Resettling Victims, not Persecutors

In just the past week, Germany has conducted huge raids in several different cities, and detained or arrested dozens of people on charges of aiding or joining Islamic extremist groups. The actions smacked of desperation. New York Times wonders whether Germany's laws and security forces are up to the task of preventing attacks from the hundreds of suspected jihadis (g) Germany allowed to enter its territory over the past few years:

Yet the modest yield [of one raid] — just one arrest and 15 placed under investigation and released — muted any chest thumping.

More disconcerting still, the man arrested, a 36-year-old Tunisian believed to be plotting an attack in Germany, was known to the authorities as a suspect in a horrific 2015 assault on a national museum in the Tunisian capital.

The case is already reviving familiar questions of whether the German system is riddled with loopholes and problems that pose a risk to national security and whether Germany’s post-World War II structures are outmoded for 21st-century terrorist threats

Like Anis Amri, the Tunisian suspected of killing 12 by plowing a truck through a Christmas market in Berlin last year, the latest Tunisian suspect, who was not identified, entered Germany as an asylum seeker. He then slipped through the fingers of the authorities while his deportation was thwarted by bureaucratic hurdles and a lack of documents, even after Tunisian authorities had alerted their German counterparts.

The good news this time was that the police, after thoroughly tracking their suspect, say they broke up a suspected plot in its early stages.

Yet that success did little to ease the pressures on Chancellor Angela Merkel, who faces a stiff election challenge this year, for her decision to allow in nearly a million migrants and refugees in 2015. Even as Ms. Merkel’s government praised the police for the crackdown, prosecutors conceded that the Tunisian’s tale exposed persistent shortcomings.

One of the problems with simply opening your country's borders to anyone who's capable of reaching them is that you're not only going to let in refugees, you're also going to let in the people who persecuted the refugees. After all, if the tides turn, someone who's a well-known terrorist or criminal will have just as much reason to flee -- if not much more reason -- as the people he once bombed, shot, or tortured.

Fortunately for the persecutors, Germany didn't require them to even show identification, much less disclose anything about their background. They just strolled across the border.

The United States (until recently, of course), has done a much better job of actually ensuring that the people who are resettled were the victims, not the persecutors. Natasha Hall, a former refugee screener for U.S. Immigration describes the process:

The process starts with the United Nations’ refugee agency (UNHCR). The UNHCR conducts a series of interviews and screenings, including home country reference checks and a biological screening such as iris scans. Then UNHCR has to decide if a case is suitable for resettlement and which country an applicant can apply to. (Out of more than 65 million refugees worldwide, about 0.01 percent were resettled to the United States last year.) Another international organization assists with resettlement processing by collecting documents and conducting more interviews with the families, looking carefully for discrepancies.

By the time Homeland Security steps in to conduct an interview, the officer already has a stack of biographical information on the refugee. Ironically, Iraqis, Syrians and Iranians, who are all now barred from entering the United States, are far and away the most well-documented refugees we interview. I typically had to review a stack of high school degrees, baptismal certificates, marriage and birth certificates, honors and awards, photos with U.S. service personnel, recommendations from American military members, and conscription booklets or cards, which every man in those countries had to carry. Since the United States has been in Iraq for more than 10 years, the government has a plethora of information on Iraqis — in many cases, terrorists, criminals and persecutors are recognizable and denied. In one instance, because we had this information, I knew that a man had worked with Saddam Hussein’s intelligence agency for years and potentially tortured people and, because of checks already in place, that person’s application was denied.

The US process is arguably too strict -- Hall describes the case of one deserving candidate who became impatient with the length of the screening process and joined the overland route to Europe. But even if Germany had imposed a process only half as rigorous as that of the USA, Germany would be a very different place today.


Canada to Unaccompanied Male Migrants: Stay Out

The Canadian government has decided it will

accept only whole families, lone women or children in its mass resettlement of Syrian refugees while unaccompanied men – considered a security risk – will be turned away....

Quebec premier Philippe Couillard seemed to corroborate that report ahead of a meeting with Trudeau and Canada’s provincial leaders where the refugee plan was high on the agenda.

“All these refugees are vulnerable but some are more vulnerable than others – for example, women, families and also members of religious minorities who are oppressed,” he said, although he rejected the notion of “exclusion” of single men.

Faisal Alazem, of the Syrian Canadian Council, a non-profit group in talks with the government to sponsor refugees, told Radio-Canada of the plans: “It’s a compromise.

“This is not the ideal scenario to protect vulnerable people – women and children and men too. But I think what happened in Paris has really changed the dynamic and public opinion,” he said.

Paris, you will recall, refers to the attack in which a "majority" of the attackers were young male terrorists whom Germany welcomed into the heart of Europe from Syria. Germany issued invitations and messages of welcome, swelling refugee flows to Europe. Germany then disobeyed its own law and EU law and allowed thousands of young males to enter the country with no background checks. ISIS saw its chance, and even bragged about exploiting the migrant flows to smuggle terrorists into Europe.

Germany did nothing to control the migrant flows, and its security officials misled the public, claiming there was no reason to believe terrorists were among the migrants -- despite many reports from migrants themselves that this was the case. We now know that those German security officials knew even then about the problem, and are now scrambling to identify and control around 400 jihadists whom they let into Europe before another attack takes place. (I should say 400 more jihadists, since a fair number have already died after attempting or committing terrorist attacks.)

