Tuesday, January 22, 2019

The Unsustainability of Donald Trump’s Immigration and Trade Policies

Two pillars of the Trumpian platform include decrying free-trade agreements Trump perceives as disadvantageous to the United States and an increasingly stringent immigration policy. Amid a chorus of “build the wall” in reference to his proposal to construct a literal wall along the US-Mexican border in an effort to stem the flow of migrants from Mexico and the rest of Latin America are also Trump’s push to ban travel from predominantly Muslim countries (which was only upheld by the courts after North Korea and Venezuela were added to the list of countries suspended from entering the US) and calls to end so-called “chain migration” – a process through which Americans help foreign-born relatives gain citizenship. Scholarship, however, suggests that closed trade and closed borders may not entirely be attainable.

Indeed, in one of his first acts in the White House, Trump signed an executive order that pulled the United States out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free-trade agreement of 12 nations from Asia, North America, South America, Australia, and New Zealand that collectively account for roughly 40% of annual global trade. In updating NAFTA terms with Mexico, Trump had repeatedly threatened to preclude Canada – despite warnings from congressional lawmakers that they would not support any agreement excluding Canada and the opaque legality of doing so – before eventually concluding the tripartite negotiations. Trump has also repeatedly looked into exiting the US from the WTO, claiming the organization is used by other countries to “screw the United States.” Though highly unlikely, the very idea is indicative of Trump’s protectionist attitude towards trade between the US and the rest of the world.

On the other side of Trump’s isolationist agenda is his notorious rally cry to build a wall along the southern border of the US to keep out migrants from Mexico and other Latin American countries. Trump touts that a wall between the US and Mexico is of vital importance to the safety of all Americans and routinely disparages “sanctuary cities” for not cooperating with federal immigration authorities. This belies the fact that studies suggest immigrants commit violent crimes at a substantially lower rate than native-born Americans. Trump’s other resolutions to stem migrant flows to the US also use the security and safety of Americans as justification. His calls for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” and an end to family-based immigration in response to acts of domestic terror were also in the name of keeping Americans safe.

Research suggests, however, that closed trade and closed borders are not complementary policies that Trump can simultaneously pursue. In her research on trade and migration published in 2014 and 2015, Margaret Peters produced findings that suggest trade policy affects the composition of firms in the economy and their need for low-skilled labor. Protectionist measures such as those pursued by Trump inherently push an economy inward as tariffs and non-tariff barriers increase the price of exports and encourage domestic consumers to purchase locally produced goods and domestic producers with higher costs to enter the market. In other words, trade restrictions result in an increase in production in labor-intensive industries. As Peters notes, this leads to an uptick in the amount of low-skill labor demanded in labor-scarce nations such as the United States as any gains that might be realized from government protectionist measures would be offset by a simultaneous increase in wages. Given that immigrant labor is usually cheaper than native labor (and, as Peters states in her 2015 piece, tend to be low-skilled laborers), firms in response lobby representatives for more generous immigration policies or for subsidies to stay in business. Indeed, Peters’ results show that Congress votes for tighter immigration controls when trade is open and for more lenient controls when trade is restricted. As closed trade leads to an increase in production in labor-intensive industries, business interests have incentives to push for open migration in order to capture the cost benefits of low-skilled foreign workers. The relationship between trade and immigration policies trending in opposite directions is so strong that Peters is able to find evidence dating back to the 1780s. As trade is restricted, borders are open by economic necessity and as trade is liberalized, politicians are less generous with immigration quotas as firms can now offshore their production costs.

What does this mean for Donald Trump? He’s already had to shell out $6 billion in relief to farmers hit hard with retaliatory tariffs from China (which, as Peters points out, is exactly what Alexander Hamilton argued would happen were the US to erect tariffs). Coca-Cola also announced it will need to raise its prices in response to rising aluminum costs as a result of Trump’s tariffs and Harley Davidson has announced plans to move production to Europe in order to avoid retaliatory tariffs. Ford CEO Jim Hackett says that Ford has already lost around $1 billion in profit due to the tariffs while Walmart and Target have stated a planned price hike on their products due to increased input prices as a result of Trump’s tariffs. While it’s plausible Trump could offer financial packages to these companies to offset costs or keep them in the US, the US budget deficit has already increased by 17% this year to $779 billion and more than 70% of Americans have expressed the budget deficit should be a top-three priority, indicating Trump may be fast approaching the ceiling for his bailouts.

If Trump is steadfast on maintaining protectionist measures, then he must be willing to give ground on immigration and refugee restrictions. With a caravan of migrants fleeing poverty and violence making progress to the US border, Trump may be in prime position to offer the US economy relief from his current trade standoffs with other countries. An influx of low-cost, low-skilled workers would provide immediate relief to US industries hit by retaliatory sanctions. If scholars are right, Trump must choose between building a wall against migration and building a wall against international trade. Research suggests that one will have to give in the long run.

