infiltration are too speculative.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is supporting federal legislation introduced by Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) that would give governors the ability to reject refugeconcerns.es over security concerns.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

John Kasich vs. ‘Obscurity’ - The popular Ohio governor on his mix of social gospel and conservative economics and why he’ll eventually break out of the GOP presidential scrum.

From The Wall Street Journal:

Ohio hasn’t voted for a presidential loser since 1960 and it may decide the 2016 election, at least if the winner is a Republican: The GOP probably can’t make the Electoral College arithmetic work otherwise, and no Republican ever has won without carrying the swing state. The sitting two-term governor of Ohio also happens to be running for the White House—but he says, “You know what my rival is? Obscurity. Nobody knows me.” This is strange.

John Kasich is also the rare candidate-governor who remains popular among voters at home; Quinnipiac puts his job approval at 62%, his highest ever. He has a strong governing record, national experience and bipartisan appeal. On paper, he’s formidable. And yet Mr. Kasich is polling nationally in eighth place, at 2%, according to the Real Clear Politics average, and he’s fifth in New Hampshire at 7%, having slipped from 13% this summer. So why hasn’t he broken out of the Republican scrum?

That’s the one question that defines this anti-orthodox primary season—and not merely for Mr. Kasich. “I do think that the electorate, no question, is extremely frustrated, and they don’t want the same old, same old,” says the governor, who dropped by the Journal this week. “But if you get on an airplane, do you want somebody that’s never flown a plane before?”

So what to make of the Donald J. Trump phenomenon? “I don’t think it has any depth to it,” Mr. Kasich says. “It’s sort of like if your football team hasn’t won a game, they’re 0 and 6 or they’re 1 and 7, and you go to the game, and you’re sitting there with your buddy, and you say, ‘I think they ought to just pick that guy out of the stands. Our quarterback is a bum.’ ” He could be talking about the Cleveland Browns.

“I think, I believe, maybe I’m wrong, that experience and a record are going to matter at the end,” he continues. “Maybe it won’t. Maybe we’ll change 100 years of American politics. I don’t know.”
By the way, Mr. Kasich adds, “I am just talking to you realistically about how you win. You come into Ohio yelling and screaming, you can’t win. You will not win Ohio. I mean, I know Ohio. I won 86 out of 88 counties. I had 26% of the African-American vote, 51% of union households—and I started off in a war with the unions, right?”

***


Mr. Kasich served in the House for 18 years, six as chairman of the Budget Committee, where he was the architect of the 1997 balanced-budget agreement between Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich. “We would not have balanced the budget without his leadership,” the former speaker writes in an email. Mr. Gingrich adds that he regards Mr. Kasich as one of the four “Republican visionaries” of the 20th century, in the company of Ronald Reagan, Jack Kemp and Mr. Gingrich.

Since he re-emerged as governor in 2010, Mr. Kasich is one of the livelier characters of American politics, and one of the few who retains the capacity to surprise. His far-ranging, free associative and sometimes undisciplined talk often doesn’t stop until he’s interrupted.

When Mr. Kasich announced his presidential candidacy in July, he began by joking about the delivery of his twin daughters: He said the obstetrician told him: “Can you shut up? I’m a little busy right now.”

He then riffed—this is a partial list—on “this whole business of the American dream,” Iwo Jima, his father “John the Mailman,” a boat trip to England from Belgium, Islamic State, coal mining, “the Civil War—you remember reading about it?,” recreational narcotics (opposed), John Sununu, Ohio Stadium, a balanced-budget amendment and “the power of very big ideas”—as well as “two wonderful African-American fellows” he met at a Wendy’s, something called the Common Sense Initiative and, finally, “the Lord,” who “will record what you’ve done for another in the book of life.”

This manic energy is physical as well as intellectual. Mr. Kasich’s personal-space perimeter requires four or five extra feet than normal to accommodate the gestures, the sweeps, the waves, the pirouettes. He’s a human windmill.

