The Second Debate: Kenneth Bone Saves the Day

I am running behind. My intention this week was to cover two of the most contentious issues in this election period – not only within the US but globally: immigration and trade. I discussed immigration in a series of blogs in August and September but I didn’t discuss trade because I thought it was outside my scope of focus on this platform. I was wrong. Immigration and trade are both indicators of globalization, which in turn is the central indicator of the new era dominated by humans: the Anthropocene (February 3, 2015 and May 3June 14, 2016). I have talked about globalization mainly in terms of common threats – the most pressing of which I see being climate change. However, globalization can also help increase global wellbeing. Trade is not a zero sum game, it can benefit us all. As I mentioned in the last blog, globalization – as any socio-economical change, can result in winners and losers. The mechanism for sharing the benefits is a transfer of wealth from the winners to facilitate assistance for the losers. Good government should be judged by its determination and success in making that happen. These are appropriate topics in presidential debates but immigration was hardly mentioned in the first debate and any talk of trade was limited to negative implications.

The second presidential debate on Sunday, October 9, went well beyond all of this. It took place immediately after a tape was leaked in which Donald Trump was seen and heard going after women – married or single – in a way that made not only the country, but the world cringe in disgust. His polls declined sharply and the Republican Party found itself on the verge of implosion. Donald Trump attempted to downplay or disregard any fallout from his actions, concentrating instead on throwing red meat to keep at least his most dedicated supporters happy.

Unexpectedly, toward the end of the debate, most of which was an all-out brawl, two questions posed by audience members within the Town Hall setting, presented welcome exceptions.

The last question asked the candidates to name one characteristic they admired in their opponent. Trump actually came with a much better answer than Clinton did but both were exceedingly trite. It was obvious that the two cannot stand each other.

The question that interested me most was the penultimate one, posed by Mr. Kenneth Bone. It was in line with everything that I care about in this blog, so I am posting the discussion in full below:

QUESTION: What steps will your energy policy take to meet our energy needs, while at the same time remaining environmentally friendly and minimizing job loss for fossil power plant workers? (Mr. Kenneth Bone)

COOPER: Mr. Trump, two minutes?

TRUMP: Absolutely. I think it’s such a great question, because energy is under siege by the Obama administration. Under absolutely siege. The EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, is killing these energy companies. And foreign companies are now coming in buying our — buying so many of our different plants and then re-jiggering the plant so that they can take care of their oil.

We are killing — absolutely killing our energy business in this country. Now, I’m all for alternative forms of energy, including wind, including solar, et cetera. But we need much more than wind and solar.

And you look at our miners. Hillary Clinton wants to put all the miners out of business. There is a thing called clean coal. Coal will last for 1,000 years in this country. Now we have natural gas and so many other things because of technology. We have unbelievable — we have found over the last seven years, we have found tremendous wealth right under our feet. So good. Especially when you have $20 trillion in debt.

I will bring our energy companies back. They’ll be able to compete. They’ll make money. They’ll pay off our national debt. They’ll pay off our tremendous budget deficits, which are tremendous. But we are putting our energy companies out of business. We have to bring back our workers.

You take a look at what’s happening to steel and the cost of steel and China dumping vast amounts of steel all over the United States, which essentially is killing our steelworkers and our steel companies. We have to guard our energy companies. We have to make it possible.

The EPA is so restrictive that they are putting our energy companies out of business. And all you have to do is go to a great place like West Virginia or places like Ohio, which is phenomenal, or places like Pennsylvania and you see what they’re doing to the people, miners and others in the energy business. It’s a disgrace.

COOPER: Your time is up. Thank you.

TRUMP: It’s an absolute disgrace. COOPER: Secretary Clinton, two minutes.

CLINTON: And actually — well, that was very interesting. First of all, China is illegally dumping steel in the United States and Donald Trump is buying it to build his buildings, putting steelworkers and American steel plants out of business. That’s something that I fought against as a senator and that I would have a trade prosecutor to make sure that we don’t get taken advantage of by China on steel or anything else.

You know, because it sounds like you’re in the business or you’re aware of people in the business — you know that we are now for the first time ever energy-independent. We are not dependent upon the Middle East. But the Middle East still controls a lot of the prices. So the price of oil has been way down. And that has had a damaging effect on a lot of the oil companies, right? We are, however, producing a lot of natural gas, which serves as a bridge to more renewable fuels. And I think that’s an important transition.

We’ve got to remain energy-independent. It gives us much more power and freedom than to be worried about what goes on in the Middle East. We have enough worries over there without having to worry about that.

So I have a comprehensive energy policy, but it really does include fighting climate change, because I think that is a serious problem. And I support moving toward more clean, renewable energy as quickly as we can, because I think we can be the 21st century clean energy superpower and create millions of new jobs and businesses.

But I also want to be sure that we don’t leave people behind. That’s why I’m the only candidate from the very beginning of this campaign who had a plan to help us revitalize coal country, because those coal miners and their fathers and their grandfathers, they dug that coal out. A lot of them lost their lives. They were injured, but they turned the lights on and they powered their factories. I don’t want to walk away from them. So we’ve got to do something for them.

COOPER: Secretary Clinton…

CLINTON: But the price of coal is down worldwide. So we have to look at this comprehensively.

COOPER: Your time is up.

CLINTON: And that’s exactly what I have proposed. I hope you will go to and look at my entire policy.

COOPER: Time is up. We have time for one more…

The question and answers emphasized the role of government in addressing the socio-economic issue at hand and the people that are directly impacted by the current and next steps regarding our energy transition. Both candidates answered the question in full and emphasized their fundamental differences on this important issue. I only wish that the full debate had been conducted in this spirit.

Many news organizations crowned Mr. Bone as the winner of this debate. I fully agree.

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The First Presidential Debate: Trump Argues This Country is a Mess!

Sunday was the second Presidential debate but for now I’m still processing the first one. Let’s start with a comment voiced by Republican Vice Presidential candidate Governor Mike Pence, during the campaign’s only Vice Presidential debate, which took place on Wednesday, October 5th:

PENCE: You — honestly, Senator, you can roll out the numbers and the sunny side, but I got to tell you, people in Scranton know different. People in Fort Wayne, Indiana, know different. I mean, this economy is struggling. The answer to this economy is not more taxes.

Governor’s Pence comment is interesting, because every policy decision has economic repercussions, which involve a shift from the previous equilibrium – often creating winners and losers. It is the role of good government to maximize the positive outcomes and minimize the negative effects. This is usually achieved through prudent use of income redistribution through taxation of the winners.

Donald Trump proudly insists that not paying his share of taxes makes him smart. While there had been hints that the details from his unreleased tax records would be controversial, the fact that he spent years without paying any tax didn’t come out until after the first debate. I’m sure that this will continue to be a big issue in subsequent debates.

I was taking notes while I watched the first presidential debate on Monday, September 26th. Unsurprisingly, the takeaway from the debate was very subjective: Clinton supporters viewed it as a clear win for Hillary; likewise, Trump supporters saw it as a victory for him.

At the end, most of the polls that I saw gave the debate to Hillary and general polls – both national and state, saw a bounce of few percent in Hillary’s direction.

Almost all sources acknowledge that while the first third of the debate was decent and balanced, what followed was an almost complete disintegration on Trump’s part. It got to the point where it was almost impossible to follow his arguments. This also speaks to a wildly held opinion that Trump’s short attention span might be a serious issue for him. I agree on both counts.

Nor am I alone in thinking that Trump was acting as a bully  when he interrupted and talked over both Hillary and the moderator at every opportunity.

There was plenty of fact checking available both during and immediately following the debate. The part that interests me more is certain unverifiable claims. For example:

Trump asked Obama not to pardon Hillary but she was never charged with, much less convicted of any crime. (Jenna Johnson – The Washington Post – Friday, September 30, 2016)

“Mr. President, will you pledge not to issue a pardon to Hillary Clinton and her co-conspirators for their many crimes against our country and against society itself?” Trump said to a cheering audience in this Detroit suburb on Friday evening.

He added: “No one is above the law.”

Trump “promised” to use Bill Clinton’s infidelities against Hillary in the next debate: “Hillary Clinton was married to the single greatest abuser of women in the history of politics,”

That claim, “single greatest abuser of women in the history of politics” is a whopper of a charge, especially when you consider that it counts back many thousand years when ancient societies first started to form governments. How can you possibly refute this kind of generalization? One could start by trying to disprove that Bill Clinton abused women at all, or by finding someone with a worse record, but part of the problem is that he’s not even the one running for office right now.

I have discussed the importance of refutability when presenting any statement as an objective description of reality (October 27, 2015), in the same way that it is vital to Popper’s definition of the scientific method (June 18, 2012). For me, arguments and claims that cannot be refuted are much worse than false arguments because unfortunately they stick better.

Now let’s look at the first debate itself, using the full transcript via the New York Times. I will try to take my examples from the time period when most agree Trump was still coherent.