Trumping the Border Wall

There are currently nearly 15,000 immigrant children in the custody of the US government. The recent death of a 7-year-old migrant girl in the custody of US border control has brought the caravan of El Salvadoran, Guatemalan, and Honduran migrants heading towards the southern border of the United States back into the headlines. The number of migrants is increasing not only because of new guidelines by the Trump administration where everyone in a sponsor’s household may potentially have to undergo a background check (which significantly slows down the processing of these migrants) but also because of deteriorating conditions in the countries these migrants are fleeing.

Trump, for his part, has threatened to seal the 2,000-mile US-Mexican border in order to stem the flow of migrants. He has already deployed over 5,000 active-duty troops to the border and border authorities have also sprayed tear gas to disperse migrants seeking entry into the US. Trump has also threatened to shut down the federal government if congressional Democrats do not approve $5 billion in funding for a wall. The recent death of 20-year-old college student Mollie Tibbets by undocumented migrant Christhian Bahena Rivera has only galvanized Republican support for a wall. Despite all the hawkish bluster and rhetoric, there may be better policy options if the Trump administration is truly concerned about keeping dangerous people out of the United States.

As I wrote in my previous post, research by Margaret Peters (2014, 2015) suggests that dual policies of closed trade and closed borders are not mutually sustainable – one has to give. The majority of the people in these caravans are fleeing both violence and extreme poverty – these are not mutually exclusive phenomena.

Research from Christopher Blattman and Jeannie Annan (2016) shows that when given the opportunity to engage in legitimate income-generating sectors of the economy, former fighters in Liberia invested more of their time in doing so and less of their time in illicit activities. These licit economic opportunities also reduced interest in seeking employment as a mercenary in ongoing conflict nearby. In other words, Blattman and Annan empirically show that increases in economic opportunities decrease violence.

Eli Berman, Jacob Shapiro, and Joseph Felter (2011) provide similar research. They show that US reconstruction funds in Iraq allocated through the Commander’s Emergency Response Program (CERP) reduce violence and has a more significant effect for smaller projects.

What does this have to do with the price of tea in China? The 2018 Fragile States Index rates El Salvador and Honduras with elevated warnings for becoming fragile or failed and Guatemala with a high warning for becoming fragile or failed. This is relevant because an overwhelming number of people in the caravan are fleeing poverty and gang violence. Research from Oriana Bandiera (2003) and Diego Gambetta (1993) suggests that the rise of the Sicilian Mafia came about partially in response to the inability of a weak state to govern. It’s not a stretch to suggest that gang activity is more prominent in areas where there is also a weak state presence with limited economic prospects.

Part of Trump’s solution to the migrant caravan is to cut off aid to the sending states. According to the US Global Leadership Coalition, US aid to these countries have resulted in lifting 68,000 people out of extreme poverty in Honduras, created 20,000 jobs in Guatemala’s agriculture sector, and granted access to electricity for more than 33,000 households in El Salvador. As research referenced above indicates, the presence of economic opportunities can enhance safety and security. Removing these economic programs, particularly in weak states, will in all likelihood exacerbate the situation these migrants are fleeing from and result in an even more massive influx of people along the US-Mexican border. Sanctioning these states by cutting off aid, therefore, will simply make matters worse – not better.

In her book The Taming of Democracy Assistance: Why Democracy Promotion Does Not Confront Dictators, Sarah Bush notes that democracy assistance programs typically advance programs that don’t attempt to change the status quo per se, but rather focus on improving local governance. While her analysis focuses on explaining this phenomenon, her insight is useful in this context as well. If the Trump administration is genuinely concerned about the number of migrants fleeing poverty and violence from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, the solution isn’t to cut off aid. US policy of the 1990s of deporting violent criminals to central and Latin America essentially exported and expanded MS-13 and Barrio 18, the gangs responsible for large portions of the violence people in the caravan are fleeing to these countries. A more practical solution would be to continue aid, particularly to organizations engaging in smaller, localized development projects as evidence from Iraq indicates that smaller investment projects have a more substantial effect of reducing violence.

The United States has spent roughly $200 million in foreign aid to El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala this year. The Pentagon estimates manning the US-Mexican border with troops to cost north of that at around $210 million. Trump has requested $5 billion to construct a concrete wall along the border, with reports estimating a wall would cost more than $70 billion with a yearly maintenance bill around $150 million. The economical option is clear on which policy would be more beneficial not only to the American people, but also those choosing to flee their homes. Maintaining foreign aid to these countries not only provides economic security and outside options to gang activities (and thus potentially diminishes the environments that induce people to flee), it’s also cheaper.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Moves to a Service-Based Economy Likely China's Catch-22

The achievements of President Xi Jinping’s short duration in Britain are the first steps of what China hopes to be the path to becoming a fully-developed country. Hailed as a “golden era” in relations between the two nations by Prime Minister David Cameron, China views Britain as a “great platform from which China can go global,” according to head of Chatham House’s Robin Niblett.

