Thursday, December 11, 2014

Addressing Massive Outflows Across the Mediterranean

Aljazeera:"UN urges countries to save boat refugees amid record number of drownings"

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees placed estimates for asylum seekers at nearly 400,000 so far this year with more than half of these crossing the Mediterranean into Europe. This recent phenomenon is especially noteworthy given that estimates for this year have exceeded the previous historic peak of 70,000 by a factor of three.

With reported deaths for refugees in the Mediterranean posted at over 4,000 and with deaths continuing to rise, the Euro-zone is facing a unique challenge in controlling inflows of immigrants. States on the Mediterranean, seeking to mitigate inflows of asylum seekers are being forced to weigh the tradeoffs of providing to relief to desperate refugees: the possibility of encouraging greater immigration and the moral costs of allowing vulnerable populations to perish in the Mediterranean.

States within the Euro-zone need to arrive at a consensus on how to address the underlying causes of current immigration flows. By placing a heightened foreign policy emphasis at stabilizing surrounding regions, these states may be able to stem the outflows of these refugees. Additionally, if states within Europe can create a unified system under which refugees can receive asylum that can distribute the allocation of immigrants across states, it may mitigate negative effects incurred by the states as a whole.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Republicans Temper Outrage over Obama's Immigration Initiative - Seek Pragmatic Response while Biding Time

Washington Post: "GOP readies Obama immigration response: No shutdown, but a nod to conservatives"

President Obama's recent immigration initiative has stoked significant Republican outrage. Introduced as an executive order, the initiative includes measures that provide a potential route to citizenship for individuals who have been living within the United States illegally for an extended period. In his speech, Obama asserted that his use of an executive order to introduce immigration reform was legitimate given the extensive historical precedent. He noted in particular how past presidents have introduced policies relating to immigration reform in a similar manner. Republican Congressional Leaders were extremely vocal about their disapproval of the policy and the manner in which it was introduced. Shortly after Obama's unveiling of the initiative, Senate Minority Leader John Boehner (R) openly condemned the policy as damaging to the state and condemned Obama for 'blatantly circumventing the democratic process'.

While the GOP is notably heated over the policy, many Republican leaders have noted that they do not intend to force another shutdown of the government. Despite the positions of Republican leaders on the proposed policy, it appears as though Congressional leaders broadly agree that an unnecessary shutdown would be extremely damaging to the state and largely counterproductive. Instead of taking a hard line position against Obama's policy on immigration reform, Republicans seem to be adopting a more pragmatic approach, seeking to publicly scold President Obama and undercut the initiative through budgetary discretion. Congressman Ted Yoho (R) is sponsoring legislation that would effectively bar the President from making changes to immigration policy. While the measure is not expected to pass, Republican leaders believe it is important step in demonstrating their open disapproval and condemnation of the President's actions.

The Republican Party appears to be tempering down its response to Obama's immigration reform policy quite a bit. Perhaps they are afraid of being stuck with the blame for another shutdown, choosing instead to conserve their goodwill with the public. This appears to be the case as Republicans seek to shorten the funding renewal periods for immigration related agencies, gathering leverage for renegotiation at a later point. As Republicans are due to assume power in the Senate and with the President advancing further into his second term, the GOP is biding its time until it has sufficient political clout to take a strong position against Obama's policy on immigration reform.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Homeless Sprayed with Hoses by DPW employees: Gentrification or Sensationalism

Aljazeera: "Activists say San Francisco trying to wash away the homeless" by Massoud Hayoun

The Coalition on Homelessness, a homeless advocacy group, has recently called attention to what appears to be a resurgence in unbecoming behavior on the part of San Francisco's Department of Public Works (DPW) employees. According to this advocacy group, DPW employees have recently begun hosing and kicking homeless in the downtown area while cleaning the sidewalks each morning. A recent article entitled "Activists say San Francisco trying to wash away the homeless" by Massoud Hayou, notes that in past years, when programs of this nature have previously been introduced, advocacy groups and local media  have verified the reality of these types of unsavory activities.

In Hayou's article, Jennifer Friedenbach, director of the Coalition on Homelessness, observed that "There was a very orchestrated campaign to gentrify the Mid-Market area and draw in tech companies" and that "What goes hand in hand with that is displacement of poor people." DPW spokeswoman Rachel Gordon notes that the recent street cleanings are part of a pilot program to maintain sanitation in the city. Additionally, contrary the statements of Friedenbach, Gordon denies the claims of advocacy groups and local media that the street cleanings are a deliberate attempt to spray the homeless. She stated "We do not point water at homeless people".

Despite claims that this program is a signal of the government's outright support of gentrification, I believe this type of street cleaning program has been long overdue merely on the grounds of public health alone. Business incentives were merely a catalyst. From personal experience, I can attest that the area has for a long time been covered in human excrement. The city's recent interest in fostering an attractive business climate for technology companies seems to be more of a tipping point, just one of many factors that supports the enactment of the recent program. While the displacement of homeless individuals in the immediate area is an unfortunate consequence, it is not a surprising phenomenon.

While claims that DPW has been deliberately hosing down homeless people sound like sheer sensationalism by advocacy groups and the local media, I believe it is a fair assessment that the enactment of the street/sidewalk cleaning program is an attempt to attract tech companies into the area. The reality is that municipalities are primarily funded and driven by property taxes. Likewise fostering job growth is a high priority amongst the city's electorate and by extension city officials. The controversy surrounding this program in the context of gentrification in San Francisco highlights the dilemma public officials face while navigating a political environment that is defined both as a region of rapid economic growth and a staunchly socially and fiscally liberal electorate.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Social Security Support Services Crumble as Meager Budgetary Appropriations Constrain Operations

Washington Post: “Social Security advocates fear more cuts in staff and service”

In his article “Social Security advocates fear more cuts in staff and service”, Author Joe Davidson illustrates the disintegrating circumstances of Social Security operations. He notes that “wait times for callers to the agency’s 800 number averaged more than 17 minutes in 2014, more than triple the five-minute average wait just two years earlier” and “Between FY 2010 and January of FY 2013, the average wait time for field office visitors without appointments increased by 40 percent.” In his analysis, he ascribes the deterioration in services to the historic lack of funding over the past 3 years by appropriations committees.

