Thursday, December 31, 2015

Anne-Marie Slaughter's Impressive Unfinished Business



One of the best books I read in 2015 was Anne-Marie Slaughter's book Unfinished BusinessIt's the best of the popular social science genre: it has a unifying theme, is well researched, and engagingly written. It makes some important new points without being snarkily contrarian, and includes a lot of empirical research without becoming dull.

The basis for the book was Slaughter's article in The Atlantic that "Women Still Can't Have it All." It's a terrific piece and it struck me as spot on when I read it. But the article quickly became the most popular in the magazine's history, and Slaughter was flooded with responses. Many were positive, but of course a number were negative. Men, gays, and women of less fortunate means all complained that she failed to represent them in her piece.

If I were Slaughter, I'm sure I would have brushed off such comments as outside the scope of my story. Amazingly, she responds to a great number of these criticisms and combines them into the broader work that is Unfinished Business.

The key thesis of her book  is that we need to value care more as a society. We value it greatly on a personal level- who doesn't love and appreciate the people who raised them- but question people someone when they drop out of the workforce to become a caregiver. Slaughter makes a strong case for family friendly policies, and has at her service a number of studies to bolster her claims.

She is agnostic about whether greater parental leave policies should come from the private sector, local government, or be provided at the federal level. I think there is a much stronger case for federal protections; as she mentions, the U.S. is one of the few countries not to offered guaranteed maternal leave. Aside from the obvious impact on women, this puts our companies at a disadvantage if they offer family friendly policies. The result is inadequate care and less competitive businesses; women, children, and our national economy our all hurt by the lack of leave.

I really liked the focus she puts on men. This isn't completely original of course; as early as 1970 Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme was lecturing Americans about the Emancipation of Men, stating "men should have a larger share in various aspects of family life, for example, better contact with the children." Attitudes like this matter: Sweden has paid paternity leave, and not surprisingly a higher percentage of women in the work force as a result.

Slaughter correctly points out that not only men, but women, need to resocialize. Men need to be better care givers, and be more willing to lean back and help their wives their children. They need to be secure enough to have their wives earn more or be more of a high-flyer.

But women also need to change their expectations of men. Slaughter points out that wives often leave their husbands detailed lists about what to do when they are gone for several hours; the notion that men can't handle two kids for a few hours, quite frankly, is demeaning. If women want men to take up more of the care work at home, then they need to give men the freedom to do it their way.

I would quibble with some points; for instance, Slaughter says part of the problem is that we do not elect enough female legislators. Unsaid, is that evidence shows that women are as likely to win election as men if they run, the problem is that fewer women dip their feet in the water in the first place. This could be a result of sexism- women candidates may take more abuse than their male counterparts and old boys networks may affect who decides to run in the first place- but it would be better for Slaughter to be clear on this point.

Overall, Unfinished Business is an excellent rethinking of questions that just about all of us have pondered on at some point in our lives. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Reviewing Star Wars (Spoilers!!!)

Well on its way to breaking up the James Cameron one-two punch at the top of the all time box office, I feel compelled to share my thoughts on Star Wars- Episode VII: The Force Awakens. Spoilers ahead obviously.

It's difficult for me to review Star Wars like a normal film. I have seen hundreds and hundreds of better films than Attack of the Clones, but I don't rewatch the best parts of those movies on youtube when I'm bored. I love The Lord of the Rings films, am an enormous supporter of Nolan's Dark Knight, and have enjoyed a number of recent Marvel releases. The world of Star Wars has always captured me like no other. I spent hours as a (not even that little) kid clashing my two plastic lightsabers against each other, imagining I was a jedi knight battling even Sith lords. I must have watched The Force Awakens trailer 20 times.

So what did I think?

I was definitely pleased, but not totally enthralled. I initially liked the parallels to Episode IV, but by the end it seemed like a remake. There is no reason that three films from a fictional universe as creative as Star Wars should all have the same climactic space battle. The Death Star was a great idea in 1977, but this serious has pounded it into the ground. George Lucas deserves credit for striking out a different path for the prequels, if nothing else.