Indeed, as China seeks to shift its economy from an export-based to a service-based economy and to propel the yuan into an internationally-traded currency that could potentially rival the dollar, yen, and euro, access to Britain’s financial markets is viewed as critically important to China after the conspicuous blockade from the Trans-PacificPartnership by the United States.

Outside of Hong Kong, as President Xi told the British Parliament, the United Kingdom is the leading offshore trading center. As The Economist notes, “The Bank of England was the first G7 central bank to sign a swap agreement with China’s central bank.” Offshore yuan-denominated bonds were recently sold in the UK by Chinese commercial banks and on October 20th, China sold its first sovereign bond worth over $4 billion in London. What this accomplishes is that it lends an air of credibility to the Chinese yuan as an international currency. Britain was also the first major Western power to step on board the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank led by China.

American politicians will need to find new ammunition as China cuts ties with its mercantilist policies. Long a punching bag for Trump, Webb, Romney, and others, China’s export-led growth gained what many call an unfair advantage in global markets as China often intervenes to prevent rapid appreciation of the yuan against the dollar. A strengthening yuan hurts Chinese exports and lowers the income level of Chinese exporters in markets that trade in dollars. At six yuan to the dollar, a t-shirt exporter from China who generates $100 per day in revenue receives 600 yuan. A stronger yuan means it takes less yuan to purchase a dollar (or more dollars to purchase a yuan). At three yuan to the dollar, the same amount of t-shirts generating $100 a day now only brings the Chinese business person 300 yuan a day. In order to prop up its exports, China currently employs a strategy of intervening in markets by purchasing enormous amounts of dollar-denominated reserves which artificially increases the value of the dollar by driving up demand and simultaneously decreases the value of the yuan by increasing the supply. This has largely been China’s policy over the past several decades whenever the yuan drifted outside of its desired peg range.

This will change as China moves it economy away from low-cost labor and manufacturing and more towards sophisticated services. China recently drafted its 13th five-year plan for its economy. Though it once set production measures for steel, grain, and other manufactured goods, the role of the plan started to relax in the 1980s as China shifted away from a command economy. The five-year plan won’t be unveiled until March, but in a communique released at the end of the plenum, Xinhua announced that in addition to moving the economy away from heavy industries and towards consumption and services, there will also be an emphasis on promoting and incentivizing innovation along with a pledge to reduce the frequency of state intervention in the market.

This may be viewed with skepticism as China recently pumped $200 billion dollars into its economy following the severe stock market declines this past summer. President Xi has also publicly stated that state-owned-enterprises will continue to play a dominant role. Yet, history has shown that banks have traditionally granted capital to industries the plan aims to develop while firms, both state-owned and private, adjust their business goals accordingly. This further underscores the importance of China’s new-found relationship with Britain. The Economist points out that the rebalancing of China’s economy will likely “play to Britain’s competitive advantages in sectors like education, high-end engineering and scientific research.” These are all components necessary in an economy emphasizing services. President Xi even made a stop at Imperial College London which announced new education and research collaborations with China. The innovation of science and technology come about with research and education - both points of emphasis in the communique from Xinhua.

With a trade deficit with China of $340 billion in 2014, this should come as good news for American exporters who feel China unfairly manipulates its currency to give its exporters a competitive edge. Indeed, the trade deficit with China has steadily increased from only $6 million in 1985 to over $33 billion in 1995, $200 billion in 2005, and is currently on pace to surpass $350 billion for 2015. Expect to see these figures plummet as China will necessarily need to allow the yuan to liberalize as China makes the move to a service-oriented economy. With a declining emphasis on exports, there will no longer be a need for the People’s Bank of China to intervene to keep the yuan within its current peg range. China will also want to see the value of the yuan appreciate if there is any hope of it becoming an international currency. A strong, international yuan makes US exports more competitive and a Chinese economy focusing on services such as education, science, and research will continue to raise China’s national income per capita.

For all the pomp and circumstance surrounding President Xi’s visit to Britain and the future of China’s economy, however, there are also a fair amount of voices aiming criticisms at the authoritarian state’s human rights record. China does have a plethora of human rights issues. Liu Xiaobo is currently serving an 11-year prison sentence for “subversion of state power” for his involvement with Charter 08, a manifesto calling for pluralist politics in China. Ironically, it is the same work he contributed to Charter 08 that won him the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010. Tibetan monks can be jailed for simply talking to foreign journalists about the Dalai Lama

While democracy is not necessarily a precondition for economic development, economic growth does often lead to the establishment of democratic regimes. A number of Asia’s fastest growing economies, including Taiwan and South Korea, adopted democratic governments after the emergence and burgeoning of a middle class. Though the Communist Party of China will never admit it, we already see this happening in China with its landmark decision to end its decades-long one-child policy which infringes on the reproductive rights of the majority of the Chinese population, a move that McClatchy DC calls an acknowledgement that the policy hinders economic growth.