Because accountability is a concept foreign to German politics, these security officials still have a job.

Am I criticizing Canada? Of course not, this is the only sensible decision if you're going to allow resettlement. If only Merkel had been this prudent.


Merkel and Trump are Both Wrong

In light of the chaos and protests at American airports, people ask me whether, as a mass-immigration skeptic, I support Trump's immigration ban.

The answer is a loud, emphatic 'no.' 

Let me make this short.

I oppose Merkel's immigration policy from Muslim countries because she has let in hundreds of thousands of random, unknown people, largely young males, from the most unstable parts of the world. She has let them in without doing any background checks, a reckless policy fueled by sentimental delusions. As a result, she has let in hundreds of terrorists and tens of thousands of criminals. When all is said and done, we will learn that the majority of the people she let into Germany had no legal right to be here. And even the ones who do stay and don't commit serious crimes will, to an unacceptable extent, lack the ability to successfully integrate into German society.

The US is vastly different. American Arabs and Muslim immigrants actually do quite well compared to Americans. Both due to policy and due to America's attractiveness to immigrants, the US gets a much better quality of Muslim immigrant, in terms of education and ability and skill. Plus, as I have pointed out again and again, the US screens immigrants and refugees with extreme care. It's not perfect, no policy ever is, but it does represent a sensible, responsible balance between humanitarian and national security interests. It also means that women and children are a much greater component of US refugee resettlement, as they should be.

Trump's improvised blanket ban on immigrants from only the 7 Muslim countries in which Trump has no business interests is idiotic, inhumane, and counterproductive.

There is a middle way between Trump and Merkel. The vast majority of Western countries already follow it. So should Germany, so should the USA.


Mark Blyth on The Origins of Neo-Nationalism

It's not often you stumble across some professor who says he's going to explain the world, and then watch him actually do it.

I stumbled across Mark Blyth via MetaFilter. Mark Blyth is political science professor at Brown University -- Wait! I know, you're thinking Brown University, the tiny, ultra-expensive US liberal arts college which is a hotbed of the most demented form of political correctness? Can any professor there be capable more than soft-focus P.C. pieties?

Well, Mark Blyth can. Perhaps because he's Scottish. Very Scottish, if you listen to him. In 2016, Blyth accomplished a pretty impressive trifecta in 2016: he accurately predicted Brexit, the Italian constitutional referendum, and Trump. His big idea is Global Trumpism, which involves defections both to the right and the left from the globalist neoliberal consensus. Whether it's Podemos in Spain or Trump in the U.S., middle-class voters in the West are reacting to 30 years of tectonic changes in the global political and economic landscape which have seen their quality of life being gradually eroded.

The end result is a sense of seething frustration in the middle and lower classes of Western countries. Unions have been crushed, more and more risk shifted onto the shoulders of individuals, job security is a thing of the past, international competition and automation are destroying millions of jobs which will never come back, the small luxuries of middle-class life are drifting out of reach, and each generation is seeing a decline in its standard of living compared to the last one.

All the while, the rich are getting almost exponentially richer, and mainstream politicians -- whether center-right or center-left, there is no meaningful difference -- seem at best helpless or disinterested at worst actively corrupt.

Here's some remarks he published in Foreign Policy (previous link), which are a bit heavy on the economics but still get the point across:

Back in 1943, [Michal Kalecki] he argued that once you target and sustain full employment over time, it basically becomes costless for labor to move from job to job. Wages in such a world will have to continually rise to hold onto labor, and the only way business can accommodate that is to push up prices. This mechanism, cost-push inflation, where wages and prices chase each other up, emerged in the 1970s and coincided with the end of the Bretton Woods regime and the subsequent oil shocks to produce high inflation in the rich countries of the West in the 1970s. In short, the system undermined itself, as both Goodhart and Kalecki predicted. As countries tried harder and harder to target full employment, the more inflation shot up while profits fell. The 1970s became a kind of “debtor’s paradise.” As inflation rose, debts fell in real terms, and labor’s share of national income rose to an all-time high, while corporate profits remained low and were pummeled by inflation. Unions were powerful and inequality plummeted....

But if it was a great time to be a debtor, it was a lousy time to be a creditor. Inflation acts as a tax on the returns on investment and lending. Unsurprisingly in response, employers and creditors mobilized and funded a market-friendly revolution where the goal of full employment was jettisoned for a new target—price stability, aka inflation—to restore the value of debt and discipline labor through unemployment. And it worked. The new order was called neoliberalism.

Over the next thirty years the world was transformed from a debtor’s paradise into a creditor’s paradise where capital’s share of national income rose to an all-time high as labor’s share fell as wages stagnated. Productivity rose, but the returns all went to capital. Unions were crushed while labor’s ability to push up wages collapsed due to the twin shocks of restrictive legislation and the globalization of production. Parliaments in turn were reduced to tweet-generating talking shops as central banks and policy technocrats wrested control of the economy away from those elected to govern.

Seen this way, what we see is a reversal of power between creditors and debtors as the anti-inflationary regime of the past 30 years undermines itself—what we might call “Goodhart’s revenge.” In this world, yields compress and creditors fret about their earnings, demanding repayment of debt at all costs. Macro-economically, this makes the situation worse: the debtors can’t pay—but politically, and this is crucial—it empowers debtors since they can’t pay, won’t pay, and still have the right to vote....

