A Reflection on America’s Long Term Strength

I should start by acknowledging that there are no new ideas in the post.  I just want to remind us all of something its easy to forget in the news cycle.

Notwithstanding our largely paralyzed political process, a party and President with plans to effectively destroy our openness and our generosity to the less fortunate, and an international environmnt with several major players whose committement to the values for which we have stood is, dubious to say the least, our overall assets are such that any other country and leader could only dream that their nation will possess them in their children’s time, if ever.

Not only do we still have massive economic power now backed by a powerful innovation machine, we have most of the leading educational institutions, speak the utterly dominant language, have a human capital pool from every country in the world, democratic values that remain a beacon for those of goodwill throughout the world, a political system with checks and balances that usually work, although not always as quickly as they have in the last three weeks, and not just a free free press but a system in which multiple layers protect that essential ingredient of freedom and progress.  (If you have any doubt about how all those interact in a time of crisis, just look at the list of amici in the immigration case in the Ninth Circuit, as discussed here.)

Now, lots of terrible harm is going to happen to lots of people.  The sate net will take vicious hits.  There will be serious limits on voting rights.  Government support of education and research will be very seriously hit.  Only by a miracle will the damage to our health care system be less than the good that is done — although “repair” might end up giving us a better system in some states.  One could add to this list.

But, unless our entire political system is destroyed (and I am actually less worried about that right now) most of our essential uniqueness will remain.  Unless things get much worse, people will still want to study, teach, and invest here.  They will still see English as the only non-native language they need to speak.  Above all, we will remain the only country that large groups of people in every country see as the model to emulate.

If we are really lucky, or rather if we really deserve it, the way we ultimately overcome our current challenges will enhance our uniqueness and appeal.  Few countries have the capacity for defense in depth of democracy that we have already shown.  It may take four years, or even eight, but this too will pass.  To quote Lee Hayes from an earlier era: “I’ve had kidney stones and I know.”





The Totally Unbalanced Amici List in the Ninth Circuit Tells the Whole Story

As a general matter, the line up of amici in a significant case provides some indication of how institutions are lining up on the issue.  If this were an issue on which the country were split, one might expect that those in support of the administration and those challenging Trump’s Executive order would be in rough balance.

So, I engaged in a quick research project and looked at the Ninth Circuit docket entries, which are here.

There are approximately twenty briefs, and only two were in support of the Executive Order.  One is from from Freedom Watch., and the other does round up a number of the usual suspects, with the list reading as follows:

Amici Curiae U.S. Justice Foundation, Citizens United, Citizens United Foundation, English First Foundation, English First, Public Advocate of the United States, Gun Owners Foundation, Gun Owners of America, Conservative Legal Defense and Education Fund, U.S. Border Control Foundation, and Policy Analysis Center

In contrast to the outpouring of states, technology businesses, law professors, advocacy organizations, etc supporting the challenge to the Order, this is a remarkably weak display.

No states, no Republican officeholders, no businesses.  Only a few frequent litigators and a few far-right frequent fliers, heavy on guns, English language monopoly, and border control.  Not a cross section of even just conservative America, let alone America as a whole.

That suggests to me the deep ambivalence of the institutional structures of our society, not only about the Order, but about the administration from which it came.

This adds to the increasing evidence that the policies of the last three weeks are built on shifting sand in terms of support.  At a minimum, this gives the courts far more freedom to follow the law, knowing that if that triggers a formal constitutional crisis (rather than just the de facto one we already have), the courts will have almost all the system on their side.


What Emma Lazarus Would Write Today

Christine Webb is a British poet of great accomplishment and also a close multi-generational family friend.

I feel honored that we are able to share this magnificent poem that Christine has written in response to recent actions taken in the name of the United States.  It is an almost unbearable reminder of the contrast between what our country used to be seen as, and what we are now doing.

We can only hope that the millions around the world who have been inspired by the best in us, even as they always saw our defects, will remember that this is in no way a majority Presidency, and that what is done in our name is not what the majority of us tried to choose.

webbI am certain that Emma Lazarus would have welcomed these words, even as she cried with us. (Statue of Liberty plaque poem here.)


Will Harvard Have to Move to Canada? Will Google? Will New York City?

After yesterday’s evil, stupid and frightening Executive Order, and its chaotic, confused and terrifying so-called “implementation,” the question has to be asked whether currently US institutions like those listed above (Harvard, Google, New York City) will be allowed to operate according to their internationalist, intellectual, and truth-respecting values.  Because, if the answer is no, then they are going to start thinking about moving first certain operations, and then their leadership, to other countries.

For modern institutions, free flow of ideas, scholarship, thinkers, and contributors is critical, and a rational fair border flow policy is critical.  If a country can not offer that any more, then those organizations that make the country home will suffer massive competitive disadvantages.  And so will the countries from which those institutions then start to move.  Low tax rates only make a difference if you have income.