With couples preferring boys over girls in a system that only allows one child, a gender imbalance has emerged that will lead to 30 million more males than females within the next five years in China. As Stuart Leavenworth notes, this is a “formula for potential unrest and chaos of the kind party leaders fear most.” In an effort to curb the potential for political unrest and simultaneously reverse the trend of a shrinking working-age population, China has unintentionally catalyzed its progress towards human rights reform. Though single women are still barred from giving birth, that the state is retreating from this draconian population-control policy further illustrates how economic development creates pressures for individual freedoms and liberties.

Economic progress in China signals economic prosperity in Britain, the United States, and beyond, and also the potential for the advancement of human rights in the world’s largest totalitarian state. The internationalization of the yuan born from a service-based Chinese economy is a win-win for everybody.

The above was originally published by the author on The Policy Wire

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Leggo my Ego; America's Struggle with Police Brutality

Disclaimer: The videos linked in this post contain graphic language

Police brutality is, unfortunately, a familiar fabric in American society that often finds itself unequally distributed between White-Americans and Minority-Americans. The Rodney King riots in 1992 and the Watts riots in 1965 demonstrate a disconnect and mistrust between Black-Americans and law-enforcement officials that are still manifest today in the shooting-death of unarmed Trayvon Martin and the subsequent acquittal of the gunman, the shooting-death of unarmed Michael Brown by white police officer Darren Wilson and the subsequent failure of indictment by the grand jury, the death of Eric Garner by means of an illegal chokehold while being arrested for selling untaxed cigarettes and the subsequent failure of a grand jury indictment (the transcripts of which have yet to be made available to the public), and the death of Freddy Gray who was deemed to be falsely arrested and was denied medical treatment while in police custody despite requesting it multiple times. These events sparked riots and protests across the nation including demonstrations by celebrities and professional athletes.

With the indictment of the six Baltimore police officers directly involved in the death of Freddy Gray, it seemed the United States was taking a pivotal step forward in holding its law-enforcement officers accountable for their actions. While it is one thing to indict and another to convict, the message was clear; police officers, those charged with protecting and serving, are not above the law. 

However briefly, it seemed possible that America was on the verge of officers conducting themselves more calmly under pressure like the case of this Maine law-enforcement official:

Enter Sandra Bland, a Black-American woman found dead in her jail cell in Waller County, Texas on July 13. 

Bland was pulled over by Texas State Trooper Brian Encinia in Prairie View, Texas for failure to signal for a lane change on July 10. The incident was caught on Trooper Encinia's dashcam.

As the video indicates, Bland moved from the left lane of traffic to the right lane of traffic without using her signal and was subsequently pulled over. After taking Bland's license and other documents, Trooper Encinia returns to the car with a ticket in hand for Bland to sign. At 8:47, Encinia can be heard asking Bland if she is okay and states that she seems "very irritated." Bland proceeds with an exasperating explanation on why she is irritated. "I am," she states, " I really am. I feel like it's crap what I'm getting a ticket for. I was getting out of your way. You were speeding up, tailing me, so I move over and you stop me. So, yea, I am a little irritated, but that doesn't stop you from giving me a ticket..."

At 9:18, Trooper Encinia asks Bland, "You mind putting out your cigarette, please? If you don't mind."

Bland minded. "I'm in my car. Why do I have to put out my cigarette," she asked.

It was at this point where Trooper Encinia escalated, and, as the Huffington Post notes, unconstitutionally extends, the traffic stop. In Rodriguez v. United States, the Supreme Court ruled that the police may not "extend the duration of a traffic stop without reasonable suspicion, even for just a 'de minimis' amount of time, for reasons unrelated to vehicle and driver safety." It's evident that Trooper Encinia now decided to prolong this routine traffic stop because his ego felt bruised.

Encinia asks Bland to step out of the car at which point she refuses, stating she does not have to step out of her own car. At 9:31, Encinia opens the driver-side door of Bland's car and aggressively demands she step out of the car. After Bland informs Encinia he does "not have the right to do this," Encinia physically grabs Bland in an effort to pull her out of the confines of her private vehicle - without a warrant. Bland asks if she is being removed for failing to signal. At 10:07, Bland can be heard saying "Don't touch me! I am not under arrest!" to which Encinia responds, "You are under arrest!"

The confrontation quickly spirals out of control with Bland exiting her vehicle only after Trooper Encinia pulls out his taser gun and threatens to "light [her] up."  Encinia yells at her for moving after ordering her to move and becomes violent with her (conveniently enough for him) off camera. At 13:54, Bland informs the trooper she has epilepsy, to which he response "Good! Good!" Trooper Encinia thinks it is good that Sandra Bland had epilepsy.

Eye-witness video shows Bland on the ground with Encinia's knee pressed into the back of her neck.

Bland repeatedly asks Encinia why she is under arrest and he initially refuses to answer her, seemingly cuffing her for simply challenging and questioning the way Encinia was treating her. In fact, Bland asks Encinia no less than 15 times in one way or another why she is being detained before he tells her "You are not complying."

