Monday, August 27, 2012

The Rule of Law and the Obama Administration

Two key components of the Obama Administration's immigration policy are: prioritized enforcement and prosecutorial discretion; in other words ICE is now focused on apprehending "individuals who pose a threat to public safety such as criminal aliens and national security threats..." and will halt deportation proceedings on a case-by-case basis against undocumented immigrants who meet certain criteria, such as those who came to the United States before they were 16 years of age.

 At a quick glance, these policies make sense. Law enforcement agencies must prioritize the use of limited resources; greater attention must be directed towards apprehending violent criminals than catching those who violate traffic laws. They can determine that it would be an unwise use of resources to direct their officers to actively seek to apprehend individuals solely for the violation of immigration laws. However, the rule of law dictates that if in the course of their duty, a police officer happens to witnesses a "low priority crime", such as a driver passing a red light or a teenager stealing a candy bar, they must take the necessary steps to enforce the law. And if in the course of arresting an individual for (let's say) driving under the influence of alcohol, the police department discovered that they were not residing in the country legally, it is their duty to report them to immigration authorities. The same principles hold true for judges and prosecutors; while it is reasonable to exercise some discretion in passing judgement, such as factoring in if the individual has a spouse and children who are citizens, categorically refusing to prosecute violators of any law that exists on the books,
demonstrates a disregard for the rule of law.

Thus, the Obama Administration's new immigration policies can best be characterized as a piecemeal amnesty that circumvents the prerogative of the legislative branch. Even though  good arguments can be made for enacting the Dream Act, the manner in which the Obama Administration disregards the separation of powers and the rule of law that are central to our republic. Rather than erode enforcement, the president should seek to change laws through normal channels of the democratic process. Any significant change to policy should be openly debated and then subject to a vote in congress. More than anyone, supporters of comprehensive immigration reform should be extremely reserved about half measures pushed through by presidential fiat, because executive orders do not offer long term solutions for the dilemma that undocumented immigrants face, they can easily be overturned by future presidents, as well as the congress. An executive who pressures law enforcement agencies and prosecutors to exempt an entire category of individuals from a law, for cheap political gain, is befitting of a corrupt third world state, not the United States of America.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Sensationalism vs Statistics

High profile events, such as the shooting that occurred in Aurora Colorado always open up a flood gate of urgent proposals. While sensationalism offers the initial benefit of sparking debate, it very rarely leads to the implementation of effective policy. To start off, it distracts us from statistically significant patterns, causing us to instead focus on statistical outliers. While the death of 12 individuals in Colorado was a terrible tragedy, shootings involving crazed gunmen comprise only a very small percentage of overall violence. The majority of gun violence involves conflicts between gangs over drug territory, which in the case of Chicago has risen by 38% this year. In a six month period in 2012, 250 people were murdered in Chicago. In one week in August of 2012, 15 individuals were killed in a series of violent altercations, which in contrast to the single Colorado shooting, prompted very little public debate, precisely because it was accepted as a statistical norm.

Clearly, to base violence reduction strategies on statistical outliers (crazed gunmen), is inherently less effective than strategies focused on drug violence. For example, the shooting in Colorado prompted calls for stricter gun control measures, which may be a good idea, however, it will do little to deter violence in cities like Chicago and Washington DC in which the vast majority of gun violence involve illegally obtained firearms. Given this fact, concerted efforts by law enforcement agencies to crack down on the black market channels that supply weapons to criminals, would be vastly more effective. Another policy proposal was to focus more resources on keeping guns from people with mentally illnesses, which may be a good idea, but given that statistics do NOT support the commonly held nation that the mentally ill are more prone to violence, this will do little or nothing to lower the aggregate rate of violence.

One of the most positive aspects of American Culture, is our aversion to fatalism, our belief that we can and must control our circumstances. But, the downside of this impulse is that it prevents us from accepting that random tragedies and statistical outliers will occur, that are beyond our control. It drives us to seek to legislate away all possible danger, especially after a tragic event. The greatest hazard of this approach is that it further restricts social and economic life, while doing little to make us safer. The shoe bomber incident was certainly a frightening event, but the government's response, to mandate that all prospective passengers remove their shoes is a perfect example of this regulatory hubris. Given the adaptive nature of terrorists, this was the first and certainly the last instance in which they will pursue this means of attack, yet for the foreseeable future, all travelers will be needlessly inconvenienced. Why? Because to do nothing would force politicians and regulators to admit that so much is beyond their control and their usefulness is quite overstated. The wisest course of action is to reject the cult of fear and sensationalism and let dry statistics and cool reason help us determine what we can and should control.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Socialism and the Haredi Question

Over the last few years, we have witnessed signs of the growing radicalization of Israel's Ultra-Orthodox  Haredim.Last year, the police was called in to the city of Beit Shemesh to protect modern orthodox Jewish children from the ire of ultra orthrodox Haredim, who would spit and swear at them for their allege immodesty.  Women have been harassed for refusing to move to the back of gender segregated buses. And rather than be content with personal religious observations, certain religious parties have pushed to impose religious law on Israel's secular majority. Considering the unwillingness of so many Ultra-Orthodox individuals to serve in the military, this is all the more galling to Israel's secular ad Modern-Orthodox populations.On an economic level, the figures are even dire; according to a report from the Bank of Israel, nearly 60% of the Haredi population was unemployed. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that the majority of Haredi schools fail to prepare their students for participation in modern economy; a study found that only 40% of their schools teach English and mathematics.Considering the rapid population growth of the Ultra-Orthoxox, the cost of their welfare use and low level of participation in the labor market will threaten Israel's long term economic and social welfare.

In contrast, he vast majority of Orthodox Jewish individuals in the United States and England maintain a religiously observant lifestyle, while still being economically productive members of society. And rather than display intolerance and aggressive zealotry towards secular Jews, organizations like Chabbad use friendly persuasion to encourage greater religious observance. The source of this stark difference is no mystery: Israel's excessive welfare state has allowed the Haredim to avoid positively integrating themselves into the economic and social life of the nation. When food, housing, health care and other needs are provided by the state, incentives to become productive members of society are diminished. Israel's excessive welfare state indirectly allows the Ultra-Orthodox to segregate themselves and maintain unsustainable social and economic patterns. When individuals and groups do not bear the cost and consequences of their pathological behaviors, they will surely proliferate. This also holds true for religious schools; we can be certain that if they were funded by the families of the students and by voluntary contributions from civil society, these schools would place a greater emphasis on the secular studies that are vital to leading a productive life. After all, how many charities would willingly fund schools that produced so many unemployable, alienated individuals?

If Israel is to continue its role as a modern, innovative democracy, these issues must be addressed. Those who believe that the Haredi question can be answered without diminishing the welfare state are mistaken. In the context of Israel's system of coalition governments, its rapidly expanding Ultra-Orthodox population ensures that the state will increasingly cater its social and economic policies to their whim. More than anything this is vital for the spiritual welfare of the Haredim, for nowhere in Jewish History have observant Jews been so disconnected from the dignity of labor and self sufficiency. We even find warnings against welfare dependency in great Jewish texts; the Shulchan Aruch states "A respected and impoverished scholar should have a trade, even a lowly trade, rather than being in need of his fellow man." Wise words for religious and secular Israelis alike.