(What’s Left of) Our Economy: Obama’s TPP Case is Staler than Ever

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Maybe President Obama believes that repeating even the most laughably off-base contentions endlessly will make them true? Or convincing? It’s hard to look at his new Washington Post op-ed urging passage of his Pacific Rim trade deal and conclude anything else. The article makes clearer than ever that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) make sense for the United States only if Americans ignore everything known about the agreement itself, about U.S. trade with the eleven other signatories, and about the region’s economics and commerce.

The President’s fraudulent case for TPP starts with his first claim – that “some of our greatest economic opportunities abroad are in the Asia-Pacific region.” Trouble is, as I’ve noted, the only truly fast growers on the list of TPP countries are economies like Vietnam and Malaysia, whose growth depends on not only exporting, but on amassing large trade surpluses. They lack both the capabilities and the intention of becoming significant net buyers of U.S.-origin goods and services. Compared with the United States, most of the other TPP countries are growth laggards.

Similarly, Mr. Obama’s description of the proposed TPP zone as representing a whopping 40 percent of the global economy ignores how the American economy represents more than 60 percent of total TPP area output. Moreover, the United States already has negotiated trade deals with many of the largest signatories, notably Australia, Canada, and Mexico. So Americans have long reaped nearly all of whatever benefits the President argues will result from this exercise in trade expansion.

No more credible is Mr. Obama’s insistence that the TPP will benefit America by enabling the United States to influence writing the rules that govern regional commerce rather than permitting Chinese-led arrangements shape this environment.

After all, as critics like Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump has pointed out, China already stands to gain from the TPP, thanks to loose origin requirements that permit free or freer trade of goods with high levels of content from non-TPP countries. And since China for decades has been a key node in the multinational production chains that bind together so many Asian economies, much of this non-TPP content will obviously be Chinese.

Further, nothing could be clearer than the determination of the TPP countries to avoid making either-or choices when it comes to rule-writing exercises for East Asian commerce. No less than six TPP signatories – including Australia and New Zealand – have signed up to participate in the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) that China set up recently in part as a TPP counterweight. And although the largest by far non-U.S. TPP signatory, Japan, has so far declined to bandwagon, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) that it has traditionally co-dominated has started working actively with the AIIB. So has the World Bank.

These last two developments, by the way, mean that the United States has also decided to work with the Chinese initiative rather than continuing to oppose it, since Washington plays a major role in both institutions.

And what about the Chinese-initiated regional trade agreements about which Mr. Obama expressed so much alarm? The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership singled out by the president has already attracted seven TPP signatories – including Japan, along with Australia and New Zealand.

Interestingly, Mr. Obama didn’t mention a second Chinese regional trade scheme – a Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific (FTAAP). Maybe that’s because he’s decided to cooperate with Beijing on this front, too, at least to the extent that he approved a study of the proposal under the auspices of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) process in which Washington participates.

Finally, the president’s belief that the TPP will greatly boost U.S. exports through enforceable new rules remains a monument to delusion. As I’ve explained, enforcing labor and environmental standards would require an army of American officials to inspect hundreds of thousands of facilities in low-income countries like Vietnam and Malaysia. Who’s going to pay for these personnel? And that’s not even including the vast manufacturing complex that’s been created in Mexico since it joined a North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) more than twenty years ago, and in which evidence abounds such provisions remain overwhelmingly ineffective.  (Hence, largely, the president’s insistence that “this time, it will be different” in TPP.)  

As for the state-owned enterprises (SOEs) whose trade-distorting activities TPP will supposedly curb, how will U.S. officials gain access to these notoriously secretive constructs and their financial records? Moreover, since low (at best) labor and environmental standards along with opaque SOEs are keys to competitiveness throughout Asia, why would the region’s TPP signatories give Washington the power to weaken these arrangements through dispute-resolution hearings?

President Obama writes that the alternative to Congress passing the TPP is “building walls to isolate ourselves from the global economy.” That’s the most pernicious trade policy and TPP myth of all. The real alternative is developing trade policies based on global economic realities, not his own fantasies about the power of mere pen strokes.

