What has Trump Accomplished? (Part 2)

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There is a lot of media buzz about Trump’s executive orders. Have they had an impact? Zachary Karabell wrote an interesting article in Politico arguing that Trump has accomplished relevantly little in his short time in office.

President Trump Has Done Almost Nothing

Just weeks into Donald Trump’s presidency, you would think that everything had changed. The uproar over the president’s tweets grows louder by the day, as does concern over the erratic, haphazard and aggressive stance of the White House toward critics and those with different policy views. On Sunday, White House aide Stephen Miller bragged, “We have a president who has done more in three weeks than most presidents have done in an entire administration.”

But Miller was dead wrong about this. There is a wide gap, a chasm even, between what the administration has said and what it has done. There have been 45 executive orders or presidential memoranda signed, which may seem like a lot but lags President Barack Obama’s pace. More crucially, with the notable exception of the travel ban, almost none of these orders have mandated much action or clear change of current regulations. So far, Trump has behaved exactly like he has throughout his previous career: He has generated intense attention and sold himself as a man of action while doing little other than promote an image of himself as someone who gets things done.

It is the illusion of a presidency, not the real thing.

The key problem here is understanding Trump’s executive orders and presidential memoranda. Trump very quickly seized on the signing of these as media opportunities, and each new order and memo has been staged and announced as dramatic steps to alter the course of the country. Not accustomed to presidents whose words mean little when it comes to actual policy, opponents have seized on these as proof that Trump represents a malign force, while supporters have pointed to these as proof that Trump is actually fulfilling his campaign promises.

Neither is correct. The official documents have all the patina of “big deals” but when parsed and examined turn out to be far, far less than they appear. Take the order authorizing the construction of a border wall between the United States and Mexico. The relevant section of the January 25 order read: “It is the policy of the executive branch to … secure the southern border of the United States through the immediate construction of a physical wall on the southern border, monitored and supported by adequate personnel so as to prevent illegal immigration, drug and human trafficking, and acts of terrorism.” That sounds indeed like an order to fulfill a controversial campaign promise. The problem? Congress initially passed a Secure Fence Act in 2006 that required the construction of nearly 700 miles of fortified border. By 2011, under the Obama administration, most of that was completed, with a mix of pedestrian fencing and vehicle fortifications. Since then, there has only been minimal funding for further fortifications.

The result is that Trump issued an executive order mandating something that has in many respects already been done—with no congressional funding yet to redo the current fortified border with a larger, more expensive structure. The president does not have the budgetary discretion to build such a wall, and it remains to be seen whether Congress will authorize what promises to be a controversial and redundant project. This executive order, therefore, changes nothing, and only mandates something that has already been mandated, already been constructed and that the president lacks the spending authority to upgrade.

Then take things like the Keystone pipeline permits, the promise to deregulate and the most recently signed orders about crime. The January 24 order on infrastructure begins with a sentiment almost anyone could agree with: “Infrastructure investment strengthens our economic platform, makes America more competitive, creates millions of jobs, increases wages for American workers, and reduces the costs of goods and services for American families and consumers. Too often, infrastructure projects in the United States have been routinely and excessively delayed by agency processes and procedures.” It then declares that the policy of the Executive Branch is to expedite the permitting of such projects. That was followed by two memoranda on the Keystone and Dakota Access Pipelines that had been denied permits during Obama’s tenure, which urges the companies to re-submit their permit applications for review.

That might seem like an order to have the pipelines built. But Keystone remains almost entirely an idea, and oil shipments and infrastructure from Canada have long since been routed elsewhere given the years and years of delay in ever authorizing it. The Dakota Access Pipeline is largely complete, with a major dispute over its passage through tribal lands, and here too, it is unlikely that a presidential memorandum has any legal bearing on how that issue is resolved given that it lies within the purview of the Army Corps of Engineers and cannot simply be countermanded by the White House.

Or take the orders of deregulation. Those were widely hailed as a rollback of Dodd-Frank, especially given that the morning that the order was issued, February 3, Trump met with bank CEOs and expressed his dislike for many of the legislation’s provisions. The actual order, however, delivers much less than it promises, merely directing the secretary of the Treasury to review existing regulations and report back on which ones might be refined to achieve better outcomes.