Section 78-7 of the Waller County Municipal Code of Texas states that "No person shall willfully fail or refuse to comply with any lawful order or direction of a police officer or fire department official given to direct or control traffic as authorized (Code 1976, § 15-7)." Yet, Encinia gave no lawful order to direct or control traffic. He requested Bland put out her cigarette. Again, as the video shows at 9:18, Encinia asks "You mind putting out your cigarette, please? If you don't mind." This is not an order but a request. Furthermore, smoking a cigarette in the privacy of one's car is entirely unrelated to directing and controlling traffic. Encinia had zero right to ask Bland to step out of her vehicle. 

At 12:18, Encinia says, "You were getting a warning... now you're going to jail." At 14:51, he says "You are going to jail for resisting arrest." This begs the question... if a person is not under arrest, how is it then possible to resist arrest? Trooper Encinia already stated Bland was only getting a warning and it took him over 4 minutes from Bland's initial inquiry into why she was being arrested for Encinia to come up with "resisting arrest." There must be an initial crime, an initial cause for arrest in order for one to resist arrest. Encinia simply didn't like a woman challenging him by asserting her rights. Furthermore, nowhere in the video can we hear Bland being read her Miranda rights.

Sandra Bland died three days later in her jail cell. The autopsy determined it was a suicide from what the Waller County Sheriff called "self-inflicted asphyxiation." Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis claims Bland used a trash bag to "hang herself from a partition in the ceiling." This is disputed by her friends and family, who claim that despite being incarcerated, Bland was in "good spirits" and looking forward to posting bond and starting her new job at Prairie View A&M.

Waller County Jail received multiple citations for failing to meet multiple jail standards. The Waller County Sheriff's office issued the following statement:
On Thursday Afternoon, July 16th, Sheriff R. Glenn Smith received a copy of a Special Inspection Report from the Texas Commission on Jail Standards. It was determined that deficiencies exist. They were as follows: 
Item 1: "Country officials were unable to provide written documentation to prove that all jail staff underwent two (2) hours of training on a yearly basis by the local mental health authority for that region in accordance with their approved Mental Disabilities/Suicide Prevention Plan on file with TCJS. This training is to include the recognition, supervision, documentation and handling of inmates who are mentally disable and/or potentially suicidal." 
Item 2: "Documentation received and reviewed by the Commission revealed that Waller County is not completed visual face to face observation of all inmates at least once every 60 minutes as required by Minimum Jail Standards." 
The approximate 8:00AM contact with inmate Sandra Bland was on the intercom system and not in person, as required. While both jailers have received mental health training it has not been done in the past year by the local health authority as stated in our own policy. 
At this time we have no reason to believe that either of these deficiencies had any part in the death of Ms. Bland. However, Sheriff R. Glenn Smith will not tolerate disregarding policies and/or rules of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, along with our own. As previously stated, we will be working on any improvements that can be made to see that this type of tragic incident never happens again. This will include personnel changes if needed. Specific details of Ms. Bland's booking information cannot be released at this time [sic].

Trooper Encinia has since been placed on administrative leave for violating what the Texas Department of Public Safety calls "the department's procedures regarding traffic stops and the department's courtesy policy." Not to mention this pesky thing called the Constitution.

The Texas Department of Public Safety announced an investigation into Bland's death in conjunction with the FBI and the Texas Rangers. The District Attorney has announced he intends to convene a grand jury once the investigation is complete.

Title 5, Chapter 19, Section 19.01 of the Texas Penal Code states that "A person commits criminal homicide if he intentionally, knowingly, recklessly, or with criminal negligence causes the death of an individual." Criminal homicide is described as "murder, capital murder, manslaughter, or criminally negligent homicide." Section 19.05 defines criminally negligent homicide as an offense causing the death of a person by criminal negligence.

Failing to signal a lane change is not punishable by arrest. Bland's death is a categorical result of trumped-up charges of assault on a police officer. She was in her car; how could she possibly have assaulted Trooper Encinia? As we can see from the dashcam of Encinia's cruiser, she did not. First, he claims she is under arrest for resisting arrest and then once she is detained, she is charged with assault on a police officer? This defies all logic and doesn't make any sense at all. It almost seems like Encinia was just winging it and making things up as he went along. Sandra Bland was unlawfully detained and illegally arrested by Trooper Encinia. That Encinia was suspended is a prima facie admission by the Texas Department of Public Safety of his negligent actions throughout the entirety of the traffic stop. This is the textbook definition of Texas Penal Code Title 5, Chapter 19, Section 19.05. Encinia was derelict in his duties which directly resulted in the death of Sandra Bland.

It would not be unprecedented for the District Attorney to bring charges against Trooper Encinia. As
mentioned above, six Baltimore police officers have been indicted on charges ranging from depraved-heart murder to manslaughter to second-degree assault regarding the death of Freddy Gray. All were indicted for reckless endangerment and misconduct in office, as well. Confidence in police is at its lowest point since the Rodney King trials in 1993. This is not indicative of a venerable democracy that the United States is expected to be.