The Force Awakens does fix the three biggest problems with the prequels; (1) the nails on a chalkboard dialogue, (2) the horrific acting (looking at you Hayden Christensen), and (3) Jar-Jar Binks. Fortunately, none of these things are to be found in The Force Awakens.

There are lots of small details I loved, some old and some new.  Han and Chewie are back and amazing; Chewie is a little more well-rounded than before and even more hilarious. I'm so happy Han took center stage for an hour; the "That's not how the force works" line was probably my favorite of the movie. C-3PO's introduction is also great.

On the new side, I loved the scenes with Rey laboring, the silhouette of the sun in background. I though the way Kylo Ren expressed his anger was a nice touch; the scene where the stormtroopers turn around and walk in the other direction was the type of clever irreverence missing in Episodes I-III. Supreme Leader Snoke looks like a badass (does Andy Serkis ever disappoint?).

There were several things that bothered me. I thought the movie takes a little too long to get going, I thought the action sequence where the First Order attack on D'Qar was poorly edited and had strangely bad art direction. I though the whole Nazi fascist stuff was kind of silly. And most surprisingly, I thought John Williams' score was lackluster. The old stuff is great, but none of the new themes were memorable.

I also have some more fanboy-ish complaints. First, why is Luke hiding. I hope its not because he is depressed. I'm tired of jedi just going into exile when disaster strikes. I understand the necessity of tying up lose ends, but why did Obi-Wan and Yoda, two of the greatest jedi of all time, need to go into hiding. If Luke is just reacting to some tragedy, then I will be disappointed. I hope there is some purpose to him being on the island in the middle of nowhere. But I'm not optimistic on this front.

Second, I didn't love the lightsaber duel (well, comparatively). It didn't have the choreography of the Darth Maul fight, the excitement of Yoda in dueling form, the speed or the galaxy on your shoulders importance of Yoda-Palpatine or Anakin-Obi-Wan, or the utter brilliance that is Luke-Vader. I also don't think Rey should have been able to get the better of Kylo Ren in their first fight. For six movies, we've been told about all the training and dedication that goes into being a jedi. If you can take on someone as powerful as Ren the first time you pick up lightsaber, that kind of defeats the purpose to me.

Which brings me to the biggest post-viewing question: who is Rey? Because her natural talents seem so out of the world, I want her to be progeny of both Luke and Obi-Wan. She should be a Skywalker on one side and a Kenobi on the other. I could also go for a Harry Potter-esque tale of her miraculously surviving jedi purge round II as an infant, because her force abilities are so out of this galaxy. Alas, wait we must.

Overall, The Force Awakens is a solid film. We may need to wait for Episodes VIII and IX to reach a final verdicts on its merits, however.




Friday, December 18, 2015

Impressive Dominican Immigrants

Yeah We're OK, Thank You


This summer, sports commentator Colin Cowherd caused a firestorm when he insulted the intelligence of those from the Dominican Republic. He said:

Baseball’s just too complex.’ Really? A third of the sport is from the Dominican Republic. The Dominican Republic has not been known in my lifetime as having world class academic abilities. A lot of those kids come from rough backgrounds and have not had opportunities academically that other kids from other countries have.’’

Cowherd later apologized for the remark, but he ended up losing his job. I am currently in the Dominican Republic now, so I figured its worth pointing out that Dominican immigrants, contrary what one would expect based on Cowherd's remark, have been quite impressive in the United States. There are barely over one million Dominicans in America,  but they have an outsized effect on our culture. 

Let's start with an area where even Cowherd would readily admit Dominicans have been astonishingly successful: baseball. Alex Rodriguez, was born in New York, to Dominican parents. Albert Pujols was in and out of the Dominican and the U.S. as a child. David Ortiz, Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, Edinson Volquez, and Jose Bautista (granted he has made his name in Canada) are all Dominican born. Basically Dominicans now dominate America's sport. They are getting into other sports as well; NBA All Star Al Horford is Dominican born and rookie monster Karl-Anthony Towns is Dominican American.