Or the crime orders signed on February 9, which were widely hailed as cracking down on “transnational criminal organizations” and “preventing violence against … law enforcement officers.” Nothing in the text of these orders is either objectionable or in any respect a departure from current law and policy. One order states plainly that it shall be the policy of the administration to “enforce all Federal laws in order to enhance the protection and safety of Federal, State, tribal, and local law enforcement officers, and thereby all Americans.” The other says that the administration will seek to use existing laws to crack down on trafficking. You would have known none of that from the headlines both supporting and denouncing the efforts. Breitbart claimed “Trump Signs Three Executive Orders to Restore Safety in America” while many took these orders as a sign that police will have new, expanded powers and protections. In truth, the orders changed the status quo not one whit.

On it goes: The recent crackdown on undocumented immigrants that followed Trump’s January 25 order on enforcement priorities may depart from Barack Obama’s post-2102 policies to de-emphasize deportation of undocumented immigrants who do not have criminal records, but it appears fully consistent with deportation actions during both Obama’s first term and during significant portions of George W. Bush’s administration. The orders on health care, on defeating ISIS, on rebuilding the armed forces—all were essentially statements of intent with no legal force and requiring no action except a mandate to relevant departments and agencies to study issues and report back.

The travel ban, of course, is different. It was an actual policy order that dramatically changed immigration and visa policies for seven Muslim-majority countries. It was swiftly rejected by the courts, however, which meant that the signature policy of the Trump administration is now not a policy at all—at least, unless and until the White House finds a different approach.

Yes, what the president says matters. Trump’s casual relationship with the truth and his carefree use of tweets set the public agenda and help determine how foreign countries relate to our government. Intent also matters, and clearly, the Trump administration is determined to do a variety of things—from border security to health care to trade to immigration—that many, many Americans find objectionable, wrong and against the best interests of the country.

And yet, words are not the same as actions. Trump can issue as many documents called executive orders and presidential memoranda as he wants. As the fate of the travel ban shows, however, that doesn’t mean that even the more meaningful ones are actionable, and the preponderance of the orders to date would in any other administration have been news releases stating broad policy goals that may or may not ever become actual policy.

But too many of us take these words as action. That confirms both the worst fears of what the Trump administration is and the greatest hopes of what Trump wants it to be: a White House that shoots first and asks question later, a White House of action and change that shakes the status quo to the core and charts a new path for America and Americans. To date, this White House has broken every convention and rule of tone and attitude, toward Washington and toward the truth. But in reality, it has done far less than most people think.

In the time ahead, as Congress turns to actual legislation and the White House presumably does normal things like propose a budget and specify its legislative ideas, there will be real actions for us to probe and debate. Distinguishing between words and action is essential: When senators say silly things about legislation, we know to separate those public statements from votes takes and laws passed. When leaders of other countries speak aggressively, we do not immediately act as if war is imminent; if that were the case, we’d have invaded Iran and North Korea years ago. Words should be taken as possible indicators of future action, but not as absolutes and not always.

Trump poses a challenge to decades of tradition and precedent. He is masterful as conflating words and actions in a way that enrages and alarms his opponents and exhilarates and excites his supporters. It’s more important than ever to distinguish what is from what isn’t. Understanding the difference between what this president says and what he does is one of the only things that will keep our public debate from plunging ever deeper into the hall of mirrors.

What do you think?

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What has Trump Accomplished? (Part 1)

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Trump itemized his accomplishments in a news conference on February 16, 2017. The purpose of this short series is to evaluate these accomplishments to see if they are substantial. I quote him so that I am not accused of distorting his words. Here are the relevant portions of the news conference:

Foreign Affairs: “Beginning on day one, our administration went to work to tackle these challenges. On foreign affairs, we’ve already begun enormously productive talks with many foreign leaders, much of it you’ve covered, to move forward towards stability, security and peace in the most troubled regions of the world, which there are many. We have had great conversations with the United Kingdom, and meetings. Israel, Mexico, Japan, China and Canada, really, really productive conversations. I would say far more productive than you would understand.

We’ve even developed a new council with Canada to promote women’s business leaders and entrepreneurs. It’s very important to me, very important to my daughter Ivanka. I have directed our defense community headed by our great general, now Secretary Mattis. He’s over there now working very hard to submit a plan for the defeat of ISIS, a group that celebrates the murder and torture of innocent people in large sections of the world. It used to be a small group, now it’s in large sections of the world.