The traditional parties of the center-left and center-right, the builders of this anti-inflationary order, get clobbered in such a world, since they are correctly identified by these debtors as the political backers of those demanding repayment in an already unequal system, and all from those with the least assets. This produces anti-creditor, pro-debtor coalitions-in-waiting that are ripe for the picking by insurgents of the left and the right, which is exactly what has happened.

In short, to understand the election of Donald Trump we need to listen to the trumpets blowing everywhere in the highly indebted developed countries and the people who vote for them. 

The global revolt against elites is not just driven by revulsion and loss and racism. It’s also driven by the global economy itself. This is a global phenomenon that marks one thing above all. The era of neoliberalism is over. The era of neonationalism has just begun.

Blyth actually shines in videos; he's an outstanding and engaging speaker. I switched this video on to run in the background while I did some housework, but found myself repeatedly rushing to the computer to replay something I didn't quite get. This video is the best exposition of his theory as a whole. You'll have to get used to his Scottish burr:



Although his main critique is aimed at the technocratic managers of national and international economic policy, he also directs withering critiques at center-left politicians, who hurl accusations of politically-incorrect thoughtcrime to appear "left" while simultaneously suckling at the teat of the financial and technological elite and doing nothing to improve the lot of the middle class.

Blyth thinks the U.S. will stumble through, but Blyth believes that the outlook for Europe is much bleaker (this discussion starts at about 41:00). The Euro is a disaster which cannot be fixed, but European technocrats still refused to understand this, and continue to inflict crippling austerity on the European South in a doomed attempt to save it.


Background Checks on Refugees Are Not a Human Rights Violation

People find it hard to believe when I tell them Germany let hundreds of thousands of people into the country without any background checks. Germany is supposed to be one of the world's most efficient and bureaucratic countries, and in many respects it is.

And yet it's true -- Germany let people in without any idea who they were. Germany even let people in who obviously lied about who they were. And Germany still has no idea who thousands of these people are.

The sheer numbers of people entering Germany totally swamped a system that wasn't very effective even when dealing with smaller numbers of people. Thousands were let into Germany with obviously forged passports (g), even though this is a serious crime under German law, as it is under the law of every other country. Even when migrants arrived without any identity papers (hundreds of passports were found stuffed in the toilets of train stations (g) just across the German border), the federal agency didn't even look at the migrants' cellphones (g).

To this day, the precise identity of hundreds of thousands of illegal migrants is still unknown. Only now a year and a half after they arrived, have all migrants been fingerprinted. The process has revealed hundreds of cases of migrants registering multiple times in different German cities (g) with different identities to obtain additional social welfare benefits -- the fraud is estimated to have cost taxpayers millions of Euros.

Contrast this with the process for resettling Syrian refugees in the United States:

...I received a call from the United Nations asking if my family would like to resettle somewhere else. Based on our documents, stories and circumstances — our large family, five girls, my husband’s potential as a healthy worker — we had been deemed eligible to apply for refugee status.

We could not return home to Syria. We could not continue living on the brink of starvation in Lebanon. A safe option was available: We began the application process to come to the United States.

The process started with a series of meetings with U.S. government representatives — at least five in-person interviews with each of us and countless phone conversations. The questions were very detailed: about my family, my friends, how I spent my time. The interviewers often knew the answers to the questions before they asked them. They asked about my life going back to the day I was born; they even knew the location of the hospital. My story is my story, so I knew that the details would match their information. But I was stunned by the level of scrutiny and the length of the process.

Each member of the family told their story, and those stories had to be consistent with interviews given by other people who knew us. If our answers didn’t match information U.S. officials already had, or if they couldn’t validate our information, we didn’t progress to the next step. I had only a glimmer of hope that this would work — and that we could have a safe life for my daughters. We lived on that hope.....

Now my daughters, who previously spoke no English, are in school, and my husband has a good job as a driver for a clothing company. My biggest dream is for them to have a good education and good careers, and for us to be part of this society: to learn the language, to do something productive, to integrate. That’s exactly what Trump believes is impossible.

The irony is that Trump thinks the U.S. system for vetting refugees is lax, and he's wrong. The country that is actually making the mistakes he thinks the U.S. is making is Germany. It's Germany, not the U.S., which ignored its citizens' legitimate interest in known who is entering their country.

Trump notoriously referred to Merkel's decision to open the borders as a 'catastrophic mistake'. That may be one of the the only things I agree with him on.


I'm Big in Israel!

A few weeks ago I was contacted by a journalist from the Israeli business daily TheMarker, who wanted to know my views about German immigration policy. I thought that might be a reasonable way to sum up my thoughts all in one place, since the questions were quite wide-ranging. The article was just published. It's in Hebrew, but it seems to contain quite a bit of my interview, if Google Translate can be trusted.

Just to ensure nothing gets lost in translation, here are my original answers. I've edited a few parts for clarity, but no major changes.

There's not much happening on the immigration front right now, so I've largely moved on to other subjects. I'll let this stand here as my (quasi) last word on the subject.

You are an immigrant yourself, born in Brussels and grew up in the US. what differentiates you from Muslim immigrants? 