Dominicans have also been incredibly successful in the arts. They seem to have mastered the tough, cool girl role. Hollywood's two go-to starlets for such roles, Zoe Saldana (Avatar, Guardians of the Galaxy, Pirates of the Caribbean) and Michel Rodriguez (Avatar, Fast & Furious series), are each half Dominican, half Puerto-Rican. Two of the most popular singers in Latin America (who also sell out arenas in the U.S.) are Bronx-born Dominican-Americans Prince Royce and Romeo Santos

OK fair enough- you may say, but this doesn't necessarily disprove Cowherd's point. What about some academic studs?

Junot Diaz recently won a MacArthur Genius grant following his 2008 Pulitzer Prize victory for his incredible novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.  It's hip and modern, heartfelt and historical. Oscar Wao is a coming-of-age tale worthy of Salinger, an immigrant's story on par with Willa Cather, and it features a dash of magical realism worthy of Garcia Marquez. His most recent output, This is How You Lose Her, is also a deeply moving account of immigration, but even more so a lament for men who are too horny for their own good. Julia Alvarez is also excellent; Before We Were Free is one of my favorite young adult books and In the Time of Butterflies is a top-notch historical novel.

Angel Taveras (B.A. Harvard, JD Georgetown) is the mayor of Providence, and Thomas Perez (B.A. Brown, J.D/M.P.P Harvard) is the current Secretary of Labor. Here he is on the Daily show last week. Juan Manuel Taveras Rodriguez, born in the DR, was a professor at Harvard Medicine and known as the father of neuroadiology, which uses neuroimaging techniques to diagnose abnormalities of central and peripheral nervous systems. 

Finally, its worth noting that Dominicans are primarily (1) recent immigrants (2) from lower class roots. Whereas a large percentage of the Cuban immigrants in the U.S. came from an elite background and have had several generations to assimilate, Dominicans arriving in the U.S. were largely leaving for a lack of education and economic opportunities in their native land. 

Considering where they started, I'd say Dominican Americans are doing more than fine. 




Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Defining Question of 2015 (And Beyond)



Time Magazine released its Person of the Year Award for 2015 today. The winner is Angela Merkel, certainly for her controversial stewardship of the Greek bailout but even more so for her brave and welcoming stance to Syrian refugees. Perhaps even more notably were the two people who finished behind her: Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi (the leader of ISIS), and Donald Trump (who has taken over the American news cycle in the latter half of 2015). Note: Time has always said it is judging importance not heroism. 

The question that links all three is simple: What do we do about terrorism?

Baghdadi's strategy is obviously to promote it and to encourage it. Trump wants to respond out of fear and hatred; close the borders and preach differences. Merkel hopes to meet the challenge with understanding and compassion. 

Here's to hoping Angela Merkel wins out.

Other related thoughts.

1. A number of liberals have argued that Donald Trump is Republican's comeuppance for promoting intolerance and preaching extremism since the Clinton era. I think there is some minimal truth to this. But the far right is doing well everywhere: France, the UK, and Sweden have all seen large surges for the far right. Hungary and Poland both have extremely conservative leaders. Trump certainly is his own animal, but I think he is pretty clearly a reflection of broader social trends. The far right has thrived on workers displaced by the financial crisis and globalization, as well as an increased fear of terrorism. This is all of the West, not Trump specific.

2. Generally, the Republican response to Trump's recent proposal has appropriately been condemnation. That said, there have been a number of dissenters.  Shame on them. 

3. 2016 is becoming a national security election. This is bad news for Bernie Sanders. But it's probably good for Democrats in the long run, because Hillary Clinton has a muscular foreign policy and is perceived as a no nonsense iron lady even by her opponents. You hear people say she's ruthless and unlikable, but certainly not that she's a pushover.  

4. I don't think being afraid of Islamic terrorism is a crazy thing, and liberals who make such claims are helping the far right just as Donald Trump and similar voices are strengthening ISIS's message of an Islamophobic West.