They’ve spread like cancer. ISIS has spread like cancer — another mess I inherited. And we have imposed new sanctions on the nation of Iran, whose totally taken advantage of our previous administration, and they’re the world’s top sponsor of terrorism, and we’re not going to stop until that problem is properly solved. And it’s not properly solved now, it’s one of the worst agreements I’ve ever seen drawn by anybody. I’ve ordered plan to begin building for the massive rebuilding of the United States military. Had great support from the Senate, I’ve had great from Congress, generally.

We’ve pursued this rebuilding in the hopes that we will never have to use this military, and I will tell you that is my — I would be so happy if we never had to use it. But our country will never have had a military like the military we’re about to build and rebuild. We have the greatest people on earth in our military, but they don’t have the right equipment and their equipment is old. I used it; I talked about it at every stop. Depleted, it’s depleted — it won’t be depleted for long. And I think one of the reason I’m standing here instead of other people is that frankly, I talked about we have to have a strong military.”

Law Enforcement: “We have to have a strong law enforcement also. So we do not go abroad in the search of war, we really are searching for peace, but its peace through strength. At home, we have begun the monumental task of returning the government back to the people on a scale not seen in many, many years. In each of these actions, I’m keeping my promises to the American people. These are campaign promises.”

Immigration: “Some people are so surprised that we’re having strong borders.

Well, that’s what I’ve been talking about for a year and a half, strong borders. They’re so surprised, oh, he having strong borders, well that’s what I’ve been talking about to the press and to everybody else. One promise after another after years of politicians lying to you to get elected. They lied to the American people in order to get elected. Some of the things I’m doing probably aren’t popular but they’re necessary for security and for other reasons.

And then coming to Washington and pursuing their own interests which is more important to many politicians. I’m here following through on what I pledged to do. That’s all I’m doing. I put it out before the American people, got 306 Electoral College votes. I wasn’t supposed to get 222. They said there’s no way to get 222, 230’s impossible.

270 which you need, that was laughable. We got 306 because people came out and voted like they’ve never seen before so that’s the way it goes. I guess it was the biggest Electoral College win since Ronald Reagan. In other words, the media’s trying to attack our administration because they know we are following through on pledges that we made and they’re not happy about it for whatever reason.

And — but a lot of people are happy about it. In fact, I’ll be in Melbourne, Florida five o’clock on Saturday and I heard — just heard that the crowds are massive that want to be there. I turn on the T.V., open the newspapers and I see stories of chaos. Chaos. Yet it is the exact opposite. This administration is running like a fine-tuned machine, despite the fact that I can’t get my cabinet approved.

And they’re outstanding people like Senator Dan Coats who’s there, one of the most respected men of the Senate. He can’t get approved. How do you not approve him? He’s been a colleague — highly respected. Brilliant guy, great guy, everybody knows it. We’re waiting for approval. So we have a wonderful group of people that’s working very hard, that’s being very much misrepresented about and we can’t let that happen.

So, if the Democrats who have — all you have to do is look at where they are right now. The only thing they can do is delay because they screwed things up royally, believe me. Let me list to you some of the things that we’ve done in just a short period of time. I just got here. And I got here with no cabinet. Again, each of these actions is a promise I made to the American people.”

Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP): “We’ve withdrawn from the job-killing disaster known as Trans Pacific Partnership. We’re going to make trade deals but we’re going to have one on one deals, bilateral. We’re going to have one on one deals.”

Deregulation: “We’ve directed the elimination of regulations that undermine manufacturing and call for expedited approval of the permits needed for America and American infrastructure and that means plant, equipment, roads, bridges, factories. People take 10, 15, 20 years to get disapproved for a factory. They go in for a permit, it’s many, many years. And then at the end of the process — they spend 10s of millions of dollars on nonsense and at the end of the process, they get rejected.

Now, they may be rejected with me but it’s going to be a quick rejection. Not going to take years. But mostly it’s going to be an acceptance. We want plants built and we want factories built and we want the jobs. We don’t want the jobs going to other countries. We’ve imposed a hiring freeze on nonessential federal workers. We’ve imposed a temporary moratorium on new federal regulations.