Trump’s two strongest topics, according to his adherents, are trade and immigration. Trade was discussed prevalently within our focus time frame but the first debate hardly referenced immigration.

One of Trump’s main campaign themes is that our country is in a big mess since President Obama took office; a total failure. He includes Hillary Clinton in his summation of the administration, even though she has not participated in Obama’s second term:

Our country’s in deep trouble. We don’t know what we’re doing when it comes to devaluations and all of these countries all over the world, especially China. They’re the best, the best ever at it. What they’re doing to us is a very, very sad thing.

So we have to do that. We have to renegotiate our trade deals. And, Lester, they’re taking our jobs, they’re giving incentives, they’re doing things that, frankly, we don’t do.

Let me give you the example of Mexico. They have a VAT tax. We’re on a different system. When we sell into Mexico, there’s a tax. When they sell in — automatic, 16 percent, approximately. When they sell into us, there’s no tax. It’s a defective agreement. It’s been defective for a long time, many years, but the politicians haven’t done anything about it.

He also claims that we are experiencing the worst revival in history:

TRUMP: Typical politician. All talk, no action. Sounds good, doesn’t work. Never going to happen. Our country is suffering because people like Secretary Clinton have made such bad decisions in terms of our jobs and in terms of what’s going on.

Now, look, we have the worst revival of an economy since the Great Depression. And believe me: We’re in a bubble right now. And the only thing that looks good is the stock market, but if you raise interest rates even a little bit, that’s going to come crashing down.

We are in a big, fat, ugly bubble. And we better be awfully careful. And we have a Fed that’s doing political things. This Janet Yellen of the Fed. The Fed is doing political — by keeping the interest rates at this level. And believe me: The day Obama goes off, and he leaves, and goes out to the golf course for the rest of his life to play golf, when they raise interest rates, you’re going to see some very bad things happen, because the Fed is not doing their job. The Fed is being more political than Secretary Clinton.

Since he has been kind enough to give us parameters, let’s try to refute this argument with some data:

Table 1 compares the economic performance of the US with four other major developed countries, as well as with Mexico and China.

Country GDP Growth Rate (%) – 2015 GDP/Capita – 2015 ($) GDP Growth Rate (%) – 2009 GDP/Capita – 2009 ($)
Canada 1.1 43,296 -2.95 40,774
France 1.2 35,928 -2.85 41,577
Germany 1.7 41,278 -5.6 41,514
Japan 0.5 32,283 -2.85 39,062
US 2.4 55,919 -2.8 47,059
China 6.9 7,956 9.2 3,835
Mexico 2.5 8,661 -4.7 7,607

Table 1 – Economic performance of major developed countries and China and Mexico during President Obama’s presidency (based on Worldbank data)

The US looks like the best performer in the bunch. China made a lot of progress but started from a much lower level. China’s performance during the Republican presidency was actually considerably stronger than its present performance. The US economy is far cry from a state in “deep trouble” and clearly has not been in the hands of “incompetent stewards” since 2009. In other words, Trump’s loud global slogan is empty of facts.

The second issue that is very close to my heart is Trump’s comment on the development of sustainable energy choices. Here was Trump’s take on the matter during the first debate:

TRUMP: She talks about solar panels. We invested in a solar company, our country. That was a disaster. They lost plenty of money on that one.

Now, look, I’m a great believer in all forms of energy, but we’re putting a lot of people out of work. Our energy policies are a disaster. Our country is losing so much in terms of energy, in terms of paying off our debt. You can’t do what you’re looking to do with $20 trillion in debt.

The Obama administration, from the time they’ve come in, is over 230 years’ worth of debt, and he’s topped it. He’s doubled it in a course of almost eight years, seven-and-a-half years, to be semi- exact.

So I will tell you this. We have to do a much better job at keeping our jobs. And we have to do a much better job at giving companies incentives to build new companies or to expand, because they’re not doing it.

And all you have to do is look at Michigan and look at Ohio and look at all of these places where so many of their jobs and their companies are just leaving, they’re gone.

And, Hillary, I’d just ask you this. You’ve been doing this for 30 years. Why are you just thinking about these solutions right now? For 30 years, you’ve been doing it, and now you’re just starting to think of solutions.

On this one I will directly quote Paul Krugman:

Everyone has heard about how loan guarantees to one solar-energy company, Solyndra, went sour — at a cost, by the way, that amounted to only a bit more than half the amount Mr. Trump personally lost in just one year thanks to bad business decisions. Few people, by contrast, have heard about the green energy revolution that the administration’s loans and other policy support helped promote, with plunging prices and soaring consumption of solar and wind power.

Trump was talking about one instance: Solyndra. Here are the numbers on which Krugman is basing his comments:


Figure 1

renewable-energy-production-and-consumptionFigure 2

I will discuss immigration, trade, taxation, and other issues that came up in the first two debates next week. So far, based on Trump’s first debate and having listened to him carefully throughout his campaign, I find his opinions on all of the major issues as empty and baseless as the two that we analyzed here. You might disagree. I’d be delighted to hear your thoughts on the matter in the comments, so long as you accompany them with some reliable data.

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Assessment – Fall 2016: Global Issues, Personal Perspectives and Climate Change

B1XRP1 Honey drippin on a green apple slice isolated on white

Shana Tova! The Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) is here. For me, it’s a family celebration. According to tradition, we are entering into the year 5777, but nobody that I know of dwells too much on the origin of this number (by some interpretations, it’s the age of humans starting with Adam and Eve). We are also one month into the first semester of this academic year and it’s been a week since the first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. It’s time for a new assessment.

My last assessment was on April 26th. Since then, I have emphasized the kind of political leadership that I think is necessary in this new, human-dominated era that many call the Anthropocene. Additionally, I have looked into the impact of migration in present times. Intermingled and connected to these two abstract topics were thoughts about issues that have arisen during the presidential campaigns and some related personal stories.

Here are two key paragraphs from the first blog of this assessment period (May 3, 2016):

Regardless of how our time officially becomes known – be it Anthropocene or some other name, humanity is in control here. There are 7.3 billion people on Earth, with an ever-increasing GDP per person, and impressively efficient methods of global communication. If we want to implement sustainable development within the next 100 years, global coordination is imperative. Related governance in any part of this system requires careful consideration within the global context.

The real point is that governing has reached a greater complexity than ever before. Governing bodies must consider global issues as well as local. They must set and implement policies that balance society’s safety and that of our physical environment. Such a feat necessitates considering multiple stories, setting priorities, and being aware of long-term consequences. It requires that scientists be involved in governance as well as that politicians be scientifically literate. For that, we need some major changes in our educational system to promote that sort of bilingualism.

 The upcoming US presidential elections are clearly crucial to this issue. One particular sentence drives this point home. It comes not from either of the main party candidates but rather from the Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson. The Libertarian Party has marketed itself as a “safe haven” for sectors of the electorate that are “disgusted” with the Republican and Democratic Party offerings.

“In billions of years, the sun is going to actually grow and encompass the Earth, right? So global warming is in our future,” 

He is absolutely right. I know because I teach cosmology in school and I am intimately acquainted with the details. To put some numbers and physics into his statement, our sun will run out of the hydrogen fuel within its core in about 5 billion years; it will then start to fuse hydrogen drawn from its shell. As a result it will grow to be a Red Giant that will encompass Earth – changing our climate to nonexistent. Eventually its core will separate to form a White Dwarf made of carbon and the shell will disperse into cosmic clouds that will serve as the seed to form the next generation of stars.

What Gary Johnson doesn’t realize is that there’s a big difference between that 5 billion years and the 84 years remaining until the end of this century – a period of time in which our children and grandchildren will justifiably hold us responsible for their wellbeing. Our concern for climate change is not about the next billion or even million years; it’s about the next generation and the ones that follow. Gary Johnson is not “bilingual” (science and English). Nor is he fit to lead in the Anthropocene. True, he is marginally better than Donald Trump, who claims that climate change is a Chinese conspiracy, but not by much. This election is very important and I will continue to highlight various aspects until after the vote.

Now let’s turn to the other theme seeded throughout my four years of blog entries: individual stories – especially my own – that illustrate the tapestry of global issues defining our emerging Anthropocene.

From my perspective, climate change is just an early sign of the Anthropocene. So the clash between believers and deniers will expand to include almost every facet of life. In actuality, the real matter at hand has less to do with those who can or cannot envision a different future. Rather, the battle is between those who believe that it is our responsibility to shape the future for the benefit of future generations – even if these steps require some economic sacrifices in the present – and those who believe it is pointless to sacrifice anything in the face of an unknown future.

Attempts to take steps to improve the odds for sustainable future come in different forms and must proceed on different levels. There has to simultaneously be top-down implementation through governments on all levels and a bottom-up movement fueled by individuals. These movements must occur globally because the impact on the physical environment is universal. Indeed, this two-fronted battle towards mitigation and adaptation has already been going on for 20 years.