5. Destroying ISIS in Syria will make Westerners more safe in their home country. In a discussion with my friend today, he insisted taking on ISIS in the Middle East would have little impact. He viewed terrorism as a kind of whack-a-mole, if we eliminate them in one place they will just pop up in another. I think this is too defeatist for several reasons. First, ISIS's strength in Syria, Iraq, and Libya promotes their message: that the West cannot beat them and that they have established our own caliphate. People want to join ISIS in part because it seems like they are successfully standing up to the man. Second, a safe home base gives ISIS the power to plan attacks in safety. The longer they have a home base and financial control over resources, the more likely they will be able to obtain chemical weapons or worse. 


Sunday, December 6, 2015

Detroit Musings

I headed to the Motor City this past weekend, because YOLO. Having grown up in the Baltimore area, I thought I had seen urban decay. Moreover, being an optimist, I was confident that plenty of the reports coming out of the city would be unfair.

Yet driving Detroit through the first time, I found it to be exactly how others have described it. Gray and desolate, abandoned and hopeless. You could go several blocks without seeing a person, and several more without seeing a building in use. The individuals I did see were all carrying out some task lonely task; manually fueling a gas tank in the middle of the street, a homeless man pushing his cart of possession, a woman carrying groceries she bought at a gas station.

Downtown was eery. The skyscrapers were clearly built in a pre-modern style; new buildings these were not. There were people at least, smiling and happy. The security guard at my dinner spot was wearing a bulletproof vest, something I am used to seeing in Central America but certainly not the U.S. Two of the three bars I went to had almost exclusively white patrons in a city that is 82% black; Detroit clearly is still grappling with the color line.

Millions of words have been spilled about Detroit's problems. Let me just add two relevant points that I thought about while in town, both of which I think are under discussed in the context of the city's woes.

1. Lack of Elite Colleges/Universities. I think Ed Glaeser made a similar point in his excellent book Triumph of the City. It is startling how Detroit does not have any elite schools within 40 minutes. For instance, here is a look at the biggest cities in the U.S, in 1950.


    1   New York city, NY *......  7,891,957   315.1    25,046
    2   Chicago city, IL.........  3,620,962   207.5    17,450
    3   Philadelphia city, PA....  2,071,605   127.2    16,286
    4   Los Angeles city, CA.....  1,970,358   450.9     4,370
    5   Detroit city, MI.........  1,849,568   139.6    13,249
    6   Baltimore city, MD.......    949,708    78.7    12,067
    7   Cleveland city, OH.......    914,808    75.0    12,197
    8   St. Louis city, MO.......    856,796    61.0    14,046
    9   Washington city, DC......    802,178    61.4    13,065
   10   Boston city, MA..........    801,444    47.8    16,767
   11   San Francisco city, CA...    775,357    44.6    17,385
   12   Pittsburgh city, PA......    676,806    54.2    12,487

Obviously some of these cities have done much better than others. But even among those who have struggled the most- Philadelphia (Penn), Baltimore (John Hopkins), Cleveland (Case Western), St. Louis (Wash U), and Pittsburgh (Carnegie Mellon) have one elite or near elite university. Detroit has...Wayne State?

Elite schools bring smart people to the city, some who choose to stay. I certainly think the lack of an elite institution in Detroit has hurt the city.

2. Lack of Immigrants. Detroit is less than 8% Hispanic or Asian- the two fast growing groups in the U.S. This shows an inability to attract immigrants, who tend to be young, entrepreneurial, and hard-working. The only other two cities on this list below 8% total for those groups are Baltimore and St. Louis; aka the two cities always on Detroit's heels for highest homicide rate.

Certainly causation runs the other way here as well- immigrants are attracted to vibrant places with employment opportunities. But Detroit's inability to bring in the newest Americans definitely has not helped its cause.





Thursday, December 3, 2015

Justice Scalia and Ed Whelan Proud to Stand on the Wrong Side of History

No they are not the same as child molesters


Yesterday, Judge Richard Posner and Eric Segall lambasted Justice Scalia for his laughable assertions on gay marriage. They pointed out some of the ridiculous inconsistencies in his jurisprudence, and his hateful assertions against gay men and women. The article wasn't completely fair to Justice Scalia, but it was mostly right.