We’ve issued a game-changing new rule that says for each one new regulation, two old regulations must be eliminated. Makes sense. Nobody’s ever seen regulations like we have. You go to other countries and you look at indexes (ph) they have and you say “let me see your regulations” and they’re fraction, just a tiny fraction of what we have. And I want regulations because I want safety, I want environmental — all environmental situations to be taken properly care of. It’s very important to me. But you don’t need four or five or six regulations to take care of the same thing.

Law Enforcement: We’ve stood up for the men and women of law enforcement, directing federal agencies to ensure they are protected from crimes of violence. We’ve directed the creation of a task force for reducing violent crime in America, including the horrendous situation — take a look at Chicago and others, taking place right now in our inner cities. Horrible.”

More on Immigration: “We’ve ordered the Department of Homeland Security and Justice to coordinate on a plan to destroy criminal cartels coming into the United States with drugs. We’re becoming a drug infested nation. Drugs are becoming cheaper than candy bars. We are not going to let it happen any longer.

We’ve undertaken the most substantial border security measures in a generation to keep our nation and our tax dollars safe. And are now in the process of beginning to build a promised wall on the southern border, met with general — now Secretary Kelly yesterday and we’re starting that process. And the wall is going to be a great wall and it’s going to be a wall negotiated by me. The price is going to come down just like it has on everything else I’ve negotiated for the government. And we are going to have a wall that works, not gonna have a wall like they have now which is either nonexistent or a joke.

We’ve ordered a crackdown on sanctuary cities that refuse to comply with federal law and that harbor criminal aliens, and we have ordered an end to the policy of catch and release on the border. No more release. No matter who you are, release. We have begun a nationwide effort to remove criminal aliens, gang members, drug dealers and others who pose a threat to public safety. We are saving American lives every single day.

The court system has not made it easy for us. And are even creating a new office in Homeland Security dedicated to the forgotten American victims of illegal immigrant violence, which there are many. We have taken decisive action to keep radical Islamic terrorists out of our country. No parts are necessary and constitutional actions were blocked by judges, in my opinion, incorrect, and unsafe ruling. Our administration is working night and day to keep you safe, including reporters safe. And is vigorously defending this lawful order.

I will not back down from defending our country. I got elected on defense of our country. I keep my campaign promises, and our citizens will be very happy when they see the result. They already are, I can tell you that. Extreme vetting will be put in place and it already is in place in many places.

In fact, we had to go quicker than we thought because of the bad decision we received from a circuit that has been overturned at a record number. I have heard 80 percent, I find that hard to believe, that is just a number I heard, that they are overturned 80 percent of the time. I think that circuit is — that circuit is in chaos and that circuit is frankly in turmoil. But we are appealing that, and we are going further.

We’re issuing a new executive action next week that will comprehensively protect our country. So we’ll be going along the one path and hopefully winning that, at the same time we will be issuing a new and very comprehensive order to protect our people. That will be done sometime next week, toward the beginning or middle at the latest part.”

Domestic Action: “We have also taken steps to begin construction of the Keystone Pipeline and Dakota Access Pipelines. Thousands and thousands of jobs, and put new buy American measures in place to require American steel for American pipelines. In other words, they build a pipeline in this country, and we use the powers of government to make that pipeline happen, we want them to use American steel. And they are willing to do that, but nobody ever asked before I came along. Even this order was drawn and they didn’t say that….”

Emmett Till: A Tragedy in Race Relations in America

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February is Black History Month, so it is appropriate for us to visit a grim episode in American race relations.

On August 19, 1955 Emmett Till went to Bryant’s Grocery and Meat Market with a group of friends. He was enjoying a respite from picking cotton. The store clerk was a white woman by the name of Carolyn Bryant.

Till’s visit to the store ended with Bryant accusing him of either whistling at, flirting with or touching Bryant’s hand. The accusation was a scandal and it enraged Bryant’s husband, Roy.

Roy took matters into his own hands and partnered with his half brother J.W. Milam to get revenge. They kidnapped and brutally beat Till. The two men escalated in their perversion by tying Till to a large metal fan using barbed wire. In an act of ultimate desecration, they threw him in the Tallahatchie River and shot him in the head.

Emmett Till was 14 years old!

Trial

Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam were tried by an all-white and all-male jury because blacks and women were not allowed to serve jury duty. The evidence against the two men was overwhelming. Even an eyewitness identified both men as the kidnappers. The jury deliberated and declared the two men not guilty.