I’d say there’s not much difference between myself and a “culturally” but not especially religious Muslim immigrant who has an advanced degree, speaks fluent German, participates in community life, and is employed and pays taxes. In fact, I know quite a number of people like that here in Germany. Immigrants such as myself and my Muslim friends contribute positively to German society. We have never needed welfare or committed a serious crime, and have consistently been employed and paid our taxes.

The two question when it comes to immigration is: How many? Which ones? A manageable number of people like us is a benefit to any country.

But that’s not what Germany’s getting. Hundreds of thousands of young males (about 65-70% of the 2015 arrivals were males under 35) with little education and no job skills were allowed to enter Germany in 2015. Those people chose Germany not because of any affinity for the country or knowledge of its culture, but simply because they thought they might be able to find a place here, and had been told by smugglers that Germany ‘needed’ and ‘invited’ them.

The German borders should be open for all, shouldn't they?

Definitely not. There is a fraction of left-wing extremists who do not believe countries should be allowed to have borders, but they’re no more than 5% of the population of Germany, at most. A 2009 Pew poll found that 25 million people worldwide would like to permanently relocate to Germany. If that happened, Germany as we know it would vanish.

This is why no country in the world has ever voluntarily had unregulated open borders since the formation of the modern nation-state. Germany’s existing laws – including Article 16a of the Basic Law (Germany’s modern Constitution) and its Asylum Law set out a reasonable legal framework for who gets to enter the country. The problem was that Angela Merkel decided to order that these laws be ignored.

What is your main criticism against the German immigration policy, especially in the past couple of years?

The fundamental flaw in German immigration policy is that there is no overall German law for permitting the orderly migration of people with education, job skills, and motivation to adapt to German society. This means that much German immigration is regulated by asylum law: someone shows up in the country illegally, and then claims asylum. These are not people Germany has invited or whom whom Germany needs. Rather, they are people who happened to want to relocate to Germany and could afford the smugglers’ fees. Some have valid asylum claims, many do not.

That is the long-term background problem. The more recent problem is the government’s total failure to prepare for the migrant influx in 2015. Chancellor Merkel and other leading politicians sent out inviting signals of ‘welcome’ which induced over a million people – 65-70% of whom were young and male – to start on the path to Germany. The majority of the 2015 arrivals were not Syrians. They came from Albania, Afghanistan, Serbia, Georgia, Kosovo, Tunisia, Algeria, Iraq, Pakistan, India, and dozens of other countries which are not at war, although they are poor and some have regional insurgencies. The proportion of Syrians went up in 2016, but the overall numbers (around 200,000) are much lower, since Germany has re-introduced some border controls.

This huge influx of people all at once in 2015 completely swamped the German immigration system. Hundreds of thousands of young males from the most unstable parts of the world flooded into Germany. There were no backgrounds checks, no fingerprint records, no attempt at verification of their identity or background. A majority of them claimed they had no identity papers or presented fake ones. Germany still has no reliable information about who thousands of these people are.

Can’t Germany just send them back? No. The slow, cumbersome German deportation laws have broken down completely: there are now about 500,000 people whose asylum claims have been rejected but who are still in the country. There are literally dozens of ways to avoid deportation: get a certificate of illness from a sympathetic doctor, argue your homeland is too unsafe, physically resist when you get on the deportation plane, claim asylum in a Christian church, or simply go underground. Some Afghans have even avoided deportation by claiming to be Taliban, absurdly enough. This claim automatically starts a complex legal process, during which the migrant is permitted to stay in Germany and move freely.

Another problem is that the countries from which these men come don’t want many of them back. Migrants from North Africa are committing crimes at such a high rate that it’s become clear that a large portion of the criminal underclass of Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco came to Germany. Those countries can keep their undesirables in Germany by simply failing to issue the necessary deportation paperwork. Thousands of deportations are stalled for this reason alone. The Tunisian truck attacker, Anis Amri, was already known to be a criminal and dangerous radical Islamist, and was supposed to be deported, but Tunisia refused to issue the paperwork confirming his nationality -- until two days after the terror attack. Germany, by the way, provided € 215 million in development aid to Tunisia (g) in 2015.

Less spectacular crimes have also been committed by migrants. This is understandable: they are mostly young men, the group most likely to commit crime in any society. They have nothing to do all day, do not speak German or English, the majority do not have even the equivalent of a high-school education. They are now living in a culture where alcohol is cheap and available everywhere, women dress in a ‘revealing’ fashion, and the cultural controls of their community and family are gone. The predictable result has been an increase in crime near migrant shelters. Most of the crime has been nonviolent property offenses, but there have also been dozens of killings, thousands of assaults and sex crimes, three completed terrorist attacks, and one serious attempt (Jaber al Bakr, a radicalized Syrian who committed suicide in prison after being arrested for creating 1.5 kg of high explosive and planning to bomb a Berlin airport).

The federal government does not keep accurate statistics on the number of crimes committed by recent migrants, but claims that migrants do not commit crimes at a higher rate than Germans of a similar demographic background – i.e. disproportionately young and male. Backers of the political consensus see this as reassuring, critics of German policy point out that even if this assertion is true, it still means thousands of crimes are now happening in Germany because of the migrant influx. Further, migrants tend to commit different kinds of crimes than Germans. In particular, they have committed hundreds of sexual assaults in public against random strangers (including many against children), a type of crime that was much more uncommon before the migrants arrived, and which has a particularly strong impact on quality of life.