The purpose of this post is not to bash police or incite anti-police sentiment. Police officers lay their lives on the line to protect the communities they serve and dozens die in the line of duty each year. The work they do is inherently dangerous. This does not, however, grant them cart blanche to ride head-and-shoulders above the law. We can revere the work of law-enforcement officials while at the same time holding them to higher standards. These are not and must not be mutually exclusive concepts. In this case, however, the evidence is clear; Sandra Bland deserves justice.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Sham(e) of Malaysian Democracy

On May 7th, Malaysia held a by-election for a parliamentary seat previously held by opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim who was forced to vacate his seat after being sentenced to five years in jail on what many believe are trumped-up charges of sodomy.

Anwar is the founding member and leader of the People's Justice Party of the Parti Rakyat (PR) coalition, the main opposition coalition in Malaysia. The advances made by PR in a 2013 general election presented a genuine challenge to the Barisan Nasional coalition that has ruled Malaysia since 1957. Anwar's conviction, however, disqualifies him from holding office and Malaysian law prevents him from holding office for five years following his release.

Anwar, who was initially acquitted of the charges, told the judges overseeing the case that they were "partners in crime in the murder of judicial independence." The trial has drawn international condemnation with the United States calling it a politically motivated prosecution. Human Rights watch also chimed in claiming that the "abusive and archaic law is a major setback for human rights in Malaysia."

Anwar is seen by many as a legitimate challenger to Prime Minister Najib Razak. He previously faced sodomy charges in 1998 after being ousted as Deputy Prime Minister following a falling-out with former premier Mahathir. Anwar led a nationwide reform movement against nepotism and corruption. Malaysia's top court dismissed those charges in 2004. In an Economist podcast from May 4th titled "The week ahead: The year of the Scots," Richard Cockett, former Southeast Asia correspondent, explains premier Razak was "desperate" to lock Anwar up because he became "perilously close" to gaining a majority of seats in the 2013 general election. While the PR won a popular majority of votes, they lost to the government regarding the number of seats in parliament.

Anwar's seat was won by his wife, Wan Aziza Wan Ismail. On June 15th, however, the coalition disbanded, further undermining opposition unity and gains made against the Barisan Nasional coalition. How this effects the future of Aziza and Anwar's political careers remain to be seen. What is clear, however, is that sodomy should not be a crime.

Charges, if any, that should have been brought against Anwar are those of rape or sexual assault. The political aid who accused Anwar claims the sexual contact was unwanted. Yet, the bigger issue is that the Malaysian state is attempting to legislate morality, an affair neither it nor any other government holds the right to do. While it can be argued that murder, rape, theft, and corruption are all acts that are immoral and as such outlawed by most states, they also contain the element of harm against another person, whereas consenting acts of sodomy, oral sex... harm nobody. Several components of Sharia law are present in Malaysian law and among those are laws outlawing homosexuality. This bifurcated attack on democracy should not be overlooked as not only does the Malaysian state seeks to over-zealously adjudicate morality against its perceived enemies, but also attempts to impose religion on its citizens, leaving them without the option to worship as they please. This is not an attempt to undermine rape allegations, but how a person chooses to love and worship is of no consequence to the state.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Israel's Other Human Rights Catastrophe: The Negev Bedouin

The plight of the Negev Bedouin continued as Israel's Supreme Court recently ruled that the village of Umm al-Hiran would be destroyed and its inhabitants removed to make way for Israeli settlers. The NGO Human Rights Watch criticized the ruling, which also applied to a similar village in the West Bank, with its Middle East and Africa director Sarah Leah Whitson stating "The court decisions in the Umm al-Hiran and Susya cases ignore international law in upholding discriminatory evictions by the Israeli authorities in Israel and the occupied territories". In the court's ruling however, it stated that the eviction and demolition would not be discriminatory as the Bedouin would, in principle, not be prevented from later purchasing houses in the new community. Given that the new community would be built “with institutions intended to serve the religious Jewish community” and the recent history of disputes between religious settlers and evicted residents, the court's opinion is likely to remain "in principle" only.

Unfortunately for the Bedouin who currently reside in the Negev desert this recent injustice is only one of a long line of struggles. The first attempt legally impose restrictions on the Beouin's traditional way of life was under the Ottoman Empire. Seeking to impose greater control on the nomadic people, the Empire instituted the Ottoman Land Law in 1858 which set up legal justification to strip the Bedouin of their traditional rights to travel and encouraged them to register specific plots of land. While this process was initially used with the goal to expand the tax base for the Ottoman Empire, a long weakness of the Empire, it also had a sedentarization effect on the Bedouin. This later effect likely was also beneficial to the Empire seeking to ensure its security through greater control over its most nomadic citizens. Towards the end of the 19th century, the Empire would encourage other peoples to move to the region traditionally inhabited by the Bedouin by granting them large tracts of land. Unsurprisingly, this led to a further displacement of the Bedouin until many were forced to adopt a sedentary lifestyle that largely continues today.