Salt in the wound came when the men later admitted to committing the murder.

Funeral

Till’s body was transferred to Chicago and his mother requested that his casket remain open for the funeral. The funeral took place at Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ.

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Till’s mother wanted the world to see what happened to her son. Here is what thousands of people saw as they filed pass his casket:

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Carolyn Bryant

It has been 61 years since Carolyn Bryant accused Till of harassment. She finally admitted the truth according to an article written in TIME magazine on January 27, 2017. This is bitter-sweet news. We should be happy the truth finally came out, but we should wonder why it took so long.

Here is a helpful video about this story:

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This blog post continues to honor the wishes of Till’s mother.

Police Brutality: The Proper Conceptual and Emotional Postures

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In this post I will try to add something helpful to the contentious police brutality debate. The following propositions are generally true:

1. People are law abiding
2. Law enforcement officers are law abiding

The truth of these propositions are supported by everyday observations.

I propose that we take these two propositions as the only generalities in this debate. The purpose of taking this conceptual posture is to get people on both sides of the argument to see things as they really are. Instances of criminality on the part of the populace or law enforcement are extraordinary; they are exceptions to the rule.

We should work to reject all emotions that run contrary to these empirically verified propositions.

What should we do when we encounter instances of criminality? We should refrain from making unsupported generalities like saying, ‘there is a little criminality in everyone’ or ‘all cops are criminals.’ Instead, we should narrowly tailor or actions and speech around the evidence. Speak and act in ways that are warranted by the evidence. In other words, we should take alleged instances of criminality on a case-by-case basis.

Protests can only be warranted when it is tempered by the evidence. Evidence-free protests often become criminal riots. Accusations made by law enforcement must be tethered to the evidence so that their relationship with the populace is not harmed.

The Refugee Executive Order (Part 7)

This is the last post in our series on the executive order.

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Two women sit a table reading papers in a folder as they undergo employment readiness training.

How will refugees affect the economy?

Here is what Noah Smith, a writer for Bloomberg, wrote :

Immigrants of all stripes obviously increase a country’s total gross domestic product. More people equals more production overall, which also means a larger tax base. Its effect on per capita GDP is more ambiguous, since that depends on whether the immigrants have higher or lower skill levels than the native populations that they join. If you import a bunch of engineers, local average income probably will go up, simply because engineers tend to make more money. If you import a bunch of farmworkers, the opposite will happen.

There is some legitimate economic concern here. Low wage workers can have an adverse impact on the economy. We must keep in mind that the negative impact is not universal.

Miami, FL

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In the 1990s 125,000 Cubans came to the U.S. during the Mariel Boatlift crisis which increased Miami’s labor force by 7 percent. These immigrants were “relatively unskilled.” Economist David Card studied the impact of this influx and found that the influx “had virtually no effect on the wages or unemployment rates of less-skilled workers, even among Cubans who had immigrated earlier.”

Card’s findings are not unique. Studies performed in Denmark, Uganda, and even Cleveland show that refugees have neural and sometimes positive effects on a community’s economy and wages.

Cleveland, OH

Let’s look at the study done in the Cleveland area. The city took in 4,518 refugees from 2000-2012. Refugees started 38 businesses with a total of 141 employees.  The same refugees also contributed $1.8 million in tax revenue for the state of Ohio in 2012.

The study says,

Research provides evidence that refugees are highly motivated and wish to give back to their host country. Refugees are more likely to be entrepreneurial and enjoy higher rates of successful business ventures compared to natives. The literature also supports the argument that immigrants in general do not take jobs away from natives and that the diversity of skilled immigration can positively impact the income and productivity of welcoming nations. At the local level, refugees provide increased demand for goods and services through their new purchasing power and can be particularly revitalizing in communities that otherwise have a declining population.

Refugees can positively impact the economy. The key is to locate refugees in areas that are similar to their previous environment and place them in jobs they are trained to perform.

The Refugee Executive Order (Part 6)

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A major objection to my argument has to do with the safety.

Safety

Paul Ryan said “We think the prudent, responsible thing is to take a pause on this particular aspect of this refugee program until we have a more reliable process.” Donald Trump suspended admittance of all Syrian refugees.