Making News: New Indiana Primary Op-Ed, Connecticut Radio This AM, and More!

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I’m pleased to report that this morning, Lifezette.com posted my latest op-ed article.  It takes a close look at Indiana’s economy and explains that, if trade issues are crucial to Hoosier state voters, the contest tomorrow could doom Texas Senator Ted Cruz’ remaining hopes for the Republican presidential nomination and hand the crown to front-runner Donald Trump.  Here’s the link.

Also, at 11:10 AM EST today, I’ll be back on “Talk of the Town” – Larry Rifkin’s popular show on WATR-AM radio in Waterbury, Connecticut.  Our subject today will be trade and the presidential election, and you can listen live at this link.

In addition, it was great to be quoted last week in Peter Coy’s piece in BusinessWeek pointing out that Alexander Hamilton isn’t just the subject of a mega-hit Broadway musical.  He was the Founding Father who arguably deserves the most credit for America’s development into an economic superpower.  Read the piece at this link.

Finally, the late MIT professor Lester Thurow was long one of modern America’s leading voices on domestic and global economic issues.  His obituary in the Washington Post in late March quoted from a review I published in the Post of his last book.  You can read the obit at this link, and the review here.

 

 

 

(What’s Left of) Our Economy: New Data (Further) Deflate Wage Inflation Claims

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I know that most mainstream economists are going to look at the latest figures on overall pay for American workers and keep claiming that the United States is experiencing or about to experience meaningful wage inflation. I just don’t know how they’re going to keep doing it in a way that convinces any fair-minded observers.

The data come from the Labor Department’s Employment Cost Index (ECI) and, to review, they’re the numbers that include both salaries and benefits as well as wages. Their two drawbacks are (1) they’re not adjusted for inflation; and (2) they’re issued quarterly, not monthly like the more closely followed wage statistics, so they’re not quite as timely.

Yet thanks to a (regular) quirk in the calendar, since we’re still in April, this newest ECI is timelier than usual. For it covers the first quarter of this year, which ended in March. And what it reports is that the year-on-year change in overall American workers total compensation – 1.79 percent – was not only much lower than that for first quarter, 2014-first quarter, 2015. The change, a drop of 34.91 percent from that previous 2.75 percent annual increase, also was the biggest such falloff by far since this trend began to be tracked in 2001. For good measure, the latest year-on-year change was the third weakest in absolute terms since then.

Matters don’t look any better when the current economic recovery is compared with its predecessor – the kind of analysis that produces the best (apples-to-apples) perspective. During the six-year economic expansion of the 2000s – which was largely fueled by bubbly borrowing and spending – the ECI rose by a total of 21.71 percent. During the current expansion, which has just become slightly longer, ECI is up 14.52 percent.

So it still seems perfectly justified to use “wages” and “inflation” in the same conversation. But putting them in the same (serious) sentence continues to get more difficult.

(What’s Left of) Our Economy: Trade a Prime Culprit Behind Lousy First Quarter U.S. Growth

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The government’s first estimate of first quarter, 2016 gross domestic product (GDP) showed that the real trade deficit hit its highest level ($566.6 billion) since the first quarter of 2008. As a result, trade cut weak inflation-adjusted first quarter growth of 0.54 percent annualized by 0.34 percentage points – the biggest drag after the drop in gross private fixed investment (0.60 percentage points).

The new first quarter numbers mean that trade has now slowed cumulative growth during this already sluggish U.S. recovery by 9.37 percent – despite the dramatic drop in the country’s oil trade shortfall. The quarter’s real trade deficit was driven mainly by falling real exports. Real goods exports worsened for the third straight quarter, and real services imports rose for the sixth straight quarter and hit their sixth consecutive quarterly record ($486.2 billion).

Here are the trade highlights from this morning’s GDP report:

>The biggest U.S. inflation-adjusted trade deficit since the start of the Great Recession helped drag down real American economic growth in the first quarter of this year to its slowest level since early 2014.