Conservative’s efforts to scale back entitlement programs can perhaps most readily be seen here. Unable to immediately reduce the quantity of benefits dispersed, they are seeking to reduce the effectiveness of the disbursement processes. Such actions likely foreshadow more direct, sweeping attacks on entitlement programs as Republicans assume greater congressional power in the months to come.

Personally, the reductions in budgetary allocations to Social Security operations seems petty. While I am sympathetic to conservatives’ impassioned cause to reduce the scale of entitlement programs, I don’t believe this is the right way to do so. While attacking operations in this way may be somewhat effective in slowing the expansion of program recipients, I believe such actions will and have produced many unintended consequences insufficient to justify this agenda. Bureaucrats personally vested in the interests of Social Security recipients may work off the clock in an attempt to service those in need. Additionally, current recipients who are already approved may be unable to receive the service they require and for which there are sufficient funds. If conservatives are interested in reducing entitlement programs, I would rather they do so through formal, transparent channels rather than undercutting existing operations through appropriations, especially at the expense of exploiting bureaucrats and reneging services to approved recipients.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Keystone XL Pipeline faces set-back as bill is narrowly defeated in the Senate

 NY Times: “Senate Defeats Bill on Keystone XL Pipeline in Narrow Vote”

Despite impassioned statements on the part of Louisiana Democrat Senator Mary L. Landrieu, legislation approving construction of the Keystone XL pipeline was narrowly defeated in a 59-41 Senate vote. The narrow nature of the defeat of the project is unsurprising given the contentious nature of the issue. Environmental and oil interest groups have each allocated massive amounts of time and resources into lobbying for and against this legislation.

Landrieu in particular has been outspoken in her support for this legislation given that the project has serious implications for employment opportunities of Louisiana residents. Her state’s economic dependence on the oil industry has frequently put her at ends with many within the Democratic Party. Democrats have had to tread lightly with Landrieu. She represents one of the few remaining Democrats in South, but her policies on energy and environmental issues have frequently caused her to clash with those of the majority of Democrats.

While the defeat of the Keystone XL Pipeline legislation has temporarily stopped the project’s progression, new legislation is likely to be introduced as existing incumbents are unseated in the months to come. Even if the legislation had been able to successfully pass through the Senate, it would have likely been vetoed by the President.

This defeat of the Keystone XL Pipeline does not mean the end of the project. More significant to the debate will be the reintroduction of the project in the months to come as proponents will likely be able to secure greater support amongst incoming Republicans. Minor increases in support will ensure that the bill reaches the President. Significant sway could allow the Senate to override a Presidential veto.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Uncertainty abounds in the midst of pending hand-off of Burkina Faso governance to Civilian Leadership

BBC: Burkina Faso leaders agree transitional framework

A blueprint for the formation of and transition of power to a new civilian government in Burkina Faso received unanimous approval in a recent meeting in Ouagadougou (Capital of Burkina Faso). In 2013, former President Blaise Compaoré introduced measures that would allow him to extend his term as President by an additional five years and – in principle – for the foreseeable future. Such actions instigated mass protests throughout the state resulting in Compaoré’s resignation in late October, 27 years after first assuming power. Lt Col Isaac Zida assumed on the 1st of November.

The approve charter states:
“An interim president will be chosen by a special college composed of religious, military, political, civil and traditional leaders.”
“The president will then name a prime minister to appoint a 25-member government.”
“The charter also calls for a 90-member national transitional council to serve as a legislative body.”
While those in attendance supported the proposed blueprint unanimously, I am curious to the extent which the general populace approves. I do, however, recognize though that a metric of public approval of the proposed plan in its entirety may not quite be relevant to the general discussion given the historical lack of political involvement in the state. What is clear is that there is widespread approval for an immediate transition to a civilian government.

I am also somewhat concerned about the manner in which this transitional/interim government is to be appointed. It appears that a large amount of power is being allocated into the hands of a few select individuals. It appears as though once the interim president is chosen, they can choose their prime minister and the result 25-member government. What controls exist to ensure that this interim government will not make a grab for power? Compaoré emerged as a consequence of a coup. How will the state prevent leaders from assuming too much power in the future?

Mexican President’s Activities Abroad Stoke Domestic Unrest over Corruption Allegations

Aljazeera: “Mexico president pushes trade ties in China while protests rage at home”

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto recently spent time in China discussing opportunities for increased trade between the two states. Meanwhile, civil unrest is raging as evidence mounts supporting the conclusion that the disappearance of forty-three students late last September was a consequence of collusion between drug cartels and local police.

While this type of trade initiative under stable circumstances would likely be received positively by the Mexican public, it has propelled perceptions of President Nieto as misdirected in his priorities and its worst, apathetic to the tragedy at hand.

President Nieto has sought to justify his actions abroad by arguing that increased trade with China will help drive economic growth and subsequently mitigate poverty throughout the state - a driving factor of drug operations in Mexico.

While the participation of Mexican authorities in the recent tragedy is extremely concerning, I don’t believe Nieto’s recent tour of China is sufficient reason to label the President as apathetic to the incident. I agree with President Nieto that increased trade between China and Mexico could contribute to the long-term uprooting of the pervasive drug trade problem in Mexico. I am less certain as to whether the President might have been able to delay his tour abroad to address the more immediate concerns of corruption.