I am struck by the analogy to the state travel boycotts, and threats of boycott, that played such a role in the recent dis-empowering of homophobia.  Many states were forced to back down by those boycotts and threats of boycotts.  As time goes by, maybe countries will start to face the same dynamics.  It is no good pressuring a corporation to reduce job losses at an in-US plant if there is no intellectual property creating a product that will be wanted enough to keep the previously “saved” jobs producing anything.

Judicial intervention tonight makes this less immediately likely, but unless long term sanity is returned to government, leaders of such institutions will be forced to start to make contingency plans, or cease to be seen as international leaders.

Maybe the current spasms are the death throes of a long dying nationalistic international order, rather than an existential threat to the still emerging international one that has been developing ever since the end of World War II.

I hope that internationalist institutions will find a way to underline the stakes.

p.s. In a model statement, Harvard indeed has.  See here.

Thoughts For Those At Personal and Family Risk

There will be time and time enough to understand how this has happened.

But first, let us find the ways to be supportive at the personal and group level of people who are now to be put at risk through the dismantling of immigrant family protections, healthcare protections, and God knows what else.

I do not know how it is to be done, but that is the number one priority.

Only that way will we regain the equilibrium to deal with the more fundamental questions, such as the protection of the constitutional balance and the legal system.

Forced to Choose, In Spirit I Become a European-American Today, Rather Than a British-American

Watching the results last night, I started to realize that I now feel more European then British.  If, as a result of the referendum, I am offered the choice of a British (UK) passport or a general European one, I think I would take the European one.  As a US dual passport holder, who has not lived in the UK since the beginning of 1968, I am not here renouncing my UK rights, but given that choice, that’s my feeling today.  It does not help that I did not even have the right to vote in the UK referendum, even though it is likely to result in the loss of my UK-based right to live and work in the EU.  (By the way, at the end of World War II, many people faced complex changes in citizenship, with hard to make choices.)

I, like many expats, have extensive family links in the EU, in my case in Poland, so that impacts my feelings.  I might even have rights to EU citizenship through Poland, Ireland, or even Scotland (assuming they leave the UK and join the EU, through ancestors.  But, that’s the point, we are European citizens, rather than UK or English ones, just like we are American, rather than Maryland citizens.

I am strongly influenced by respect for the German response to the refugee crisis, which is literally orders of magnitude better than the American.  (Germany has a bit more than a quarter of the US population, but is admitting 200 times the number of Syrian refugees, for a  multiplier of close to 800 times the US per capita rate).

But above all, Europeans have been far more forceful in promoting the European Project, while the latest vote is only the latest manifestation of British ambivalence going back to the 1950’s.  That was reflected in the appalling campaign, that was all, on both sides, about appeal to selfish interests.  (There’s a long history of this.  The Tory election slogan in 1959, inevitably reflecting Britain’s class realities, was “You’ve Never Had It So Good.  Note the “You.”)

In a positive campaign, the challenges Europe is facing would be a reason to stay and help, not one to flee and, literally, closing the UK (or probably just parts of it if) off.  I nearly typed “reason for us to stay and help,” and then realized that I do not feel “us” any more.

I suspect that many, but far from all, UK expats are feeling some of this today.  Even though the EU Project may be able to move forward, at least in the long term, better without the UK, it will ultimately be a less valuable project without my birth country.


Would Brexit Renew the “Brain Drain” From the UK?

When I was a young person in the UK in the 60s, the so called “brain drain,” the loss of educated folks, particularly to North America, was a constant source of anxiety and debate.  Inevitably, the topic pops up again periodically, often in the context of the internal tax debate.

But now, the question is whether a “Brexited” UK, maybe even without Scotland too, would become a less attractive place to stay for a new generation.  My very strong instinct is yes.  Its not just the practicality of the options available in the future to an EU citizen, with the ability to move in an area of a quarter of a billion people even after the exit, versus those likely to be available to an English/Welsh/NI citizen.  More importantly, the basic choice of insularity versus looking outward will have been made, and the message to the restless will be clear:  “This  is a smaller country, determined to get smaller.”  Not the way to ensure faith in the future, particularly those for those who chafe under remainders and reminders of caste and class.

All the ex-pats from the UK I have talked to recently, from a wide age range, are literally unable to understand how Brexit could be a serious question, currently polling close.

A recent article in the Guardian reports research showing that almost half of thos who applied to, or contacted UK universities said that a Brexit would make the UK a less attractive place to study.  Moreover, non-UK students did far better both in and after university than their UK classmates.  Hardly surprising, the voluntarily mobile are usually the risk-takers and achievers, as any student of immigration patterns will tell you.  For an academic who has spent his life studying the economic of such movements, see here.

It is hard to imagine the pro-leave forces being impacted by this analysis, but that’s the point.