It is the policies carried out under the Ottoman Empire, especially the 1858 Ottoman Land Law, that influenced the Israeli government when initially deciding how to handle the Bedouin that inhabited the new country of Israel. Taking a cue from the Ottoman designation of the land the Bedouin inhabited as "un-workable" , the Israeli government agreed with the assessment and like the Ottoman Empire before nationalized the land. This once again set up the legal grounds for a system of non-recognition and relocation that continues to the present. Simultaneously, among further efforts to discourage the traditional lifestyle of the Bedouin that were instituted, was the Black Goat Law of 1950 which under the justification of preventing erosion and other land damage severely limited the ability for Bedouins to graze their livestock. Due to their long history of systemic non-recognition and their low level of education very few Bedouin had the documentation or means to prove their historical right to the land or to argue against these measures.

The motives for the Israeli government's continued attacks on the Negev Bedouin's land and the non-recognition of their right to 36 villages in the Negev become clear when the future value of the Negev region is taken into account. To the Israeli government and organizations affiliated with Israel's development, the region of Negev is a key part of Israel's future, touted as a potential "Israeli Silicon Valley". As a first step of this larger move the Israeli military has announced plans to move bases to the region, specifically for unites deemed to be involved with "high-tech" careers, leading to a predicted annual regional benefit of NIS 1.4-1.7 billion (USD $360-470 million) in economic activity. Simultaneously, civilian governments and firms are planning to build further infrastructure and tourist related attractions to support this coordinated move with additional investments talked at totaling NIS 500 million (USD $128 million). The Negev and Galilee Development Ministry will also be promoting Jewish families to relocate to the region by aggressively advertising the increased standard of living and government subsidies for relocation. Reading through the mission of the backers and source of funds for this development, including the Jewish National fund (JNF), it is clear that the efforts to use and develop this land is for the Jewish population exclusively.

With dreams of Israeli's future dependent on a geopolitically stable south and with these plans aiming for completion before 2020, it is little surprise why resolving these long standing issues with the Negev Bedouin in a comprehensive and fair fashion is not a priority. A dispersed group of Israel's fastest growing population, all of who are Israeli citizens, which also suffers from extremely low educational attainment and inclusion in greater Israeli society would present a thorn in the side of the stability needed for future development in the region. Despite public lip service by the Israeli government to raising the standard of living for the Negev Bedouin, such as the unpopular and later scrapped Prawer Plan, the recent action to destroy the village of Umm al-Hiran clearly illustrates the truth for the Negev Bedouin. Simply, development of the region is a priority and will happen as the Israeli government dictates without meaningful input from the Negev Bedouin and unrecognized villages will be destroyed to make way for Jewish Israelis. With little in the way of international recognition or support the Negev Bedouin and their unrecognized villages face a daunting task against a government which views them as a problem rather than a potential stakeholder in Israeli society. Ariel Sharon wrote in 2000, "In the Negev, we face a serious problem: About 900,000 dunams of government land are not in our hands, but in the hands of the Bedouin population. I, as a resident of the Negev, see this problem every day. It is, essentially, a demographic phenomenon… Out of weakness, perhaps also lack of awareness about the issue, we, as a country, are doing nothing to confront this situation… The Bedouin are grabbing new territory. They are gnawing away at the country’s land reserves, and no one is doing anything significant about it." With the recent out rulings it clear that the Israeli government has indeed decided to do something "significant" about the Bedouin phenomenon, with disastrous results to their community.

This piece is cross-shared with The Policy Wire and has been republished with the author's consent. 

Friday, May 22, 2015

Blaming Europe and Arresting Smugglers Will Not Solve the Mediterranean Migrant Crisis

The United Nations estimates 60,000 people have tried to cross the Mediterranean this year. Nearly 2,000 have died this year trying to reach Europe from Africa. This is a 20-fold increase for the same time period in 2014 where fewer than 100 perished at sea. 800 of these death occurred in the middle of April off the coast of Libya when a fishing trawler collided with a Portuguese container ship. The current lack of law and order in Libya has led to a situation where no state entity is able to control territory or borders - and or sea. As such, hordes of smuggling gangs have manifested and acted with impunity.

Migrants hoping to reach Europe are often told they are purchasing a seat on a "big boat."  More often than not, however, what is waiting is a small dinghy where they are forced to enter at gunpoint. Those who refuse are shot. Before boarding, migrants are held prisoners on a farm for weeks and sometimes even months before departure where reports have emerged of abuse, beatings, sickness, starvation, and death.

Survivors of the accident mentioned above claim the smugglers wanted to fit 1,200 people on the 66-foot boat. Those on the doomed fishing trawler mentioned above paid between $700 and $7,000 to board. Passengers with the least amount of money were stuffed in the hold.

Not all rescued migrants share the same fate. Those picked up by the Libyan coast guard are held in detention until their country of origin is determined and are then deported. Migrants picked up by European rescuers have somewhat more fortunate circumstances. Upon reaching ports in southern Europe such as Catania in Sicily they have their names and photographs taken by authorities and are then moved to Red Cross tents where they receive food and shelter.