Mr. Kasich is trying to merge traditional conservative economics with his social gospel. “I’m the hardest person to beat,” he says, “because I’m the hardest person to label.” He frequently speaks of the homeless, the mentally ill and the sick, of drug addicts and ex-cons, of “people living in the shadows.” He challenges Republicans to show sympathy for Americans who aren’t like them, especially the poor and minorities. “If you look at the record,” he says, “the record is loud and clear about who I am, and what I believe, and what my values are, and the conservative nature of how I’ve solved problems.”

As Mr. Kasich tells it, “because I care about these programs”—to combat substance abuse, for instance—“it just sends a message, and it’s inadvertent. I didn’t do this to do this, because I’ve taken a lot of grief on all this stuff. It’s giving people a sense that maybe this guy cares a little bit about me, maybe he understands some of my problems.”

Mr. Kasich first visited the Journal as governor in July 2011, six months after being inaugurated along with a crop of reform-minded executives across the Midwest. He complained that he wasn’t getting Scott Walker-style media credit for his budget, which curbed collective-bargaining and the power of state and local public-employee unions—a program he said was much stronger than Wisconsin’s. Even for Mr. Kasich, the hyperbole was operatic.

He had sensed, wrongly, that union trustbusting was as much in demand among the buckeyes as the badgers. Mr. Kasich’s approval rating dipped as low as 35%, and that fall a ballot question repealing the union reforms passed 62% to 38%.

Mr. Kasich dismissed this rout as a nonevent when he returned to the Journal in May 2012. He spent his first 20 minutes chronicling, in minute detail, his “exotic animal reform”: A suicide in Zanesville had recently let loose dozens of lions, Bengal tigers and bears, plus a baboon, from a private zoo. Mr. Kasich was trying to pass the state’s first pet species ownership restriction law. The distance from pushing major labor reforms to pacifying the Ohio veld seemed to indicate the evanescence of his ambitions.

Then again, Mr. Kasich went on to be re-elected by a two-to-one margin. The Democrats couldn’t field a credible candidate, but as he sees it, voters rewarded him for results.

In his first term, despite the labor defeat, he closed an $8 billion budget deficit, repealed the estate tax, cut income-tax rates, tightened welfare requirements and deregulated. He closed the Ohio corporate-welfare bureaucracy and replaced it with a public-private corporation that is “the best economic development entity, I believe, in the country.” The Ohio economy, a basket case under his predecessors, is creating more jobs than the average for Great Lakes states and has diversified into shale energy, aerospace, advanced manufacturing, biotech and logistics.

He says the credit raters once told him, “There’s no way you can fix Ohio. It’s dead.” The governor’s response? “I said, ‘No, no, no, no, no! Think of us as a basketball player who’s 7 feet tall but doesn’t know how to dribble.’ ” As president, Mr. Kasich says he’d start conducting ball-handling drills. Invoking his 1990s and Ohio experiences, he explains that “if it’s worked twice, it ought to work thrice, and I think the plan is very reasonable.”

Mr. Kasich is proposing what he calls a “shock and awe” economic package: tax reform to lower the top individual income rate to 28%, the corporate rate to 25% and capital gains to 15%; reform of entitlements and the bureaucracy to cut the growth of spending and balance the budget in eight years; deregulation; and control of the border. “The No. 1 thing,” he says, “is economic growth.”

In an era of polarization, Mr. Kasich says he’d revive a prelapsarian state of comity. “My program wouldn’t be just partisan. I know I could get some Democrats to vote for this kind of stuff,” he says. “I don’t think we’ve had a president in a very, very long time, since Clinton, that actually knew how to deal with a legislature.” The governor then tells a story about dealing with Democrats in Ohio, detours into human trafficking, highway funds and the gas tax. Then, back on subject: “This president doesn’t know how to do it and I’m not sure Bush did it. He really had a great personality, but I am not convinced he really knew how. There’s a certain technique: it’s calling their mom; it’s calling their kids; it’s bringing them into your office; it’s letting them ride in the car.”

“I’ll tell you one thing,” he adds. “There ain’t anybody else running that knows how to do this.”