In my opinion, public awareness of the necessity to confront climate change can be traced to the “Earth Summit” that convened in Rio de Janeiro on June 1992 and the scientific findings that led up to it.

The high point of public recognition of climate change was probably when ex-Vice President and then-presidential-candidate Al Gore received a Nobel Peace Prize jointly with the UN IPCC. I have spoken extensively about the latter organization’s role in advocating both knowledge of and action to mitigate climate change. Al Gore, meanwhile, is well known for his Oscar-winning movie, “An Inconvenient Truth,” which I still show my students as an introduction to the topic. It is fitting that the Nobel was awarded to both to a global organization and an individual.

While his perspective on climate change garnered international attention, once certain details were revealed, Al Gore’s personal use of energy came under intense scrutiny that same year.

Armed with Gore’s utility bills for the last two years, the Tennessee Center for Policy Research charged Monday that the gas and electric bills for the former vice president’s 20-room home and pool house devoured nearly 221,000 kilowatt-hours in 2006, more than 20 times the national average of 10,656 kilowatt-hours.

“If this were any other person with $30,000-a-year in utility bills, I wouldn’t care,” says the Center’s 27-year-old president, Drew Johnson. “But he tells other people how to live and he’s not following his own rules.”

A photograph of his Nashville mansion is shown below

Figure 1 – Al Gore’s Nashville house

Al Gore is now a rich and famous man. A short internet search brings up images of his mansion in California, which puts the Nashville one to shame, but the sheer size of these buildings requires a lot of energy. If the energy use approximately matches the average energy mix in the US, it generates large amount of greenhouse gases. I didn’t follow up on his efforts to cut down on energy usage and replace his energy sources with a more sustainable mix. However, the message from his personal life certainly undermined his message to society and, if nothing else, served as a combustible weapon in the hands of climate deniers who refuse to heed his plea.

There are as many political opinions on the steps society needs to take to ensure better future for younger generations as there are people who spend time to consider the question at hand. We need to keep in mind a balance between our ideals in general and how we act on them in private.

Assessment: Since the end of April, on Twitter, I’m up to 373 followers. I also had 3 mentions, 22 retweets or shares, and over 38.3K tweet impressions. On Facebook, in the same time period, my page got an additional 36 “likes” and 20,036 impressions. On my blog itself, I’m happy to report that I’ve had had 599,027 visits from 67,189 unique computers. To those of you reading, I thank you and (as always) welcome your comments. Please don’t forget to follow me on Twitter, “like” me on Facebook, and tell your friends to do the same. Not only do I post my newest blogs, I also share interesting articles and stories.

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My Global Family Vacation Part 5: France and Sense of Security

Canal Saint-Martin, Paris Figure 1 – a weekend scene Near Canal Saint-Martin in Paris

Before the international meetings on climate change started in Paris (COP21 – see the four December 2015 blogs), I asked my younger family members there to monitor the street mood around the conference. I wanted them to either share their observations with me or write a guest blog on this platform and report what they saw to all of us.

After a few weeks of silence, I finally got an email that they saw climate change-related graffiti plastered near one of the train stations. I responded politely that that didn’t constitute a Parisian mood on any topic. I got an instant reply that from their perspective, Parisians didn’t care about COP21 or about climate change; they cared about security. I let it pass. This attitude was not surprising. The conference opened about two weeks after the November 13, 2015 Paris Attacks. Three Islamic terrorists carried out coordinated attacks: one in the Stade de France during a football match (soccer for Americans) between France and Germany, one at a restaurant near where my family lives, and an especially deadly one at the Bataclan Theatre during a performance by the rock group the Eagles of Death Metal. Overall, the assailants killed 130 people and injured close to 400, many of them seriously. This happened just 10 months after the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo – a retaliation for the magazine’s cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad.

Paris was the last stop of our summer vacation and this will be the last blog in the series that started on August 2nd. On July 14th – before we left Malta (September 13th blog) – an Islamic individual of Tunisian origin drove a truck through a large crowd watching Bastille Day fireworks in Nice, France, killing more than 86 people. I immediately emailed a Parisian friend whom I knew often visits the French Riviera during the summer, to find out if she was OK. She said she was fine and was in her apartment in Paris, adding that regardless of where she is, she avoids large crowds.

Figure 1 illustrates the scene that we found upon our arrival in Paris: large crowds were sitting very close to each other, picnicking and chatting along the banks of Canal Saint-Martin. Another friend later explained to me that the people that I saw were the “young” folks. I asked what the older generations were doing – staying home, I was told.

Paris is still a lovely city, which refuses to be intimidated by terrorist attacks. Or maybe that intimidation is taking other forms?

Most French people that I talked to strongly suspect that sooner or later, the ongoing fear will result in a major political shift toward the far right – a movement that stresses anti-immigration policies as its prime (if not its sole) political agenda. In this sense, there is little difference from the anxiety afflicting the United States and its ramifications (France is expecting general election next year). Last week’s blog is entirely relevant within the context of the current French political outlook.

Unlike the United States, where Trump’s proposed high wall on the Mexican border (that Mexico will be forced to pay for?) is an often-heard rallying cry, France has found a much more photogenic object of contention: the burkini.

burkini police

Figure 2 – four armed, fully-dressed policemen forcing a young woman to undress on a beach in Nice

A version of the burkini at work is shown in Figure 3 – a woman is fully covered in an outfit made of swimsuit material, allowing her to modestly swim in the ocean and the swimming pool and making it easier to provide parental supervision while taking the kids out to enjoy the summer. But the picture that really went viral all over the world is the one I show as Figure 2.


Figure 3 – the Burkini at work

The burkini was neither conceived in France, nor in any Muslim country. It was “invented” in Australia by a Muslim immigrant. Here is what the NYT writes about its origin:

The woman credited with creating the so-called burkini said the controversy over efforts to ban the full-body bathing suit worn by some Muslim women has helped bolster demand for her invention, which she said was not meant to be a political statement.

Aheda Zanetti, the Lebanese-Australian inventor of the swimsuit, said officials in more than a dozen French beach towns seeking to prevent women from covering up have misconstrued the purpose of the bathing suit.

“They’ve misunderstood the burkini swimsuit,” Ms. Zanetti, 49, said in a telephone interview from Sydney. “Because the burkini swimsuit is freedom and happiness and lifestyle changes — you can’t take that away from a Muslim, or any other woman, that chooses to wear it.”

The burkini is not mandated in the Quran. In fact, I am almost certain that it would be forbidden in Saudi Arabia for being too tight and sexy – a rule that would be strictly enforced by their morality police. As with its very popular counterpart among women – especially in France – the topless swimsuit, its sexiness strongly depends on the wearer (see Figure 4). Yet more than 30 municipalities in France banned the burkini, citing “security concerns.” When a French court overruled the ban, many municipalities refused to comply.

Figure 4 – An advertisement for the burkini

Understandably, resettlement of immigrants in France means that there will be forces trying to make the newcomers assimilate completely to the host culture. Burkinis are the smallest aspect of this but a good indicator that such an approach will never work.

This blog will be posted one day after the first debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. We will certainly have our hands full.

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“When governments fear the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny”

-Thomas Jefferson


This election, as characterized by the media, is dominated by fear:

The vast majority of Americans say they are afraid of at least one of the two major candidates — Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump — winning the White House, a remarkable finding that reflects an unsettled nation unhappy with its choice.

Eighty-one percent of Americans say they would feel afraid following the election of one of the two polarizing politicians, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll. That includes a quarter who say it doesn’t matter who wins: they’re scared of both.

Three-quarters of voters say their pick for president is motivated by a desire to cast their Election Day ballot against Clinton or Trump, more than those who say they’re voting for the candidate who shares their positions on the issues or is the most qualified to hold the office.

Said Dennis Fernandez, 67, of Florence, Arizona: “If Hillary Clinton won, I’d probably consider suicide. I’m definitely not a fan.”

And Lawrence James, 55, of Durham, North Carolina, said: “If Trump wins, well, we’ve already checked out Malta and New Zealand. I’m just not comfortable that he’s not going to make rushed, uninformed decisions.”

Not only do the two candidates invoke fear, they actively encourage fear of their opponents as a main campaign strategy. The fear is also sectarian. Even among conservatives, those that belong to minorities – be they religious, such as Muslims and Jews, or racial, such as Hispanics and African Americans – are reluctant to support the Republican candidate. What they hear from him is that his version of nationalism – “American First” – doesn’t include them.

I am supporting Hillary Clinton in the presidential election. I am doing so because I think that she is highly qualified to be president and Donald Trump is not. But I am not afraid of him. I think that the US is strong enough to survive four years of a Donald Trump presidency. If he is elected, I’ll be much more scared of the power of the people who voted him into office. In this sense I do fear the people but since I am not the government, I don’t think this is a sign of liberty.

Recent polls show a very tight race.