This didn't sit too well with National Review's Ed Whelan, who attempted a takedown of the Posner/Segall piece. It's pretty weak.

1. First, Whelan attacks Posner/Segall for claiming that Justice Scalia believes "that the Supreme Court should get out of the business of enforcing the Constitution altogether." Whelan says this is ridiculous: "no competent legal mind could fairly extract from Scalia’s dissent the proposition that Posner derives and attacks."

Both are partially right here. Posner/Segall are correct that extrapolating some of Scalia's statements could lead to the end of judicial review. Whelan is on firm ground when he says in the context of the whole dissent, its clear Scalia wasn't calling for overturning Marbury v. Madison. But both fail to capture Justice Scalia's utter hypocrisy on the subject.

In Obergefell, he says:

 “To allow the policy question of same-sex marriage to be considered and resolved by a select, patrician, highly unrepresentative panel of nine is to violate a principle even more fundamental than no taxation without representation: no social transformation without representation.”

He adds:

“A system of government that makes the People subordinate to a committee of nine unelected lawyers does not deserve to be called a democracy.”

OK Justice Scalia, I get it. The patrician court should stay out people's business. Let democracy decide the issue. To do otherwise, would be "pure applesauce."

But then in oral arguments of the Shelby County voting right case, Justice Scalia stated:

"Whenever a society adopts racial entitlements, it is very difficult to get out of them through the normal political processes. I don’t think there is anything to be gained by any Senator to vote against continuation of this act. And I am fairly confident it will be reenacted in perpetuity unless — unless a court can say it does not comport with the Constitution."

Justice Scalia then promptly voted to strike down the Voting Right Act. Well, at least that was a close vote in the Senate which Justice Scalia was overruling, only 98-0.

Basically, Justice Scalia is pro democracy when the majority wants to take away rights and against it when the populace wants to guarantee them. Got it.

2. Later on Whelan attempts to defend the indefensible, i.e. Scalia's remark comparing the rights of gays to child molesters. Posner/Segall quote Scalia as saying:

"There is no principled basis for distinguishing child molesters from homosexuals, since both are minorities and, further, that the protection of minorities should be the responsibility of legislatures, not courts. After all, he [Scalia] remarked sarcastically, child abusers are also a “deserving minority,” and added, “nobody loves them.”

Whelan should have just conceded this one, instead he says.

"Posner contends that Scalia recently “argued that there is no principled basis for distinguishing child molesters from homosexuals” as minorities deserving of protection. But what Posner elides is that Scalia actually argued that there is no principled basis in the Constitution for courts to confer rights on the latter but not the former. That’s exactly the point that he made in his 2003 dissent in Lawrence v. Texas."

Well, there is this thing called the equal protection clause (no state "shall deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.") But let's give him the benefit of the doubt for one moment. Scalia/Whelan would argue that, in the Constitution, child molesters are just as deserving of equal protection as gay men and women. Hey, say Scalia/Whelan, if gays can choose their sex partners why can't child molesters?

Um, because children can't consent to sex with an adult. So children's equal protection/privileges and immunities/liberty are violated. A loving gay couple having sex face no such consent issues. This should be obvious.

If Justice Scalia wants to continue comparing gay and lesbian men and women to child molesters and Ed Whelan wants to defend such remarks, they may choose to do so. But history will judge them.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Letting in Syrian Refugees Increases National Security

Republicans in Congress are reportedly reconsidering their hasty plan to bar Syrian refugees. Part of this may be political reality; some of the more sensible Republican members remembered that there is still a Democrat in the White House. But hopefully some have realized that blocking the entry of Syrian refugees will actually decrease national security.