Since migrant shelters are located in poor and working-class neighborhoods (which lack the political power to oppose them), it is poorer Germans – including many established immigrants – who are bearing the brunt of migrant crime.

Do you think Islam the worst threat on Europe? If so, why?

I would distinguish between Islam and Islamism. I don’t see Islam itself as a threat to Europe. The vast majority of European Muslims are in fact peaceful and law-abiding, and don’t pose a ‘threat’.

However, if we talk about adapting successfully to European societies, there is a problem. Once again, it’s a question of how many? And which ones? Most Muslims in Germany were imported from Eastern Anatolia as factory labor in the 1960s, or as refugees during the Lebanese civil war. Their numbers then steadily expanded by chain migration and family reunification. These persons were originally intended to be temporary manual labor, and were not chosen because they were likely to adapt successfully to Europe. Muslims have come to shape the character many neighborhoods in Germany and France, and continue to gain both in numbers and political power. Some immigrant communities now effectively work according to their own rules.

This doesn’t mean they are a threat – the mere fact that someone may have conservative religious beliefs and wear a hijab is not a ‘threat’ to anyone. But the stubborn reality ias that Muslims in Germany and France do worse on most measures of social integration and flourishing than native populations. The existence of many individual success stories cannot hide the fact that Germans of Turkish descent are only half as likely to attend university as native Germans, or that France’s prisons are up to 70% Muslim. (We have only estimates, since France refuses to record the religion or ethnicity of prisoners). And although there is a taboo against mentioning it, statistics show that foreigners and those with a foreign background commit crimes at a much higher rate than ethnic Germans. Two things are true: the majority of Muslims in Germany are law-abiding, but the rate of crime among Muslims is higher than among ethnic Germans.

Muslims also face discrimination. European countries are not nations of immigrants. Each has its own unique cultural identity and heritage. They are not new, young nations such as Israel or the United States. Neither their people nor their culture is accustomed to embracing large numbers of culturally-foreign outsiders. Yet that is what many of these countries have tried to do. The result is social tension, discrimination, exclusion, and distrust.

Muslims will not ‘destroy’ or ‘take over’ Europe, that sort of rhetoric is irresponsible and not supported by the facts. But the results of past mistaken immigration policies will burden Europe for decades.

What type of immigration policy should Germany adopt?

As I’ve written before, I advocate a two-tier system inviting skilled workers and asylum-seekers. First, Germany should welcome a certain number skilled, educated workers a year by using a Canada-style point system, where you get credit for being educated, having a job offer, knowing some German, and being ready and willing to integrate. Because of past mistakes in immigration policy, many Germans associate immigrants with social dysfunction, crime, and menial labor. Only a plan to import skilled immigrants who will immediately contribute from day one can overcome this negative impression.

I would also certainly keep Germany’s asylum policy. Because of its notorious history, German has included a right to political asylum in its very constitution, and has one of the world’s most generous asylum policies, if not the most. This is appropriate. However, the current system is open to massive abuse: people sneak into the country illegally, file an asylum claim using a made-up story, and often disappear underground before the claim is even judged. As I pointed out above, the system for deporting failed asylum-seekers is broken.

Asylum claims should be processed outside German territory. Asylum seekers should be subjected to a thorough medical check and background investigation, and their identity determined through fingerprints and DNA. Their stories should be verified as thoroughly as possible. Destroying documents of lying about your identity will automatically result in exclusion. Asylum seekers should be chosen on the basis of greatest need and danger, not on current basis, which favors those healthy enough to travel and rich enough to bribe smugglers. There should be an annual upper limit decided by the legislature.

Most countries already manage asylum this way; Germany should follow suit.

What do you say to left-wingers who claim that almost an absolute majority of Muslims immigrant are good hard working people who want to assimilate in the German society, and that they are very important to the German economy as well, as cheap labour for jobs that local Germans are not willing to do?

As I’ve said, most Muslims who have lived in Germany for some time are indeed hard-working and law abiding, although their overall net economic contribution (minus social welfare benefits, which they collect at a higher rate) to German society is modest.

The 1.2 million (the numbers are still imprecise, because the sheer number of arrivals has swamped recordkeeping systems) who have arrived since the beginning of 2015 are another matter entirely. Almost none of them has the preconditions for integrating successfully into German society. They don’t speak the language, don’t understand the culture or customs, have very little education, and don’t have the kind of job skills Germany wants or needs. One recent study showed that only 34,000 have managed to find jobs so far, and most of those jobs are temporary menial labor.

If they are allowed to stay, these hundreds of thousands of new arrivals will compete directly with low-skilled German workers – cashiers, delivery drivers, nursing aides, warehouse workers, store clerks, gardeners, janitors and the like. This sector of the German economy has seen no growth in its real wages since decades, while prices and rents consistently rise. When financially-strapped Germans see a flood of cheap immigrant labor coming to compete for their jobs, they will be extremely angry. And they will vote accordingly. Already, studies show thousands of working-class Germans switching from the Social Democratic Party to the AfD. And this is happening during boom times with low unemployment in Germany. When the next business downturn hits, the resentment will only escalate.