As I have mentioned many times over my four years blogging here, my world view is shaped in large part by my early experiences as a Holocaust survivor. I am doing what I can to prevent a repeat in whatever form it might take. I am not trying to compare Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler here. Frankly, I think that in spite of my view that Trump is unfit to be the US president, he is much better qualified to take this job than Hitler was to be elected Chancellor of Germany.

The German people were very angry and they needed somebody to blame for their misfortune. The Nazi party formed after the German defeat in the First World War and the humiliating Versailles treaty that followed. The Nazis advocated extreme nationalism and blamed the Jews as a convenient scapegoat for all their misfortunes. Hitler rose in the party because he was an excellent demagogue and willing to use force to get his way. The German people accepted this bargain. The result was that 3% of the World population was slaughtered (60 million out of a then global population of 2 billion). Anybody interested in the national composition of the massacre is welcome to visit this summary.

Hitler didn’t have nuclear weapon at his disposal; Donald Trump will. Anybody willing to put those controls in his hands allows for the possibility of a global nuclear suicide.

As in post WWI Germany, all of this will be driven by desperation and hate. Not on Trump’s part – his motivation is purely egotistical – but by the people that put him into power. Matt Bevin, Governor of Kentucky, illustrated the mindset of some of Trump’s supporters:

Speaking to the annual Values Voter Summit on Saturday in Washington, Bevin said he was asked if the country could ever recover if Clinton were elected president.

“I do think it would be possible, but at what price? At what price? The roots of the tree of liberty are watered by what? The blood, of who? The tyrants to be sure, but who else. The patriots,” Bevin said, referencing a quote from Thomas Jefferson. “Whose blood will be shed? It may be that of those in this room. It might be that of our children and grandchildren. I have nine children. It breaks my heart to think it might be their blood that is needed to redeem something, to reclaim something that we through our apathy and indifference have given away.”

Recent research by two Princeton economists – Angus Deaton and his wife Anne Case – reports that the mortality rate of middle aged (45 – 54) white Americans, with no more than high school education, is sharply increasing compared to every other reference group in the US; in fact, it is higher than that in any other developed country they have looked at. This high mortality rate seems to be mostly related to suicide, drugs, and alcohol abuse. Deaton just won a Nobel Prize in Economics so hopefully people will pay attention to what he writes.

The general stereotype of Trump supporters targets similar segments of the American population:

Journalists found that in the counties where Trump is most dominant, there are large numbers of white high school dropouts, and unemployed people no longer looking for work. An alliance with the incoherent personality cult of Donald Trump’s candidacy correlates strongly with failure to obtain a high school diploma, and withdrawal from the labor force. The counties also have a consistent history of voting for segregationists, and have an above average percentage of its residents living in mobile homes. Many conservatives, and even some kindhearted liberals, might object to the conclusions one can draw from the data as stereotyping, but the empirical evidence leaves little choice. Donald Trump’s supporters confirm the stereotype against them. The candidate himself even acknowledged the veracity of the caricature of his “movement” when he made the odd and condescending claim, “I love the poorly educated.” His affection for illiteracy and ignorance did not extend to himself or any of his children, all of whom have degrees from some of the best universities in the world.

The low-educated, low-income counties of Trump’s America also receive large sums of public assistance. Social Security fraud – seeking disability payments for minor injuries or conditions – is so rampant that attorneys have created a cottage industry out of offering to secure services for clients willing to pay a one-time fee for longtime subsidy.

It is almost impossible to find an objective characterization of the makeup of support for either of the two main candidates in this polarizing environment, but the fact that Trump acknowledges the above sector as an important voter base provides a useful guide.

There is a general sense that he has tapped into the fears of undereducated white males, who are looking for any opportunity to regain the political dominance they feel they are losing. Unfortunately, individual suicide – and now potentially collective suicide – seem to be legitimate tools to achieve their objectives.

Fear as a motivator, particularly as triggered by the influx of refugees, is obviously not limited to the United States. It has been spreading (March 8, 2016) throughout Europe, leading to Brexit (August 16, 2016 blog) as well as radical political movements in France, Germany, Holland and Hungary. Similarly, fear has recently dominated the Philippine presidential election; in that case, it stems from drug traffickers rather than immigrants.

I feel that each of these reactions demonstrates voters choosing what amounts to a collective suicide as a remedy for personal despair. Almost all of these places were, and still are, stable democracies (Philippines is a bit of an exception); any statistical yardstick can tell us that unlike Germany post WWI, we are doing fine. Yet on a subjective level, many feel desperate and are willing to vote for something that – if nothing else – will give them a chance to bring everybody else to their level of despair. If the numbers that vote are large enough to bring about such drastic change, we are in serious trouble. If Trump wins this election, we deserve him.

Again, I fear the people and can only hope that reason will prevail over panic!

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My Global Family Vacation Part 4: Malta

map, mediterranean, malta, UK, poland, france

  Figure 1 (from August 2 blog)

Malta mapFigure 2 – Map of Malta

Figure 1 from my August 2nd blog shows my summer vacation route. Malta is a tiny dot on that map but I felt it necessary to show the context so I can emphasize the country’s critical location with regards to African refugees seeking safety in Europe. I also included a more detailed map of the island country.

Although Malta is an attractive tourist attraction, we did not know that before visiting. Our main objective was to meet my cousin and his wife and spend a quality week with them. This desire was consistent with our aims throughout the trip. Originally, we were going to meet him at his home in Australia but he decided he’d rather take a Mediterranean cruise than stay for the Australian winter (our summer). He and his wife are older than us so we respected their wishes and looked for places around the Mediterranean that would coincide with their cruise. Croatia looked promising until we realized it would require long drives, which they preferred to avoid. Instead, once we pulled out a magnifying glass to look at the map, we decided on Malta. Among other pros, we could guarantee that long drives would not be necessary.

We had magnificent time. In addition to the family event we also got to act as tourists, exploring archeology that can be traced back 5,000 years, enjoying the people and the beautiful landscape. I would strongly recommend adding it to any vacation itinerary.

One can find a short description of Malta and its rich history via Wikipedia:

Malta’s location has historically given it great strategic importance as a naval base, and a succession of powers, including the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Moors, Normans, Sicilians, Spanish, Knights of St. John, French and British, have ruled the islands.

King George VI of the United Kingdom awarded the George Cross to Malta in 1942 for the country’s bravery in the Second World War.[12] The George Cross continues to appear on Malta’s national flag.[13] Under the Malta Independence Act, passed by the British Parliament in 1964, Malta gained independence from the United Kingdom as an independent sovereign Commonwealth realm, officially known from 1964 to 1974 as the State of Malta, with Elizabeth II as its head of state.[14] The country became a republic in 1974, and although no longer a Commonwealth realm, remains a current member state of the Commonwealth of Nations. Malta was admitted to the United Nations in 1964 and to the European Union in 2004; in 2008, it became part of the Eurozone.

Malta has a long Christian legacy and its Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Malta is claimed to be an apostolic see because, according to the Acts of the Apostles,[15] Paul the Apostle was shipwrecked on Malta.[16] Catholicism is the official religion in Malta.[17][18]

Malta is a popular tourist destination with its warm climate, numerous recreational areas, and architectural and historical monuments, including three UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum,[19] Valletta,[20] and seven Megalithic Temples, which are some of the oldest free-standing structures in the world.

My cousin and his wife were both Holocaust refugees. Each made his or her way to Australia after the war. Like me, my cousin was born in Warsaw and basically spent the war under Nazi occupation. He often recalls the Oscar-winning Roman Polanski film, “The Pianist,” which tells the story of Władysław Szpilman in Nazi-occupied Warsaw – specifically the scene when a German officer spots Szpilman hiding in the ruins of a building but leaves him alone without harming him or reporting him to others. He had an almost identical experience. Also, like me, my cousin ended up immigrating to Palestine, where he went to school and served in the Israeli army.

His wife had the good fortune of avoiding the Holocaust. Her parents were in a mixed marriage: she had a Christian Austrian mother and a Jewish father. Before the war, her parents decided that Austria was not a suitable place for their family’s kind of arrangement, so they too immigrated to British Palestine. She attended school at a convent in Jerusalem. They immigrated to Australia independently, where they met, married, started a very successful business, and raised three children. They now have four grandchildren and the entire family are now Australian citizens. We had not heard their full story until this visit but this is not the best place to lay it all out. Instead, with their help, I am trying to share that on Tapestry, the app that I am co-developing. You can access it at

Family connections aside, I wanted to explore Malta’s role in the African refugee migration to Europe. The magnitude of this issue can be realized from the following rescue operation by the Italian navy that was recently reported by the NYT:

Italian naval ships and vessels from nongovernmental groups rescued thousands of migrants off the Libyan coast on Monday, responding to the latest surge in desperate attempts to flee war, poverty and human traffickers. The operation took place 13 miles north of Sabratha, Libya. Groups such as Proactiva Open Arms and Doctors Without Borders helped save about 3,000 people who had been traveling in some 20 small wooden boats.