Peter Bergen, a CNN National Security Analyst, has written on the failure of this argument regarding Syrian refugees:

First of all the ISIS terrorist would have to travel to a refugee camp in a country like Jordan or Lebanon or Turkey, joining the 4 million other Syrian refugees outside Syria.

Then he or she would have to be among those selected from the relatively tiny number of 23,000 refugees that the United Nations agency for refugees has flagged to the United States to be worthy for consideration to be admitted. Then he would have to be among the only 10,000 Syrian refugees the States is planning to admit next year [2016].

An ISIS fighter will more than likely be an able-bodied male. The vast majority of people who are accepted into the US are women, children, the sick and elderly. Only 2% of the people admitted into the US are military-aged males 18-30. The statistical odds are just too slim.

Another point worth considering is, as we detailed in a previous post on December 30, 2016, Syrian refugees are subject to heightened screening. Why would a terrorist take a route that would subject him to such heightened screening?

There is always a risk when you engage in any act. There is the risk of making a medical condition worse by surgery or getting into a car crash while driving. In this case we are required to weigh the benefits of admitting refugees and immigrates to the danger they might pose to the citizenry.

What guidance can history provide? The US admitted 2 million refugees since 1990. Just 0.0002 percent of refugees turned out to be terrorists. Imagine how much more confident you would be in taking a flight if you had those odds of getting into a plane crash.

The Refugee Executive Order (Part 5B)

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Responsibility (Continued)

Abu Ahmed, a senior official in ISIS, said jihadists were scared of Camp Bucca at first but they:

… quickly realised that far from their worst fears, the US-run prison provided an extraordinary opportunity. “We could never have all got together like this in Baghdad, or anywhere else,” he told me. “It would have been impossibly dangerous. Here, we were not only safe, but we were only a few hundred metres away from the entire al-Qaida leadership.”

Camp Bucca became a safe meeting place for the “entire al-Qaida leadership.” In fact, Camp Bucca was the first place Abu Ahmed met al-Baghdadi. Camp Bucca wasn’t the only thing that help create terrorists. Abu Ahmed was inspired by another action on the part of the United States:

He had been galvanised into militancy as a young man by an American occupation that he and many like him believed was trying to impose a power shift in Iraq, favouring the country’s larger Shia population at the expense of the dominant Sunnis. His early role in what would become Isis led naturally to the senior position he now occupies within a revitalised insurgency that has spilled across the border into Syria. Most of his colleagues regard the crumbling order in the region as a fulfilment of their ambitions in Iraq – which had remained unfinished business, until the war in Syria gave them a new arena.

If this is not enough, listen to how Abu Ahmed described prisoner interactions at Camp Bucca:

“In prison, all of the princes were meeting regularly. We became very close to those we were jailed with. We knew their capabilities. We knew what they could and couldn’t do, how to use them for whatever reason. The most important people in Bucca were those who had been close to Zarqawi. He was recognised in 2004 as being the leader of the jihad.

“We had so much time to sit and plan,” he continued. “It was the perfect environment. We all agreed to get together when we got out. The way to reconnect was easy. We wrote each other’s details on the elastic of our boxer shorts. When we got out, we called. Everyone who was important to me was written on white elastic. I had their phone numbers, their villages. By 2009, many of us were back doing what we did before we were caught. But this time we were doing it better.”

Some 17 of the 25 most important IS leaders running the war in Iraq and Syria spent time in US prisons between 2004 and 2011.

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Abu Ghraib

There are people who think we should keep Abu Ghraib open. Here is how The Guardian describes Abu Ghraib,

The revelation of abuses at Abu Ghraib had a radicalising effect on many Iraqis, who saw the purported civility of American occupation as little improvement on the tyranny of Saddam. While Bucca had few abuse complaints prior to its closure in 2009, it was seen by Iraqis as a potent symbol of an unjust policy, which swept up husbands, fathers, and sons – some of them non-combatants – in regular neighbourhood raids, and sent them away to prison for months or years

Camp Bucca served as a unique, perhaps only, meeting place and networking hub of AQI turned ISIS.

Another Point of Responsibility

Some of my readers may think that my position is a deranged rant. Former Lt. General Michael Flynn, now National Security Adviser to President Donald Trump, said the 2003 Iraq war under President George W. Bush was responsible for creating ISIS. Here is how he described our decision to release al-Baghdadi in 2004 under President Bush:

We were too dumb. We didn’t understand who we had there at that moment. When 9/11 occurred, all the emotions took over, and our response was, “Where did those bastards come from? Let’s go kill them. Let’s go get them.” Instead of asking why they attacked us, we asked where they came from. Then we strategically marched in the wrong direction.