First of all, no sensible terrorist would try and enter the United States through the refugee program. Instead of going through the refugee program with its five security checks they could enter on a tourist visa which has a much less rigorous screening process. Or they could get accepted to a community college and enter on an F-1 student visa. They could also fly into Central America, Mexico, or Canada and pay a smuggler to get them across the border. Scott Walker's universally ridiculed Canadian fence was probably a better national security initiative than barring Syrian refugees.

Second, most Republicans seem to forget that American soft power derives from taking the high ground; we gain strength and legitimacy from being that shining beacon on the hill. John McCain is an admirable exception-"all children are God's children." He's also taken a stand against torture. No one can accuse McCain of being a weakling: aside from surviving an enemy war camp, he and Lindsey Graham are probably the biggest national security hawks in Congress. But McCain realizes that torturing terrorists, breeds hatred of the U.S., and thus indirectly creates more terrorists. Barring Syrian refugees will do the same; it will create a negative perception of the U.S. in the Muslim world and will lead more young Muslims to falsely believe that most Americans are Islamophobic. By making Muslims in the U.S. and around the world feel unwelcome in America, barring Syrian refugees will create more terrorists inside and outside of the United States.

If you don't believe me, check out this letter begging Congress to rethink to their stance on Syrian refugees. It's signed by a number of Republican hawks and military leaders, including but not limited to Henry Kissinger, Brent Scowcroft, George P. Shultz, General David Petraeus, and General George Casey.

Don't argue with me, argue with them.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Citizens United: When Conduct is Speech



In his daily segment "This Day in Judicial Activism", Ed Whelan treats us to the case Rumsfeld v. FAIR. In Rumsfeld, the Supreme Court unanimously held that Congress had the power to require law schools to grant the military access to its campus for recruiting purposes. The schools had argued that the law was constitutional because it violated their first amendment rights to freedom of association and speech; they wanted to ban military recruiters because they disagreed with the military's don't ask, don't tell policy.

The Supreme Court correctly upheld Congress's power to pass the law, as Whelan notes. He writes:
Roberts makes short work of the Third Circuit’s [contrary] reasoning. The Solomon Amendment, he explains, “neither limits what law schools may say nor requires them to say anything.” Rather, it “regulates conduct, not speech,” as it “affects what law schools must do—afford equal access to military recruiters—not what they may or may not say.” 

This is sound analysis. The Solomon Amendment clearly regulated action not speech. As Congress had a clear prerogative to pass the restrictive provision on the law schools, the Supreme Court had no business overruling a duly enacted law based on a stretched reading of the First Amendment.

Which brings me to Citizens United. You know, the case in which the court's conservative majority concluded that conduct was actually speech, and struck down a duly enacted law based on a stretched reading of the First Amendment. Just as allowing a military recruiter onto your campus is conduct not speech, so is donating to a political campaign. 

Moreover, Citizens United is actually a much clearer case of judicial activism. The direct legal question in Citizens United only concerned a low budget anti-Hillary Clinton documentary. But the conservatives on the court jumped at the opportunity the case presented to take down tangentially related campaign finance laws they despised. If that isn't judicial activism, I'm not sure what is. 


Monday, November 23, 2015

Those Successful Syrian Americans

Ethnic group A has been quite successful in America. They have integrated quickly into American life, and have succeeded in all walks of life. Members of this group have gone on to become CEOs and innovators, singers and actors, judges and politicians. Their median household income is more than $10,000 above that of the average American. This group, quite literally, is the definition of an American success story. Who is this group? Syrian Americans, of course.

Let's go through a list of renowned Syrian Americans for the fun of it:

Steve Jobs: A subject of endless biographies, a Danny Boyle/Aaron Sorkin movie just came out about him, and undoubtedly one of the people who has most shaped the 21st century. If you point out that his biological father was never a part of his life, fair enough. Considering Jobs' father earned a PhD in Political Science from Wisconsin in the 1950s though, I think its fair to say some of the Apple CEO's extraordinary drive and talent came from his father.

Mona Simpson: Steve Jobs' sister, and and an award winning novelist. More proof that Abdulfattah 'John' Jandali was the father of innovation.

Jerry Seinfeld- His mother is of Syrian Jewish descent. 