Tens of thousands of Africans take the dangerous Mediterranean Sea route as a gateway to a better life in Europe, alongside those fleeing wars in countries like Syria and Afghanistan.

According to other sources, 400,000 Africans have taken the dangerous Mediterranean Sea route from Libya to Italy since the beginning of 2014.

We visited both Malta and Gozo (see Figure 2). During the taxi drive from the airport to Gozo I chatted with the taxi driver about the issue of refugees in Malta. He expressed admiration for Prime Minister Joseph Muscat (who has served since 2013), from the Labor party, for minimizing the presence of the refugee crisis in Malta to almost non-existent.

Initially, I wanted to try to visit the main refugee center in Malta, but I quickly learned that would be impossible. Instead, we drove by the center, stopped, walked around, and took some photographs. We saw a few black guys sitting on the fence outside the center. We assumed that these men were refugees but realized that we were stereotyping and were reticent to ask them their stories lest it come across as inappropriate. The whole place looked mundane and deserted.

Instead, I had to resort to more official channels of information.

The best that I could find was an old report of a visit to Safi emigration center by representatives of EFUS (European Forum for Urban Security) in March 2012 that I cite below:

The Safi Detention Centre for Immigrants is situated on an army base at Hal Safi, in the southeast of Malta, close to the international airport. It occupies a three story building at the back of the compound. Surrounded by a barbed wire fence and with barred windows, through which detainees wave and shout at visitors, the centre looks very much like a prison.

Safis the second largest of the three migrant detention centres of Malta. As the Maltese government follows a mandatory detention policy, all migrants arriving in Malta have to go through a detention centre. There, they are screened by authorities who register them in the EU Eurodac database of fingerprints of applicants for asylum and illegal immigrants. They also undergo a medical check-up and receive medical attention if necessary.

Identifying migrants and obtaining papers from their country of origin is a time consuming process. It is followed by another process to determine if a migrant is entitled to asylum, which can last up to one year, although Maltese authorities say they usually do it in five months. If they are granted asylum, migrants are relocated in open centres, where they are provided with a room and daily meals. They are also given a work permit, and benefit from the same social and medical services as Maltese citizens. Those who are not granted asylum are returned to their country of origin, either with the help of Frontex (the EU frontier agency) or by a flight directly chartered by the Maltese government. However, if the process to determine asylum is not completed in 18 months, migrants are also released into an open centre where they have to await the final decision. Unaccompanied children, families with children, pregnant women, people with special needs and elderly people are not detained but only screened and sent to open centres.

When the Efus delegation visited Safi, 218 people were detained there, including 45 women. Safi centre is divided into five zones that all include bedrooms and toilets, as well as a kitchen, a living room, and a first aid room. A doctor is present every day on the premises. There is also a classroom where detainees can attend classes of English and “life adaptation”.

The challenge, he says, is also to manage the cultural diversity of migrants. Safi detainees come from 36 countries, and there are often conflicts between East and West Africans, Muslims and Christians, and various tribes and ethnic groups. The centre has set up special procedures, notably with the help of the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), in particular for Somalian refugees who represent about 55% of arriving migrants, and who are granted asylum in most cases. Moreover, the detention centres cooperate with various NGOs, such as the Red Cross. Indeed, we saw Red Cross delegates during our visit at Safi. Also, Maltese authorities have improved the procedure for granting asylum, which is now faster than a few years ago.

The numbers speak for themselves; this is an enormous issue.

A much more recent short report by the Economist, draws an equivalent. Malta doesn’t play a significant role in mitigating African refugee issues. The photographs that I took of the refugee center convey relatively little. Much more revealing is the cartoon that came as a part of the Economist’s short report:

 Figure 3  

WHEN the European Union picked Malta as the site for this week’s EU-Africa migration summit, it seemed a logical choice. The island nation is perched in the Mediterranean halfway between Libya and Italy. For a time, it was one of the top destinations for migrants from Africa trying to reach Europe. And Valletta, Malta’s fortified Baroque capital, is a very telegenic spot for a summit. (In “Game of Thrones”, a television series, it serves as the backdrop for the port city of Pentos, whose own asylum seekers include the Targaryans, an exiled royal family.) But Malta is also apt in a way EU leaders may not have intended: as a standpoint from which to observe Europe’s increasingly confused attitude towards refugees and other immigrants.

African migrants encounter as much undisguised hostility here as anywhere in Europe. Neil Falzon, who runs Aditus, a local human rights organisation, says many have been spat upon in the street. As in much of eastern Europe, unfamiliarity breeds contempt. Until the turn of the century, the island had one of the most ethnically homogenous societies in Europe, though its unique identity is actually the product of centuries of racial mingling. (The result is a native population who look a bit like Italians, speak a bit like Arabs and drive on the left like the British.)

In the early 2000s, when thousands of African asylum seekers began landing here annually, it came as a shock. “A lot of elderly people had never seen a coloured person,” says the leader of the opposition Nationalist Party, who condemns racism (while unwittingly using a politically incorrect term). Maltese xenophobes can fall back on a rational argument: Malta is both the EU’s smallest state and its most densely populated one. Maltese feel they should have to take fewer migrants than larger states.

Yet strangely, without anyone much noticing, they seem to have got what they want. Malta is barely 200 miles from Libya, still a major transit country for refugees though no longer as important as Turkey. But the flow to Malta has virtually shut down—and no one knows why. Over 140,000 migrants arrived in Italy by sea in the year to November 10th; in Malta, since the end of January, the number is just 20. Meanwhile, the economy has been thriving. Malta has succeeded in becoming something Viktor Orban, the eurosceptic Hungarian prime minister, might dream of: an EU state with enviable growth figures and almost no migrants.

Malta is not a state to be admired or mimicked in terms of solution of the global refugee issue.

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Globalization at the Top: Sport and Science

Hello all and thank you so much for your patience. I usually try to post my blog on Tuesdays but due to some technical difficulties this week’s entry got delayed. Lately I’ve been alternating between the takeaway from my vacation and issues surrounding the presidential election. This blog goes back to my series on immigration and inequality (starting on June 21), which included two personal stories: my own (July 5) and that of Sofia Ahsanuddin (July 12).

I was born to a Jewish family three months before the Nazi invasion of Poland. I spent my first three and a half years in the Warsaw Ghetto and the two following ones in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. I immigrated to Palestine (now Israel) with my mother when I was six years old – roughly six months after we were liberated by American soldiers.

Both of my parents were lawyers, trained in Poland. My father was murdered by the Nazis in 1943. As for my mother, in post-war Israel, Polish law was useless. Although her English was functional, she didn’t speak the language of the land. That meant that she couldn’t retrain herself in Israeli law or shift to another profession that required an academic degree. Meanwhile, she had to find way to support both of us. She continued writing books and articles in Polish but it didn’t generate much of an income so she became a secretary (officially an Executive Secretary).

When I had to choose a career path, it was natural for me to try to follow in my parents’ footsteps and study law. I was a good student and had played key roles in major simulation trials that took place in my school. Many of these trials were connected – either directly or indirectly – to the Holocaust (e.g. Should Israel accept or reject Germany’s offer of reparations, and the trial of Rudolf Kastner – I served as his defense lawyer).

My mother strongly discouraged this path. She argued that I should choose a more “global” profession: one independent of either local reality or my native language and culture. She invoked her own experience, urging me to prepare for the eventuality of something similar to a “second Holocaust” that would force me to leave my home and find a way to make a living in a foreign country with an unknown language.

Her argument won me over and I took my degrees in science. Two generations later, I am delighted with my choices. I didn’t experience a second Holocaust; I was not forced to leave Israel and immigrate to the United States. I could have been perfectly fine staying and raising my family in Israel. I had choices. I became part of the migration “elite”: I was easily accepted wherever I went and had no culture shock difficulties.

Back to the present – I came back from my recent vacation at the end of July, a week before the Rio Olympics started. I, like millions of viewers around the world, tuned in to the spectacle whenever and however I could. I also watched the 2012 Summer Olympics and wrote a blog on the London event (August 27, 2012) expressing a wish that a similar competition take place to serve the public good.

Back then, I was trying to analyze why significant fractions of the public either denied climate change or opposed mitigation efforts. One of the main factors was NIMBYism – in other words, there are many who don’t refute the phenomenon of climate change but don’t want to do anything about it.

This time, when I watched the Olympics, I focused on migration and globalization. I couldn’t escape the feeling that aside from national symbols such as flags, national anthems, and daily medal counts, almost everybody looked the same – with a few notable exceptions:


Figure 1 – Pita Nikolas Tafatofua carrying the Tonga flag in the 2016 Olympic opening Ceremony

Mr. Tafatofua is a taekwondo practitioner who was born in Australia to Australian and Tongan parents. Obviously that’s not how he dresses in everyday life but it made him stand out from the crowd and celebrated the traditions of his Tongan ancestors.