Germany needs skilled workers, not menial workers. Yet even if Germany wanted to import menial workers, the question arises: why from Muslim countries? There are millions of EU citizens from Eastern Europe who are eager for low-skilled jobs in Germany, and who come from nations which are culturally much closer to Germany than, say, Afghanistan.

Do you support Merkel? Where do you position yourself on the political map?

I support a strong social welfare state, so I would probably be a left-wing Social Democrat on this issue. I’d probably vote SPD if I voted in Germany. I am convinced, based on my review of the literature, that mass immigration poses a grave threat to the social welfare state: historically, support for welfare goes down the more diverse a society is -- or becomes.

Merkel has been a competent Chancellor overall, a sort of technical caretaker who governs by consensus. This no-drama approach is very popular among Germans. Merkel is a reasonable choice for times where everything is going well. However, I think she has made several critical mistakes, the most recent being the reckless migrant influx, and should step down. There will be little change in any case, since the German political landscape is so fractured that only a center consensus coalition has a chance of winning.

Do you fear that the terror attacks by Muslims and the hostility towards them in Germany would lead to the rise of the extreme right, represented particularly by the party ‘Alternative for Germany’?

This is already happening, all over Europe. In the Netherlands, France, the UK, Hungary, and Sweden, right-wing parties (or movements, such as Brexit) are gaining unprecedented support. Germany has long had a strong suspicion of nationalist conservative parties (for obvious reasons) which has kept the AfD’s support to under 15%, for now. But that is a very large number in Germany’s fracture political landscape, and represents a tripling in support from 2013.

The AfD currently easily outpolls the Green and Left parties. For years, the AfD profited by being the only party which clearly, openly opposed Chancellor Merkel’s open-borders policy. Many of its other positions are extreme by German standards, and unpopular among German voters. Now that many other politicians in Germany have basically copied many AfD positions on immigration, its support may drop. But right now, it is still climbing slowly in the polls, and may even soon pull equal to the collapsing Social Democratic Party, which would be a true milestone in German politics.

What are the changes you sense in the public discussion regarding Muslims in the past year? Do Germans feel more free to criticise Islam freely, or is it still considered a non P.C subject to talk about?

There has been a huge change. In mid-2015, an almost euphoric attitude of Willkommenskultur existed in the German media and public life. The entire mainstream press, including tabloids, referred to all the migrants as ‘refugees’. Volunteers arranged train convoys to carry them into Germany, often more than 10,000 refugees in one day. German volunteers distributed teddy bears to the children, food and clothes to the adults, and helped overburdened government agencies find a place for all the new arrivals to sleep. A prominent Green politician, Katrin Göring-Eckhardt, famously exclaimed: “We’ve suddenly been given the gift of people!” (Wir bekommen plötzlich Menschen geschenkt!). The press was full of ecstatic stories about Germany becoming a new kind of ‘moral’ superpower. Mainstream magazines and newspapers published dozens of profiles of ‘poster child’ refugees. There were so many profiles of Syrian doctors that the very phrase ‘Syrian doctor’ became a meme. Germany basked in praise from Obama, EU officials, the UN, refugee rights groups, and other liberal internationalists the world over. People who raised doubts about the policy were often denounced and attacked as xenophobes, racists, or worse.

Now, of course, we know that the majority of the 2015 arrivals were neither Syrians nor doctors. Costs are running somewhere around €2 billion per month, since virtually all the migrants are on welfare for asylum seekers, which includes rent, food, housing, medical care, education, and a monthly allowance of between €150 and €400, depending on circumstances. Shelters housing young male refugees are notoriously chaotic, spectacular crimes by immigrants have horrified observers, local governments are facing huge financial strain, the statistics on migrant participation in integration and language classes are disappointing.

Even migrants who wanted to learn German – and that certainly was not all of them – are finding it extremely difficult, and many have given up. German is a difficult language to learn, especially if you have never used the Latin alphabet and are illiterate in your own mother tongue, which is true of at least 30-40% of migrants. Most Germans who volunteered to teach German of help manage shelters have long since gone back to their normal jobs and lives. In February of 2016, two-thirds of Germans believed the refugees could be successfully integrated. Recent polls show only a minority – as low as 15% in some polls -- believes this. Politicians now routinely call for stepped-up deportations, a position that only the AfD held until recently.

The euphoria has worn off. Immigration and integration now top the list of concerns of German voters. The mood is hesitant and uncertain. Local communities continue to request billions from the federal government to provide for migrants, almost all of whom are still dependent on government welfare and charity. Nobody knows how the situation will turn out, but you don’t have to be a pessimist to see the potential for dark days ahead.


Götterdämmerung for Europe's Meritocratic Elites

Ivan Krastev in the New York Times:

When you can’t understand why people behave in a certain way, the easiest thing to do is to convince yourself that people do not know what they are doing. This is what European political, business and news media leaders have done in response to the populist wave that is sweeping the old Continent. They are shocked that many of their compatriots are voting for irresponsible demagogues. They find it difficult to understand the sources of the rage against the meritocratic elites best symbolized by the well-trained, competent civil servants in Brussels.

Why are the “exams-passing classes” so resented at a time when the complexity of the world suggests that people need them most? Why do people who work hard so that their kids can graduate from the world’s best universities refuse to trust people who have already graduated from these universities? How is it possible that anybody can agree with Michael Gove, the pro-Brexit politician, who said people “have had enough of experts”?