Lawrence Jolles, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, says that at the moment, the UNHCR has less-than-adequate capacities for rescuing these migrants who choose to flee their country of origin for Europe. Leaders from the European Union have pledged to triple funding for Frontex, the EU border agency, and have even gone so far as to threaten military strikes against smugglers' boats. While the UNHCR says the EU needs further mechanisms other than its current spending plan, this is an improvement over the former plan of cutting the number of rescue boats in hopes of discouraging migrants from crossing the Mediterranean.

As weather improves, more migrants will make the journey. The question therefore seems to be how to stop people from risking their lives trying to reach Europe by means of human smugglers. Some have suggested joint UN-EU safe zones be set up in North African countries where migrants can apply for asylum before embarking on the treacherous journey. While noble, this is an unlikely solution. For starters, Libya currently has two rival government operating within its borders. Secondly, most migrants fear they are not eligible for asylum and would be labeled as economic migrants (as absurd as that may be). Europe in general and Britain in particular has received a lot of flack for its perceived failure to act. As Stefan Soesanto of the Pacific Forum Center for Strategic and International Studies notes, it is easy to blame Europe, yet the reality of the situation hovers between "an open-door policy that allows for overall legal migration to Europe and... a full-fledged deterrence policy that militarizes European maritime security and border surveillance." The EU has put together a ten-point plan to combat the crisis that is a hybrid of the two. The plan, backed by foreign and interior ministers, is as follows:
1. The EU will reinforce the EU's maritime patrolling operations in the Mediterranean, called Triton and Poseidon, by giving them more money and equipment. The EU will also extend their scope to patrol a wider area of sea.2. The bloc will make a systematic effort to capture and destroy vessels used by the people smugglers, using the EU's counter-piracy "Atalanta" operation off Somalia as a model. EU officials said it would be a combined civilian and military operation but gave no more details.
3. The EU's law enforcement, border control, asylum and prosecutors' agencies will meet regularly and work closely to gather information on how the smugglers operate, to trace their funds and help investigate them.
4. The European Union's asylum support office will to deploy teams in Italy and Greece for joint processing of asylum applications.
5. EU governments will fingerprint all migrants.
6. The EU will consider options for an "emergency relocation mechanism" for migrants.
7. The European Commission will launch a voluntary pilot project on resettling [5,000] refugees across the EU.
8. The EU will establish a new return program for rapid return of "irregular" migrants coordinated by EU agency Frontex from the EU's Mediterranean countries.
9. The EU will engage with countries surrounding Libya through a joint effort between the Commission and the EU's diplomatic service.
10. The EU will deploy immigration liaison officers abroad to gather intelligence on migratory flows and strengthen the role of the EU delegations.
This is a step in the right direction, however as the BBC's Chris Morris notes, the current funding for rescue operations is at 1/3 of what it was last year. Doubling that funding, which is what the EU has proposed, will still be less than the amount of funding received in 2014. Also, the pilot program designed to admit 5,000 asylum seekers sounds good, but this number is a drop in the bucket compared to the 170,000 refugees admitted in 2014 in Italy alone. Furthermore, going after smugglers is a monumental task. Will the EU authorities go after boats? If so, will this be through targeted military operations or by destroying abandoned boats at sea? As Patrick Kingsley of the Guardian explains, smuggling operations include more than just the boat drivers. There are brokers, drivers, people selling wholesale life jackets, boat owners, passport forgers, and bribes for the coast guard to look the other way. Even if all the smuggling networks are taken out, the demand to reach Europe will still be present. Blaming Europe, blaming the smugglers is not what the global community's voice should be targeting. If the ultimate goal is to prevent flight in the first place, then we need to look at the causes for flight.

The majority of migrants rescued at sea come from places like Nigeria, where Boko Haram seemingly kidnaps girls at will for trying to go to school; Gambia, where homosexuality is illegal and President Al Hadij Yahya Jamen threatened to slit the throats of all gay men in the country; Ghana, who has been plagued with an energy crisis for the past three years; Syria, which is in the midst of a four-year-long civil war and also a stronghold for ISIS; Libya, which has fallen into chaos after the fall of Gaddafi and is on the verge of becoming a failed state; Eritrea, "a harsh, brutal dictatorship" called the North Korea of Africa; Somalia, which has been largely lawless without a functioning government since 1991 and is terrorized by Al Shabaab; Mali, which suffered a coup in 2012; Sierra Leone, ground zero of the Ebola outbreak last year which is still ravaging the country; and Senegal, with rampant unemployment that reached 48% in 2014.

Whether it be for equal access to education, reliable infrastructure, sexual freedom, better medical care, or... peace, refugees are fleeing their countries of origin in search of a better life and the prospect of a grim death while packed to the brim in the bottom of a dinghy is not nearly enough to deter them from doing so. While the multi-pronged approach proposed by the EU is a proper reactionary tool, another tenor must be added to this mechanism in order to preemptively gut the problem at its source. I am not suggesting military interventions, but rather increased foreign aid, investment, cooperation and engagement from developing countries in order to bring these nations into the 21st century where the rights of all are respected.