There were 11,000 participants competing in the games. Unsurprisingly, most medals were won by representatives of developed countries. However, some publications attempted to normalize the medal counts according to each country’s GDP and population – see Figure 2. By the GDP count, the US ranks 55th.

Alternate-table Figure 2 – Alternative medal count for the Rio Olympics

A recent NYT article showed some amazing statistics about the nationality of the Olympians:

In the last few decades, a migration of table tennis players from China has produced a full-fledged diaspora of athletes on six continents, reshaping the landscape of the sport. There were 44 table tennis players in the 2016 Olympics that were born in mainland China. Table 1 shows the countries that they represented in the Rio Olympics and Table 2 shows the percentages of foreign-born athletes in other sports.

The Olympic charter states that “any competitor in the Olympic Games must be a national of the country of the NOC which is entering such competitor.” That being said, “A competitor who is a national of two or more countries at the same time may represent either one of them, as he may elect. However, after having represented one country in the Olympic Games, in continental or regional games or in world or regional championships recognized by the relevant IF, he may not represent another country unless he meets the conditions set forth in paragraph 2 below that apply to persons who have changed their nationality or acquired a new nationality.”

Table 1 (Based on NYT article)

Country Mainland Chinese – Born Table Tennis Team Members, 2016
China 6/6
Singapore 5/5
Australia 3/6
United States 3/6
Canada 2/2
Turkey 2/2
Netherlands 2/3
Spain 2/3
Portugal 2/5
Austria 2/6
Germany 2/6
Hong Kong 2/6
Poland 2/6
Luxemburg 1/1
Qatar 1/1
Ukraine 1/2
Republic of Congo 1/3
Slovakia 1/3
France 1/4
Sweden 1/5
Brazil 1/6
Korea 1/6

Table 2

Sport % Born Outside the Country
Table Tennis 31
Basketball 15
Equestrian 13
Canoe slalom 12
Wrestling 12
Tennis 11
Rhythmic gymnastic 11
Judo 11
Gymnastic 11
Badminton 10
Golf 10
Fencing 10
Track and Field 9
Swimming 9

Eighty-four American Universities trained athletes to become Olympic medalists. The top five in terms of number of medals ever won include: University of Southern California – 309 medals; Stanford University – 270 medals; UCLA – 233 medals; UC Berkeley – 207 medals and University of Michigan – 144 medals.

A significant fraction of these students were not American nationals and were furthermore representing different countries. Once you have the skills to compete on the Olympic level and want to train in a country different than yours or represent a country other than the one where you were born, national legal boundaries quickly begin to melt away.

To put it briefly, the same rule applies to successful scientists. An article in the journal “Nature” (Nature, 490,326 (2012)) details the distribution of the scientific diaspora. The key figure in this article (shown here as Figure 3) includes the main countries from which the scientists have emigrated. The following paragraph, from the same publication, describes the downside of these relatively low immigration barriers:

But some countries worry that they are losing their top researchers. Of the world’s most highly cited scientists from 1981 to 2003, one in eight were born in developing countries, but 80% of those had since moved to developed countries (mostly the United States), according to a 2010 study by Bruce Weinberg at Ohio State University in Columbus. India, for example, loses out, says Binod Khadria, an economist who studies international mobility at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. “The best and brightest are kept in other countries.”

Figure 3Destination and sources of the science diaspora.

In other words, if you want to be a “global citizen” and see national boundaries magically melt before you, listen to my mother: get the “right” education and be very good at what you do.

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Global Family Vacation Part 3: Israel: Palestinian and Jewish Refugees, Resettlement, and the Right of Return

Figure 1A map of refugee camps in the Middle East

Successful resettlement is probably the most important aspect of the global refugee issue. Resettled refugees can make major positive contributions to their host societies. We have seen this happen globally throughout history (notably in both the US and Australia). The striking contrast between displaced and resettled refugees is especially apparent in the Middle East. More precisely, we have seen it pan out as a central, almost unsolvable problem within the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

As a Holocaust refugee, I was a resettled in Israel. At the time, it was part of Palestine, which was under British control. I grew up and got all of my education in Israel, as well as serving in the army. I hold dual Israeli-American citizenship and try to visit as often as possible. Even though I have issues with current government policies, I love the country and it was an important stopover in my vacation. Two of my elderly friends there, with whom I shared many aspects of the Holocaust experience, are in poor health so I wished to spend some time with them.

I also took the opportunity while I was in Israel to explore the issue of refugee resettlement and all that entails.

The Arab-Israeli conflict in 1948 dislocated Palestinian refugees from their homes and fundamentally decided their fate and prospects within the Middle East. It is a deeply disputed topic, to the point that is hard – if not impossible – to get an unbiased opinion about the discord. That very much includes my own views. The Syrian civil war, the Iraqi state’s disintegration, the rise of ISIS, and Yemen’s civil war have all worsened the magnitude of the Palestinian refugees’ plight.

I remember an incident highly relevant to this discussion: a few years ago, my school held a retreat for a few faculty members to discuss changes to the General Education program. I was already Director of the Environmental Studies program and sort of represented interdisciplinary educational efforts. During one of the meals, I sat near a history professor who specialized in the Middle East. He is a well know Jewish Arabist and is strongly left-leaning on the American political spectrum. I was teaching, then as now, Climate Change. Like many campuses, our student population is a mixture of strongly liberal students – many of them Jewish and an increasing numbers of them Muslim. I asked him how he teaches controversial topics like the Arab-Israeli conflict to such a mixture of backgrounds.  He looked at me with a smiling face and responded that he relies heavily on original documents. I returned his smile to indicate that he might have been able to fool the students with that kind of methodology but his strategy didn’t fool me: he is the one who chooses the original documents; his biases are manifested by the documents that he selects.

For my part, I will start with Wikipedia’s descriptions of the Arab vs. Israeli points of view regarding the Palestinian refugees. I’ll continue with a Jewish website’s depiction of the two sides. Lastly, we’ll see a description of the Jewish exodus in the aftermath of the 1948 conflict and I will try to let you decide your own opinion without providing my own, biased take. To include the relevant paragraphs from these sources, the blog is going to be unusually long. My editor will be inclined to just cite the sources without posting the full excerpts. Doing so would mean the reader’s choices would shape the discussion, depending on which links they clicked or ignored. Instead, I want to curate the sources to include the full range. For this I need to quote them directly.

To start with, Wikipedia’s take on the two sides:

Israeli views [edit]

The Jewish Agency promised to the UN before 1948 that Palestinian Arabs would become full citizens of the State of Israel,[72] and the Israeli declaration of independence invited the Arab inhabitants of Israel to “full and equal citizenship”.[73] In practice, Israel does not grant citizenship to the refugees, as it does to those Arabs who continue to reside in its borders. The 1947 Partition Plan determined citizenship based on residency, such that Arabs and Jews residing in Palestine but not in Jerusalem would obtain citizenship in the state in which they are resident. Professor of Law at Boston University Susan Akram, Omar Barghouti and Ilan Pappé have argued that Palestinian refugees from the envisioned Jewish State were entitled to normal Israeli citizenship based on laws of state succession.[74]

Arab states [edit]

The Arab League has instructed its members to deny citizenship to original Palestine Arab refugees (or their descendants) “to avoid dissolution of their identity and protect their right to return to their homeland”.[75]

Tashbih Sayyed, a fellow of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, criticized Arab nations of violating human rights and making the children and grandchildren of Palestinian refugees second class citizens in Lebanon, Syria, or the Gulf States, and said that the UNRWA Palestine refugees “cling to the illusion that defeating the Jews will restore their dignity”.[76]

Palestinian views [edit]

Palestine refugees claim a Palestinian right of return. In lack of an own country, their claim is based on Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which declares that “Everyone has the right to leave any country including his own, and to return to his country”, although it has been argued that the term only applies to citizens or nationals of that country. Although all Arab League members at the time- Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Yemen– voted against the resolution,[77] they also cite the non-binding article 11 of United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194, which “Resolves that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return […].”[71] However it is currently a matter of dispute whether Resolution 194 referred only to the estimated 50,000 remaining Palestine refugees from the 1948 Palestine War, or additionally to their UNRWA-registered 4,950,000 descendants. The Palestinian National Authority supports this claim, and has been prepared to negotiate its implementation at the various peace talks. Both Fatah and Hamas hold a strong position for a claimed right of return, with Fatah being prepared to give ground on the issue while Hamas is not.[78] However, a report in Lebanon’s Daily Star newspaper in which Abdullah Muhammad Ibrahim Abdullah, the Palestinian ambassador to Lebanon and the chairman of the Palestinian Legislative Council’s Political and Parliamentary Affairs committees,[79] said the proposed future Palestinian state would not be issuing Palestinian passports to UNRWA Palestine refugees – even refugees living in the West Bank and Gaza.