It should seem obvious that meritocracy — a system in which the most talented and capable, the best educated, those who score highest on the tests, are put in leading positions — is better than plutocracy, gerontocracy, aristocracy and, perhaps, even the rule of the majority, democracy.

But Europe’s meritocratic elites aren’t hated simply because of populists’ bigoted stupidity or the confusion of ordinary people....

What makes meritocrats so unbearable to their critics is not so much their success but their insistence that they have succeeded because they worked harder than others, because they happened to be more qualified than others and because they passed the tests that others failed....

In the eyes of the meritocratic elites, their success outside of their country is a proof of their talents, but in the eyes of many people, this very mobility is a reason not to trust them.

People trust their leaders not only because of their competence but also because of their courage and commitment, and because they believe that their leaders will remain with their own in times of crisis rather than being helicoptered to the emergency exit. Paradoxically, it is the convertible competencies of the present elites, the fact that they are equally fit to run a bank in Bulgaria or in Bangladesh or to teach in Athens or Tokyo, that make people so suspicious of them. People fear that in times of trouble, the meritocrats will opt to leave instead of sharing the cost of staying.

Unsurprisingly then, it is loyalty — namely the unconditional loyalty to ethnic, religious or social groups — that is at the heart of the appeal of Europe’s new populism. Populists promise people not to judge them based solely on their merits. They promise solidarity but not necessarily justice....

The American philosopher John Rawls spoke for many liberals when he argued that being a loser in a meritocratic society was not as painful as being a loser in an openly unjust society. In his conception, the fairness of the game would reconcile people with failure. Today it looks as if the great philosopher may have been wrong.

He was wrong, because losers in a meritocracy get the message that they are losers because they are less hard-working, disciplined, and intelligent than the winners. Regardless of whether this message is true (it often is), it will be unpopular. In fact, the truer it is, the more unpopular. For endless examples, see Chris Anrade's twitter feed.

I remember debates with friends in the mid-2000s about the so-called European Constitution. I observed that the public-relations campaign for this thing was moronic. The document itself was ridiculously long and complex, the opposite of what a constitution should be. The public relations campaign mostly involved ancient stuffed shirts like Giscard d'Estaing writing pompous op-eds in respectable broadsheets -- i.e., the kind of newspapers read by people who were already going to vote for the constitution in referendums.

My friends would respond by pointing to all the progressive, thoughtful, ingenious elements of the constitution. People should vote for it, because it's a good idea. I had to chuckle at how naive their idea of politics was. Now, my friends are highly intelligent people, winners under the meritocratic European system, many have passed the notoriously difficult Concours! But what European elites never learn about is marketing. Or mass psychology. Or practical leadership.

As we all know, the European Constitution project fizzled out after it was rejected by voters in France and the Netherlands. So it was eventually turned into the Treaty of Lisbon, which avoided the danger of asking people in EU countries whether they wanted it. In retrospect, the disaster of the European Constitution project seems like a harbinger of the deeper rot within the EU. Now the EU itself is teetering on the brink of collapse. If you ask me, one of the many reasons why is the inability of EU meritocrats to effectively communicate with the 70% of Europeans who've never graduated from college.

In fact, not only are they unable to communicate, they're unable to imagine why they should try. Still. The fact that the arguments in this post and in Krastev's op-ed will be dismissed by these folks as "irresponsible" and "populist" just proves the point.

 


Fine Buildings, High Culture, No Excuses, No Regrets

Martin Kettle, who proudly calls himself a Germanophile, expresses his admiration in the Guardian for the new Elbphilharmonie (Philharmonia on the Elbe River) concert hall in Hamburg:

[I]n Hamburg on Wednesday evening a substantial part of official Germany – and surely everyone in the city itself – turned out in force for the opening of the dazzling Elbphilharmonie concert hall stretching high into the heavens in the former port district. Germany’s president Joachim Gauck made a witty speech, chancellor Angela Merkel, Hamburg-born before her family emigrated to communist East Germany, sat in the front row of the stalls. The mayor of Hamburg, Olaf Scholz (a social democrat opposed to Merkel), glowed with civic pride....

For sure, Germany is far too deferential for the British taste. It is too respectful, polite, orderly, above all too serious. At times, including in the course of my visit for the Elbphilharmonie opening, even I, a Germanophile, wanted to have a bit more naughtiness and surprise in the proceedings. And no British arts organisation would put seven white men on stage to conduct a press conference about a huge project – the way the Elbphilharmonie did this week – with not a woman nor a black face in sight. On social media, there is this week, certainly, a strong undercurrent of hostility to the Hamburg opening, and the amount of public money it has taken is eyewatering. But the fact remains that Germany’s readiness to spend on a project such as the Elbphilharmonie, though often controversial on matters like cost and the environment, is ultimately a unifying force.

The civic pride and pleasure now that the concert hall is finally up and running was palpable. The tickets are all sold out for the next six months. The aim is that every child in Hamburg will get to a concert within the first year of the opening. The hall has already had half a million visitors before the first notes (by Benjamin Britten, as it happens) were heard in the opening concert, broadcast live on German television.