***


Perhaps Mr. Kasich’s candidacy is under-kindled because he is identified with the “Republican Establishment,” or what’s left of it, in an outsider’s year. “When anybody ever says, ‘Well, you seem more moderate,’ ” the governor observes, “I go, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa! Wait a minute here, let’s talk about—do you think cutting taxes is conservative? Do you think balancing budgets is conservative? Do you think school choice is conservative? Do you think welfare reform is conservative? You just kind of don’t like my tone, don’t you?’ ”

Mr. Kasich’s tone won’t satisfy modern hyperpartisans who favor politics red in tooth and claw. But what’s notable is how sui generis—and occasionally, how liberal—his conservatism is. Mr. Kasich isn’t the kind of Republican who wants to retreat on social issues like abortion, climate change or child tax credits. Instead, he has philosophically inconsistent positions, all equally strongly held.

Speaking of tone, Mr. Kasich can be self-righteous. He dismisses arguments he finds uncongenial with phrases like “Are you kidding me?” and “Come on,” and he’s quick to impugn the motives of critics. He also tends to weaponize his Christian convictions, as if those critics are blaspheming.

These two weaknesses, if that’s what they are—his policy schisms and instinct for moral censure—combined in his 2013 decision to have Ohio join the new Medicaid expansion of the Affordable Care Act. Other Republican governors did too, but Mr. Kasich bypassed opposition in the state legislature by using an arcane outside board, and he then toured the country insulting anyone who dissented.

The sentimental narrative that the apostle John Kasich rolls out is that when you get to the pearly gates, St. Peter isn’t going to ask what you did to keep the government small. But he will ask what you did for the poor. The governor instructs his critics to consult Matthew 25, where Jesus tells his followers to help “the least of these brothers.” As recently as January, in an address before Montana legislators who opposed Medicaid expansion, he insinuated that they were responsible for killing “a guy who froze to death.”

Mr. Kasich opened Medicaid to able-bodied working-age adults with no dependent children. We wondered, given that resources are scarce, why not instead use taxpayer dollars to help the more than 40,000 Ohioans with developmental disabilities on Medicaid waiting lists—22,000 with immediate needs? The average wait time for these extra “waiver” services is about six years.

“As a result of having expanded it, I now have the resources to treat mental health and drug addiction,” Mr. Kasich replies, before noting that “we now have a program where if you’re developmentally disabled, we can try to get you as mainstreamed as possible. So I’m not so sure that your numbers are right but I’d be glad to check.”

When we follow up, Mr. Kasich says his expansion is “providing resources dramatically for everybody, for the mentally ill, for the drug addicted, for the working poor and probably for the developmentally disabled. And like I say, our biggest increase in our budget this year was for the developmentally disabled.”

Afterward a spokesman sends an email suggesting that the Ohio waiting lists aren’t “the best measure,” because parents pre-emptively add their children to get a jump on wait times. “Part of the reason the list is what it is,” he adds, “is because the previous governors did such a poor job.”

To his credit, Mr. Kasich has worked to make Medicaid less dysfunctional. The point is that rather than make holier-than-thou lectures, Mr. Kasich might find more traction among Republicans if he assumed that most Americans are arguing in good faith, even those who disagree with him—or Him.

Mr. Kasich’s chance is due north. “If I get destroyed in New Hampshire, then that’s the end of the game. But I don’t think that’s going to happen, ’cause I have too good of ground game up there. That’s how you win elections, with the ground game. I’ve got the best ground game in the state,” he says. “So the question is do they identify our voters and deliver them. That’s how you win elections.”

The author Mr. Rago is a member of the Journal’s editorial board.

Amen!: Can Washington Unite on Fighting Islamic State? - Can Washington Unite on Fighting Islamic State?

Gerald Seib writes in The Wall Street Journal:

President Barack Obama clearly intended his Sunday night address from the Oval Office to pull the nation together behind his strategy for fighting Islamic State. But in the narrower political world around him, it actually seems to have had the opposite effect: It appears to have widened, or at least cast in sharper relief, deep divides over the nation’s strategy for dealing with the group and the terror threat it has spawned.