In a 2 January 2005 opinion poll conducted by the Palestinian Association for Human Rights involving Palestinian refugees in Lebanon:[80]

  • 96% refused to give up their right of return
  • 3% answered contrary
  • 1% did not answer

The two sides as presented by the Jewish Virtual Library:

Israel’s Attitude Toward the Refugees

When plans for setting up a state were made in early 1948, Jewish leaders in Palestine expected the population to include a significant Arab population. From the Israeli perspective, the refugees had been given an opportunity to stay in their homes and be a part of the new state. Approximately 160,000 Arabs had chosen to do so. To repatriate those who had fled would be, in the words of Foreign Minister Moshe Sharett, “suicidal folly.”

Israel could not simply agree to allow all Palestinians to return, but consistently sought a solution to the refugee problem. Israel’s position was expressed by David Ben­Gurion (August 1, 1948):

When the Arab states are ready to conclude a peace treaty with Israel this question will come up for constructive solution as part of the general settlement, and with due regard to our counter­claims in respect of the destruction of Jewish life and property, the long-term interest of the Jewish and Arab populations, the stability of the State of Israel and the durability of the basis of peace between it and its neighbors, the actual position and fate of the Jewish communities in the Arab countries, the responsibilities of the Arab governments for their war of aggression and their liability for reparation, will all be relevant in the question whether, to what extent, and under what conditions, the former Arab residents of the territory of Israel should be allowed to return.

The Israeli government was not indifferent to the plight of the refugees; an ordinance was passed creating a Custodian of Abandoned Property “to prevent unlawful occupation of empty houses and business premises, to administer ownerless property, and also to secure tilling of deserted fields, and save the crops….”

The implied danger of repatriation did not prevent Israel from allowing some refugees to return and offering to take back a substantial number as a condition for signing a peace treaty. In 1949, Israel offered to allow families that had been separated during the war to return; agreed to release refugee accounts frozen in Israeli banks (eventually released in 1953); offered to pay compensation for abandoned lands and, finally, agreed to repatriate 100,000 refugees.

The Arabs rejected all the Israeli compromises. They were unwilling to take any action that might be construed as recognition of Israel. They made repatriation a precondition for negotiations, something Israel rejected. The result was the confinement of the refugees in camps.

Despite the position taken by the Arab states, Israel did release the Arab refugees’ blocked bank accounts, which totaled more than $10 million. In addition, through 1975, the Israeli government paid to more than 11,000 claimants more than 23 million Israeli pounds in cash and granted more than 20,000 acres as alternative holdings. Payments were made by land value between 1948 and 1953, plus 6 percent for every year following the claim submission.

After the Six-Day War, Israel allowed some West Bank Arabs to return. In 1967, more than 9,000 families were reunited and, by 1971, Israel had readmitted 40,000 refugees. By contrast, in July 1968, Jordan prohibited persons intending to remain in the East Bank from emigrating from the West Bank and Gaza.

Arab Attitudes Toward the Refugees

The UN discussions on refugees had begun in the summer of 1948, before Israel had completed its military victory; consequently, the Arabs still believed they could win the war and allow the refugees to return triumphant. The Arab position was expressed by Emile Ghoury, the Secretary of the Arab Higher Committee:

It is inconceivable that the refugees should be sent back to their homes while they are occupied by the Jews, as the latter would hold them as hostages and maltreat them. The very proposal is an evasion of responsibility by those responsible. It will serve as a first step towards Arab recognition of the State of Israel and partition.

The Arabs demanded that the United Nations assert the “right” of the Palestinians to return to their homes, and were unwilling to accept anything less until after their defeat had become obvious. The Arabs then reinterpreted Resolution 194 as granting the refugees the absolute right of repatriation and have demanded that Israel accept this interpretation ever since.

One reason for maintaining this position was the conviction that the refugees could ultimately bring about Israel’s destruction, a sentiment expressed by Egyptian Foreign Minister Muhammad Salah al-Din:

It is well-known and understood that the Arabs, in demanding the return of the refugees to Palestine, mean their return as masters of the Homeland and not as slaves. With a greater clarity, they mean the liquidation of the State of Israel (Al-Misri, October 11, 1949).

After the 1948 war, Egypt controlled the Gaza Strip and its more than 200,000 inhabitants, but refused to allow the Palestinians into Egypt or permit them to move elsewhere.

Although demographic figures indicated ample room for settlement existed in Syria, Damascus refused to consider accepting any refugees, except those who might refuse repatriation. Syria also declined to resettle 85,000 refugees in 1952-54, though it had been offered international funds to pay for the project. Iraq was also expected to accept a large number of refugees, but proved unwilling. Lebanon insisted it had no room for the Palestinians. In 1950, the UN tried to resettle 150,000 refugees from Gaza in Libya, but was rebuffed by Egypt.

Jordan was the only Arab country to welcome the Palestinians and grant them citizenship (to this day Jordan is the only Arab country where Palestinians as a group can become citizens). King Abdullah considered the Palestinian Arabs and Jordanians one people. By 1950, he annexed the West Bank and forbade the use of the term Palestine in official documents.

In 1952, the UNRWA set up a fund of $200 million to provide homes and jobs for the refugees, but it went untouched.

The plight of the refugees remained unchanged after the Suez War. In fact, even the rhetoric stayed the same. In 1957, the Refugee Conference at Homs, Syria, passed a resolution stating:

Any discussion aimed at a solution of the Palestine problem which will not be based on ensuring the refugees’ right to annihilate Israel will be regarded as a desecration of the Arab people and an act of treason (Beirut al Massa, July 15, 1957).

The treatment of the refugees in the decade following their displacement was best summed up by a former UNRWA official, Sir Alexander Galloway, in April 1952: “The Arab States do not want to solve the refugee problem. They want to keep it as an open sore, as an affront to the United Nations and as a weapon against Israel. Arab leaders don’t give a damn whether the refugees live or die.”

Little has changed in succeeding years. Arab governments have frequently offered jobs, housing, land and other benefits to Arabs and non-Arabs, excluding Palestinians. For example, Saudi Arabia chose not to use unemployed Palestinian refugees to alleviate its labor shortage in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Instead, thousands of South Koreans and other Asians were recruited to fill jobs.

The situation grew even worse in the wake of the Gulf War. Kuwait, which employed large numbers of Palestinians but denied them citizenship, expelled more than 300,000 of them. “If people pose a security threat, as a sovereign country we have the right to exclude anyone we don’t want,” said Kuwaiti Ambassador to the United States, Saud Nasir Al-Sabah (Jerusalem Report, June 27, 1991). Most of whom were expelled settled in Jordan.

By the end of 2010, the number of Palestinian refugees on UNRWA rolls had risen to nearly 5 million, several times the number that left Palestine in 1948. In just the past three years, the number grew by 8 percent. Today, 42 percent of the refugees live in the territories; if you add those living in Jordan, 80 percent of the Palestinians currently live in “Palestine.” Though the popular image is of refugees in squalid camps, less than one-third of the Palestinians are in the 59 UNRWA-run camps.

During the years that Israel controlled the Gaza Strip, a consistent effort was made to get the Palestinians into permanent housing. The Palestinians opposed the idea because the frustrated and bitter inhabitants of the camps provided the various terrorist factions with their manpower. Moreover, the Arab states routinely pushed for the adoption of UN resolutions demanding that Israel desist from the removal of Palestinian refugees from camps in Gaza and the West Bank. They preferred to keep the Palestinians as symbols of Israeli “oppression.”

The Jewish Exodus (via Wikipedia):

The Jewish exodus from Arab and Muslim countries or Jewish exodus from Arab countries (Hebrew: יציאת יהודים ממדינות ערב‎‎, Yetziat yehudim mi-medinot Arav; Arabic: هجرة اليهود من الدول العربية والإسلامية‎‎ hijrat al-yahūd min ad-duwal al-‘Arabīyah wal-Islāmīyah) was the departure, flight, expulsion, evacuation and migration, of 850,000 Jews,[1][2] primarily of Sephardi and Mizrahi background, from Arab and Muslim countries, mainly from 1948 to the early 1970s. They and their descendants make up the majority of Israeli Jews.

A number of small-scale Jewish exoduses began in many Middle Eastern countries early in the 20th century with the only substantial aliyah coming from Yemen and Syria.[3] Prior to the creation of Israel in 1948, approximately 800,000 Jews were living in lands that now make up the Arab world. Of these, just under two-thirds lived in the French and Italian-controlled North Africa, 15–20% in the Kingdom of Iraq, approximately 10% in the Kingdom of Egypt and approximately 7% in the Kingdom of Yemen. A further 200,000 lived in Pahlavi Iran and the Republic of Turkey.