...But the truth is we don’t care, not enough. Maybe Germany cares too much. But I’d rather care too much than too little. And it really is a stunner of a building in a city that it’s a joy to get to know.

Amen, brother. This is what makes living in Germany a delight: livable cities with bold, interesting architecture and thriving cultural scenes. German politicians all more or less agree that high culture is an end in itself. It is not open to debate whether the state should fund it. They know that many people find it elitist and a waste of tax money, but it has to continue.*

High culture cannot survive without subsidies either from the state or from private donors. And its existence benefits everyone, whether they understand that or not. So Hamburg spends millions to build a glorious new concert hall. And at the other end of the scale, municipal arts councils dole out grants and commissions here and there to small bookstores, avant-garde theater groups, nature education programs for children, jazz clubs, charity projects, and artists of all kinds. Of course there's some corruption and waste here, what government program doesn't have that? But overall, most of the money goes where it's supposed to, and keeps interesting things happening.

It all adds up, and has a subtle, but profound overall effect. This is why I love living in Germany.

Continue reading "Fine Buildings, High Culture, No Excuses, No Regrets" »


Isolated, Unable to Communicate, Easy to Radicalize

Abigail Fielding-Smith has a good deep dive on Jaber al-Bakr, the Syrian refugee who became radicalized in Germany and was arrested last year for having constructed a powerful bomb:

The idea that a terrorist group like Islamic State has infiltrated the country through its refugee intake is alarming enough. But Jaber’s case suggests a different kind of challenge. If building a life in Germany is so hard that it could cause an ordinary Syrian refugee to fall in with extremists, how will the struggles of several hundred thousand others manifest themselves?

“So many, with no language, in such a short time,” says Manfred Murck, a former Hamburg intelligence chief. “This is a real field experiment.”...

The precise reasons behind Jaber’s decision to set out for Europe in 2014 are unclear. The country was falling apart, with more than 100,000 Syrians already dead. Many of the millions of young men who left were wanted by regime authorities, either for suspected links with the opposition or for military service.

Jaber may have been worried about getting called up, or he may simply have wanted out. In the aftermath of his arrest in Germany, one of Jaber’s brothers back home gave interviews to the media. His account is puzzling at points, and may reflect the pressures of living in a government-controlled area of Syria. During an interview with the TV program ARD-Fakt, he seemed to give different explanations for Jaber’s decision: he wanted to get out of Syria, he wanted to study more, and he had seen others going and wanted to join in....

aber was “really interested” in learning German when he first arrived, Samer recalls. He bought a book on it. In June 2015, he posted an article in German about a Syrian girl who arrived speaking only Arabic and passed the German end-of-school exams with top marks a year later. It’s unlikely Jaber would have understood the article, but it seemed to reflect an aspiration....

This sense of being exposed, looked at, and judged, can make it hard to practice German.

“I don’t want to speak when I only have a few words, because out there, there is no mercy,” explained Aziz, a young Syrian man living up the road from Eilenburg in Leipzig. Pieces of paper detailing the fiendish machinations of German grammar were pinned to his wardrobe.

One bit of German idiom with which Aziz is all too familiar is the word schmarotzer – scrounger.

“In Syria we had dignity,“ he said. “Now I have to ask for money. You don’t know how much it hurts.”

German is one of the trickier European languages. The articles – ‘the’ and ‘a’ - change form not just according to the gender of the noun attached to them but according to the case being used. Certain words trigger an inversion of the sentence order. Until rules like this have been drilled into you to the point where they are second nature, it is very hard to spontaneously express yourself in German.

Samer, Jaber’s housemate, believes that language is one aspect of a cultural barrier keeping many refugees excluded from German society.

“Let’s be honest, not every Syrian refugee who came here is a doctor”, he said. “I know many Syrians that still struggle to use the train.”...

Jaber didn’t seem to have what it takes to make it in the ‘white’ economy. “His interest in the language got less and less,” recalled Samer. “Jaber wasn’t disciplined –the new generation hasn’t been disciplined enough because of five years of war. When he came to Germany everything had rules and a system, and he couldn’t cope.”

As people like me have been pointing out for years now, the majority of the recent arrivals from MENA countries will never learn German. German is a tough language to learn even for people who speak English or Romance languages, to say nothing of semi-literate Arabs who use an entirely different alphabet. When confronted with these obvious problems, mainstream politicians invoke the mantra "German courses...German courses...we must have more German courses...". They never address the question of what happens if people fail those courses, or stop attending them. You'd think German politicians would know that this is a thing that happens in the real world, since about 1/3 (g) of Germans who enroll in university never finish.

And, as this article shows, that fact creates a security risk. Isolated, angry, with disappointed expectations, increasingly cloistered in ethnic sub-groups, and with propaganda and sympathetic recruiters just a mouse-click away. Even if only 1 in 100 becomes radicalized, that's quite a few radicals, considering that there are something like 500,000 young Muslim males now in Germany, the majority of whom will never learn German.


Immigration the German Way: Fire, Ready, Aim!

How most countries handle immigration:

  1. Figure out who the person who wants to enter your country is.
  2. Check to see if they have a good reason for entering your country.
  3. If they do, let them in.

How Germany handles immigration:

  1. Let them in.
  2. Check to see if they have a good reason for having already entered your country.
  3. Regardless of the answer, let them stay.
  4. Figure out who they are.