Even accounting for the fact that we are in a political season, that is a striking disconnect on a subject on which the country has in the past been able to come together. The San Bernardino terror attacks—and terrorism is what they were, all now agree—weren’t nearly of the magnitude of the 9/11 attacks, but it may be time for national leaders to come together to forge the kind of unified response seen then.

It’s hard to imagine a less unified national front that than the one that emerged Monday, when, a day after Mr. Obama urged Americans not to turn against Muslims in the wake of recent terror attacks, leading Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump proposed a flat ban on all Muslims entering America.

That radical proposal seemed only to underscore Mr. Obama’s warning against irrational hatred, and was immediately denounced by many other Republicans. But more substantively, there remains a real philosophical divide between the president and his critics on the parallel question of how to fight ISIS directly. Mr. Obama is prescribing more of a slow-but-steady approach to dealing with ISIS. His critics are advocating more of a fast-and-furious attempt to knock out ISIS and, by extension, its terror threat.

Mr. Obama thinks the rush-to-action approach carries more risk than reward. In particular, he worries about the danger of America being sucked into another large and open-ended ground commitment in the Middle East. And that, he fears, would create anew the appearance of the West imposing its will on the region, feeding the ISIS narrative of infidels versus Islam and generating new recruits among angry young Muslims.

The president’s critics consider him complacent amid a real and growing danger. They think he’s unwilling either to admit that his reluctance to engage in the Syrian civil war created the chaos in which ISIS has flourished, or to make the kind of military commitment that could correct that error and extinguish the self-proclaimed Islamic State caliphate. The president spoke Sunday night about a plan to “destroy” ISIS, but his previous talk about containing the group led critics to doubt his resolve.

Any quest to bridge these divides is complicated by the fact that the ISIS fight now has become entangled with even more divisive topics: immigration, refugee policy and gun control.

On this front, the president didn’t do himself any favors with his initial response to those wanting to stop the plan to absorb a few thousand of the hundreds of thousands of Syrians fleeing the horror of the multisided civil war in their country. He appeared to belittle more than acknowledge the terror concerns of those who called for a halt to the refugee acceptance process.

Mr. Obama had a good argument for moving ahead with the plan: that resettling refugees already requires a vigorous screening process that can last up to two years. But that point was largely lost in the president’s portrayal of opposition to resettlement as a reversal of American values of openness and compassion.

Similarly, Mr. Obama’s Sunday-night attempt to argue the merits of new gun control at the same time he was explaining his strategy for dealing with ISIS won’t do much to help the effort to build consensus on other elements of the fight against ISIS.

Meantime, Republicans running to take Mr. Obama’s job are showing more interest in highlighting divisions than bridging them. Responses to Mr. Obama’s address were almost vitriolic—and masked the fact that the GOP candidates themselves are deeply divided on an approach to the ISIS threat. Some—Sen. Marco Rubio, Gov. Chris Christie and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in particular—want a more aggressive military response to ending the civil war in Syria, which has created the vacuum into which ISIS has stepped, while Sen. Ted Cruz argued just last week that the U.S. has “no dog” in that fight.

Some Republican presidential candidates want to arm Syrian rebels and restore National Security Agency powers to conduct anti-terror surveillance at home; Mr. Cruz and his colleague, Sen. Rand Paul, have opposed those steps.

Yet there is more unity within and across party divides than this political rhetoric suggests. Mr. Obama actually has significantly stepped up the pace of military action in Syria in recent weeks, particularly in aerial attacks on its oil-smuggling financial lifeline. And all sides agree that inserting a giant American ground force isn’t the way to win the ISIS fight.

It may be time for a bipartisan summit meeting to build those areas of agreement into a unified, bipartisan approach like the kind forged—for a time—after the 9/11 attacks. As Mr. Obama said Sunday night, “we have always met challenges…by coming together around our common ideals as one nation, as one people.” Right now, that seems a long ways off.