The first large-scale exoduses took place in the late 1940s and early 1950s, primarily from Iraq, Yemen and Libya. In these cases over 90% of the Jewish population left, despite the necessity of leaving their property behind.[4] Two hundred and sixty thousand Jews from Arab countries immigrated to Israel between 1948 and 1951, accounting for 56% of the total immigration to the newly founded state.[5] Following the establishment of the State of Israel, a plan to accommodate 600,000 immigrants over four years, doubling the existing Jewish population, was submitted by the Israeli government to the Knesset.[6] The plan, however, encountered mixed reactions; there were those within the Jewish Agency and government who opposed promoting a large-scale emigration movement among Jews whose lives were not in danger.[6]

Later waves peaked at different times in different regions over the subsequent decades. The peak of the exodus from Egypt occurred in 1956 following the Suez Crisis. The exodus from the other North African Arab countries peaked in the 1960s. Lebanon was the only Arab country to see a temporary increase in its Jewish population during this period, due to an influx of Jews from other Arab countries, although by the mid-1970s the Jewish community of Lebanon had also dwindled. Six hundred thousand Jews from Arab and Muslim countries had reached Israel by 1972.[7][8][9][10] In total, of the 900,000 Jews who left Arab and other Muslim countries, 600,000 settled in the new state of Israel, and 300,000 immigrated to France and the United States. The descendants of the Jewish immigrants from the region, today known as Mizrahi Jews (“Eastern Jews”), currently constitute more than half of the total population of Israel,[11] partially as a result of their higher fertility rate.[12] In 2009, only 26,000 Jews remained in Arab countries and Iran[13] and 26,000 in Turkey.[14]

The reasons for the exodus included push factors, such as persecution, antisemitism, political instability,[15] poverty[15] and expulsion, together with pull factors, such as the desire to fulfill Zionist yearnings or find a better economic status and a secure home in Europe or the Americas. The history of the exodus has been politicized, given its proposed relevance to the historical narrative of the Arab-Israeli conflict.[16] When presenting the history, those who view the Jewish exodus as analogous to the 1948 Palestinian exodus generally emphasize the push factors and consider those who left as refugees, while those who do not, emphasize the pull factors and consider them willing immigrants.

Those who continue to suffer most throughout this conflict are the ones in the camps shown in Figure 1: generations succeeding generations without any hope in sight.

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How to Influence Polls and Win Elections

Those who are too smart to engage in politics are punished by being governed by those who are dumber.

 Clinton is well ahead at the polls. Common opinion two weeks ago (August 9, 2016), was that convention bounces were still affecting the polls, meaning that we should wait for those numbers to even out before assuming they corresponded to anything in the long term. The polls haven’t changed much in that time so most believe there is a high chance that the Clinton advantage will prevail until November 8th (Election Day). The Trump team claims that the polls are being rigged by predominantly polling Democratic voters. They also claim that the only way Trump will lose the election is if it is rigged.

Before we proceed, it’s helpful to understand the poll takers’ methodology:

In a four-way race, Clinton has 45%, Trump 31%, Libertarian Gary Johnson 10%, and Green Party’s Jill Stein 6%.

NOTE: Poll conducted Aug. 1-3 of 983 registered voters, margin of error ±3.1 percentage points

Nature of the Sample: McClatchy-Marist Poll of 1,132 National Adults

This survey of 1,132 adults was conducted August 1st through August 3rd, 2016 by The Marist poll sponsored and funded in partnership with McClatchy News Service.

Adults 18 years of age and older residing in the contiguous United States were contacted on landline or mobile numbers and interviewed in English by telephone using live interviewers. Landline telephone numbers were randomly selected based upon a list of telephone exchanges from throughout the nation from ASDE Survey Sampler, Inc. The exchanges were selected to ensure that each region was represented in proportion to its population. Respondents in the household were randomly selected by first asking for the youngest male. This landline sample was combined with respondents reached through random dialing of cell phone numbers from Survey Sampling International. After the interviews were completed, the two samples were combined and balanced to reflect the 2013 American Community Survey 1-year estimates for age, gender, income, race, and region. Results are statistically significant within ±2.9 percentage points. There are 983 registered voters. The results for this subset are statistically significant within ±3.1 percentage points. The error margin was not adjusted for sample weights and increases for cross-tabulations.

Polls are now being done on a daily basis, a process that will continue until Election Day. As a rule, pollsters are professional organizations that live off their reputations and are constantly tested against both each other and the final results. They would not dare play games with their methodologies to achieve slanted results; they’d be caught in no time and be immediately discredited.

Early polls are important because they provide significant indicators of future polls and election results. One of the most vital pieces of feedback regards how many potential voters will be abstaining on Election Day (for this discussion, based on elements that I explored in the August 9th blog, any decision to vote for one of the minor candidates will be treated as equivalent to abstaining).

As described in the McClatchy-Marist methodology and as is true for all credible polls, polling is conducted only among registered voters. Given that it is only mid-August, we cannot assume that the current polls will play out similarly on November 8th. The campaigns can still make reassessments that will influence the final outcome.

Hillary Clinton addressed these two points:

“Don’t be complacent, my friends!” she told supporters on Tuesday inside a high school gym in West Philadelphia. “Even though we’re doing fine right now, I’m not taking anyone, anywhere, for granted.”

As Mrs. Clinton seizes polling advantages over Donald J. Trump in essentially every traditional swing state, her team is working to keep supporters energized and engaged, reminding them that winning public surveys in August is worth exactly zero electoral votes in November.

Often sounding as much like a field organizer as a major party nominee, Mrs. Clinton ticked off the particulars of what has become a signature venture of her bid: the registration of three million Americans before Election Day.

The article speaks to the fact that both polls and the election are determined exclusively by registered voters. Clinton’s main effort now is to increase that number by 3 million. Voter registration deadlines vary by state; most of them are somewhere in mid-October. An objective of 3 million new registered voters sounds impressive but one has to keep in mind that due to natural variability, 1.3 of the 3 million will likely be made up of people who will come of age and register on their own.

To put these numbers into perspective we need to go back to something I wrote in March (March 15, 2016). Based on 2012 data, 85% of registered voters in the US vote – but only 55% of eligible voters do so – leaving about 100 million eligible voters in the US that do not participate in this vital decision-making process. This is a huge reservoir to try to engage.

What about time? Does Trump have enough to shift his strategy and affect the polls and the election? Trump is trying. He has just changed his team, once again. The trouble is that almost universal opinion holds that the element that most needs to change is Trump himself, a feat that turns out to be much more difficult than simple firing and hiring. But doesn’t Trump have close to three months left to navigate his campaign? Apparently not. The reason for the rush is that early elections are becoming more and more popular in the US:

Voting actually starts in less than six weeks, on Sept. 23 in Minnesota and South Dakota, the first of some 35 states and the District of Columbia that allow people to cast ballots at polling sites or by mail before Nov. 8. Iowa is expected to have ballots ready by the end of September, as are Illinois and two other states.

The electoral battlegrounds of Arizona and Ohio are to begin voting on Oct. 12, nearly four weeks before Election Day. And North Carolina and Florida will be underway before Halloween.

Early voting has become a critical, even decisive factor in presidential elections: President Obama was sufficiently ahead in the early vote in Iowa and Nevada in 2012 that his campaign shifted resources from those states to others, according to former advisers, who also credited enthusiastic early voting in 2008 for his victory in North Carolina and elsewhere.

Nearly 32 percent of voters cast their ballots before Election Day in 2012, according to census data, compared with 29.7 percent in 2008 and 20 percent in 2004.

In other words, there’s actually not much time left.

Of course, the content of November’s ballots is not limited to Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump. The full 435 seats in the House of Representatives, 34 of the 100 seats in the US Senate, 12 state governorships, 2 territorial governorships, and an assortment of local positions are also at stake. Choosing someone for the top of the ticket obviously does not imply that a person will vote down the party line for all public offices. Split-ticket voting is a very real phenomenon but one party’s failed campaign can have a major bearing on all levels of government. We will all have to live with the consequences.

How can the campaigns affect the results? Speeches or debate performances might have some impact. Unsurprisingly, the majority of dedicated Democrats and Republicans will probably vote exclusively for their parties – although this year that dividing line might be shaken. Independent and newly registered voters end up being the key deciding factors in many races, so candidates must actively court their favor. The probability that these people will vote for a particular party or individual is determined by one word – groundwork. In today’s environment most of that work is done electronically.

The issue is not to convince the 100 million passive eligible voters nationwide to register on time and vote. Such a strategy would never work. Nor is the goal to try to convince people in states like mine (NY) to register and vote. Whether or not I vote will not make much difference nationally in terms of the electoral votes that my state will send – they will inevitably go to Clinton. On the other hand, such participation will be key in states such as Florida and Ohio where a few votes can flip the state’s outcome and be instrumental in deciding an election.

Hillary Clinton apparently relies on a combination of Google technology and the remains of the highly successful groundwork laid by President Obama during his 2008 and 2012 campaigns to help establish her footing. It is yet to be seen to what degree the overwhelming support that her Democratic competitor, Bernie Sanders, generated among previously untapped constituencies can be redirected for her benefit.

Nobody that I know talks about similar groundwork efforts by Donald Trump and he’s quickly running out of time to change that.

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