Flynn and I arrive at the same conclusion through different routes.

Saving Lives

2,500 refugees and migrates died trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe from January 1st to May 31 of 2016. 600 children died crossing the Mediterranean from the beginning of to October of 2016.

How many Americans were killed by refugees from Trump’s banned seven in the last 40 years? The answer is ‘zero.’

To be clear, not all who traveled here from these countries are innocent. 17 people from Trump’s seven banned countries were convicted of attempting or participating in terror attacks. What are the chances that an American would be killed by a refugee during those 40 years? You have a 0.00003 percent chance of dying from a terrorist attack committed by a foreigner.

To put it another way, an American has a one in 3.6 million chance of dying at the hands of a foreigner. This number covers a 41 year period and the 9/11 attacks.

Safety is supposed to be the concern that overrides our obligation to accept Syrian refugees, but that concern is unfounded and cannot serve as an overriding concern.

Syrian refugees have a higher chance of dying by fleeing the Syrian War than Americans of dying at their hands. We should accept them into the US if we want to save lives.

The Refugee Executive Order (Part 5A)

Responsibility

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The US has a responsibility to help Syrian refugees because it helped create the conditions for the growth of ISIS. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi started Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) in 2004. AQI is a Sunni group that opposes Shiites. Saddam Hussein was also Sunni. Shiites took over the government in Iraq when the US toppled Saddam Hussein.

Shiites ruled with an iron fist. Sunnis soon felt they were being targeted by their Shiites leaders, so they fought against the Iraqi government and US forces.

Zarqawi was known as “the green man ” before he became the leader of AQI. He earned this name because of the large number of tattoos he had on his body. He was incarcerated on weapons charges. Zarqawi became radicalized in prison. He memorized the entire Quran while he was in prison. Perhaps the most troubling aspect of this time in prison is what he did to his tattoos. He got a razor blade and peeled off the skin that contained tattoos!

Zarqawi was a low-level radical when he was released from prison. Osama bin Laden was not interested in Zarqawi when he tried to meet him. Little did Zarqawi know, the US would eventually raise his profile for him. Here is how PBS’s Frontline put it:

Prior to the Iraq invasion, the CIA was given the job of investigating whether Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein had conspired to stage the 9/11 attacks. Officials in the Bush administration believed Zarqawi may have been the link between the two, but as Faddis told FRONTLINE, “We never found any indication that Zarqawi was in Baghdad working for Saddam or linked up with Saddam.”

Despite that assessment, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, in a February 2003 speech to the United Nations outlining the administration’s rationale for war, used Zarqawi to make the connection between bin Laden and Iraq.

“Iraq today harbors a deadly terrorist network headed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, an associate and collaborator of Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda associates,” Powell said in the address.

In all, Zarqawi’s name was mentioned 21 times in the speech.

Bin Laden and the rest of the world had to pay attention to Zarqawi as a result of Secretary Powell’s speech before the UN. Our misstep was the lift-in-profile Zarqawi wanted. We gave Zarqawi’s AQI a high profile and credibility as a terrorist organization.

Zarqawi was killed in 2006 and was replaced by Egyptian Abu Ayyub al-Masri and created the Islamic State in Iraq, the ISI. The US surge of 2008 greatly diminished ISI. In 2010 Masri was eventually killed during a 2010 US-Iraqi operation. The next leader in line, and the current leader, is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

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Al-Baghdadi represents a new phase in ISI in my view. Al-Baghdadi become one of the most consequential leaders of ISIS.

Al-Baghdadi was taken into custody on February 4, 2004 and placed in a prison at Camp Bucca, an American prison. This camp housed some the most radical Muslims. Camp Bucca served as an incubator for budding radicals. Nine members of ISI’s top command were imprisoned at Camp Bucca. Al-Baghdadi’s deputy, Abu Muslim al-Turkmani, Haji Bakr, a former senior military leader and Abu Qasim were all housed at Camp Bucca. Here is how Andrew Thompson and academic Jeremi Suri put it:

Their time in prison deepened their extremism and gave them opportunities to broaden their following. … The prisons became virtual terrorist universities: The hardened radicals were the professors, the other detainees were the students, and the prison authorities played the role of absent custodian.”