F. Murray Abraham- Academy Award winning actor, most famous for his Oscar winning role in Amadeus.

Wafa Sultan- A Syrian born Alawite Muslim, best known for her criticism of, wait for it....Islam. 

Paula Abdul/Teri Hatcher- Singer/American Idol judge and Desperate Housewives actress.

Mitch Daniels- Former governor of Indiana, past head of OMB, and current President of Purdue University.

Sam Yagan- A son of Syrian immigrants that I had never heard of, but damn is he impressive. In 1998, while an undergrad at Harvard, he started Sparknotes. Then he went off to Stanford to get an MBA, where he was valedictorian. Shortly thereafter, he cofounded OK Cupid. Now he's the CEO of match.com. 




So you owe your iPhone, your Macbook Air, your Seinfeld reruns, and maybe even your relationship to Syrian immigrants to the United States. 

Conclusion: Syrian people + American culture and institutions= MORE PLEASE





Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Fight ISIS by Accepting Syrian Refugees

Earlier this year, I traveled to Lebanon to interview Syrian refugees. The Lebanese hate ISIS every bit as much as the West; their have been a number of incidents where ISIS thugs kidnapped Lebanese soldiers and beheaded them. Last week of course, Lebanon was hit by an ISIS suicide bombing that killed 43. Even in the hostel I stayed out there was a plaque for Peter Kessig- a well liked frequent guest. Kessig was of course kidnapped by ISIS while trying to help Syrian children and decapitated on film.

The Syrians I interviewed were not afraid of ISIS, but rather Assad. One man had been beaten, imprisoned, and tortured by Assad's thugs. He was living without electricity or a job in Beirut. Without Lebanese papers, he was ineligible to receive for work authorization or any government benefits. 

Lebanon, unlike the US, actually is burdened by the influx of refugees. Whereas we are a country expressing grave concerns about 10, 000 potential refugees, Lebanon is a country of less than 4 million citizens with over a million refugees. Lebanon is now solidly over 25% Syrian refugee; the U.S. polity is disturbed about the possibility of a .003% Syrian refugee influx. 

Its worth noting the security checks Syrians must pass through. They must go throw two security checks before they even are permitted to interview with the consulate. Then they face two more checks where the CIA, FBI, NSA, and DOJ rigorously go through all their intelligence on the individual in question. If there is even a hint from their story that they may have cooperated with a terrorist group, the individual will likely fail the checks. Even after an individual has been placed with a resettlement agency, he still must undergo another thorough check. Materially aiding or abetting a terrorist organization is grounds for inadmissibility. This could potentially include giving a terrorist some rice with a gun pointed at your head (the rice is materially benefiting the terrorist). The background checks normally take between 18 and 24 months. If these checks do not qualify as thorough, its hard to know what could classified as such.

Finally, let me make two points that are often ignored.

First, many politicians bluster about being tough on ISIS. But one of the simplest and probably the must crucial step to fighting ISIS is to protect the Syrian and Iraqi men and women on the ground who have stood up to and fought against ISIS. Many potential Syrian refugees have literally gone to battle against ISIS. When their families are threatened or sometimes killed because they dared to stand up to ISIS and our response to them when they ask for asylum is "Well, sorry, we think you might be a terrorist," then that certainly is not going to help us get partners on the ground going forward. If you brag about how tough you are on ISIS, then you must want to reward those who helped us battle them. You are spouting nonsense if you claim otherwise.

Second, far fewer Americans than Europeans have gone off to fight for ISIS in the Middle East. Why? Because America is a multicultural society that has a long history of embracing immigrants and outsiders. We also are far more protective of freedom of religion- a law banning burqas per se would be unanimously ruled unconstitutional here. For these reasons, Muslims have integrated into the United States much more effectively than in Europe. If we turn our back on this heritage, we will face many of the same issues Europe is currently confronting.

Let me conclude by saying there are real security risks. We must not ignore that. But the costs of turning our back on Syrian refugees are much greater than the risks of offering a helping hand.