Al-Baghdadi was placed at Camp Bucca and was deepened and hardened in his resolve to murder. Conditions in the prison were harsh and conducive for making strict adherents to radical Islam. Prisoners would refrain from watching TV or playing Ping-Pong in conformity to strict Shariah. Some prisoners were beaten if they failed to conform to the brand of Islam espoused by the more radical prisoners.

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Camp Bucca was not the only American prison that housed al-Baghdadi. There is some evidence to suggest that al-Baghdadi was held at Abu Ghraib. One piece of evidence can be found in his prisoner serial number. Al-Baghdadi was given the serial number US9IZ-157911CI. The ‘157’ in the serial number indicates that he may have been housed at Abu Ghraib.

We contributed to Syria’s demise by raising the profile of Zarqawi and by hardening al-Baghadadi. More importantly, al-Baghadadi was able to groom new recruits at Camp Bucca. Here is how William McCants, a senior fellow in the Center for Middle East Policy and director of its Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World, describes the situation:

“New recruits were prepared so that when they were freed they were ticking time bombs,” remembers another fellow inmate, who was interviewed by a reporter with Al Monitor. When a new prisoner came in, his peers would “teach him, indoctrinate him, and give him direction so he leaves a burning flame.” Baghdadi would turn out to be the most explosive of those flames, a man responsible for much of the conflagration that would engulf the region less than a decade later.

One Camp Bucca prisoner stated it clearly, “If there was no American prison in Iraq, there would be no [Islamic State] now.”

We should help refugees fleeing Syria because we are partially to blame for creation of ISIS.

We cannot leave things the way Trump has ordered them in his executive order. The order says:

(c) Pursuant to section 212(f) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1182(f), I hereby proclaim that the entry of nationals of Syria as refugees is detrimental to the interests of the United States and thus suspend any such entry until such time as I have determined that sufficient changes have been made to the USRAP to ensure that admission of Syrian refugees is consistent with the national interest.
(d) Pursuant to section 212(f) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1182(f), I hereby proclaim that the entry of more than 50,000 refugees in fiscal year 2017 would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, and thus suspend any such entry until such time as I determine that additional admissions would be in the national interest.

What detrimental effects have Syrian refugees wrought?

The Refugee Executive Order (Part 4)

Why should we object to blanket bans on refugees?

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Self-Cancellation

Paragraph 1930 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) says,

Respect for the human person entails respect for the rights that flow from his dignity as a creature. These rights are prior to society and must be recognized by it. They are the basis of the moral legitimacy of every authority: by flouting them, or refusing to recognize them in its positive legislation, a society undermines its own moral legitimacy. If it does not respect them, authority can rely only on force or violence to obtain obedience from its subjects.

A government undermines its authority and moral legitimacy insofar as it deprives human beings of their rights. Authority and moral legitimacy are necessary properties of all governments that obligate its citizens to obedience. A government destroys itself when it enacts policies and act in ways that diminish its authority and moral legitimacy. A government is irrational insofar as it destroys itself. This irrational state of affairs is what is meant by self-cancellation; the government is effectively canceling itself out of existence.

Reflexive and Equitable Moral Reasoning

Paragraph 1931 of the CCC says , “Respect for the human person proceeds by way of respect for the principle that “everyone should look upon his neighbor (without any exception) as ‘another self,’ above all bearing in mind his life and the means necessary for living it with dignity.””

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What would you do if your country was engaged in a brutal war? You would leave your land and search for the necessities of life where you can find them. Suppose a potential host country gave you the opportunity to plead your case for admittance, which position would you take? Would you advocate EV or CEV? Which of the aforementioned views would you advocate if you, your wife and children were destitute?

We must treat others the way we want to be treated based on our equality of being. The CCC once again:

1934 Created in the image of the one God and equally endowed with rational souls, all men have the same nature and the same origin. Redeemed by the sacrifice of Christ, all are called to participate in the same divine beatitude: all therefore enjoy an equal dignity.
1935 The equality of men rests essentially on their dignity as persons and the rights that flow from it…

This passage from the CCC need not be couched in theological terms. The passage can be recast on secular terms: Sameness of being requires equality in treatment.