>According to this morning’s first read on first quarter gross domestic product (GDP), the trade shortfall increased from $551.9 billion annualized in the fourth quarter of last year to $566.6 billion. That figure is the highest in absolute terms since the first quarter of 2008.

>Moreover, the quarterly worsening of the trade deficit (by 2.66 percent), is the greatest such deterioration since last year’s first quarter (16.74 percent).

>This increase resulted in trade subtracting 0.34 percentage points from the quarter’s measly 0.54 percent real annualized growth, the second biggest growth drag after gross private investment (0.60 percentage points).

>In the fourth quarter, trade subtracted 0.14 percentage points from 1.38 percent annualized after-inflation growth.

>As of the first quarter, the growth of the real trade deficit has cut cumulative constant-dollar U.S. growth during the current, historically weak economic recovery (which began in the second quarter of 2009) by 9.37 percent.

>Yet the bite from growth from trade flows impacted most heavily by trade deals and other policies is likely to be much greater.

>As of the fourth quarter of last year, the recovery-era growth of the real non-oil goods trade deficit had reduced cumulative real growth by a stunning 19.76 percent.

>The figure for the first quarter can’t be calculated until the March monthly U.S. Trade figures are released next week, but so far the real non-oil goods deficit is running ahead both of the fourth quarter level and last year’s first quarter level.

>The biggest contributor to the trade deficit’s increase in the first quarter was the 0.64 percent annualized drop in exports, from $2.1103 trillion to $2.0967 trillion.

>Real goods and services exports have now dropped sequentially for two straight quarters, and stand 1.28 percent below their absolute peak of $2.1239 trillion annualized, achieved in the fourth quarter of 2014.

>Real annualized total imports edged up by 0.04 percent, from $2.6622 trillion in the fourth quarter to $2.6633 trillion. They now stand only 0.15 percent below their absolute peak of $2.6672 trillion annualized, reached in the third quarter of last year.

>Real annualized goods exports in the first quarter fell sequentially by 0.86 percent, from $1.4289 trillion annualized to $1.4166 trillion – their lowest level since the first quarter of 2014 and 3.91 percent below their peak of $1.4743 trillion, during the fourth quarter of 2014.

>These exports have now fallen sequentially for three straight quarters.

>Real annualized goods imports dipped by 0.16 percent sequentially in the first quarter, from $2.1787 trillion to $2.1752 trillion. This second straight drop left them at 0.49 percent below their peak of $2.1860 trillion in the third quarter of last year.

>Real annualized services exports fell sequentially for the first time since the third quarter of 2014. But the decrease was only 0.24 percent, from the fourth quarter’s record $678.9 billion to $677.3 billion.

>Real services imports rose quarter-to-quarter for the sixth straight quarter – by 0.91 percent, to a record $486.2 annualized. These imports have also now set records for six consecutive quarters.

(What’s Left of) Our Economy: More Evidence on Government’s Mounting Role in US Job Creation

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As I’ve written, on the one hand, I understand why most economists pay little attention to the Labor Department’s Business Employment Dynamics data. Aside from the boring name, these figures come out with a time lag of many months. On the other hand, as I’ve written, these BED statistics are based on a sample ten times the size of the Labor Department’s monthly jobs reports – which are followed obsessively.

So on balance, the latest BED numbers, which were released today, are worth reporting, and what jumped out at me was that they confirm that the government-subsidized private sector of the economy (dominated by healthcare services) keeps growing in importance in the nation’s hiring picture. Conversely, what I call the real private sector – where levels of demand, and therefore employment depend mainly on market forces rather than politicians’ decisions – keeps displaying less relative job-creation strength.

This trend isn’t apparent if you look sequentially at the last year’s worth of BED figures. In the third quarter of 2014, the subsidized private sector accounted for just over 27 percent of all net private sector job creation, but this share sank all the way down to 13.88 percent at the end of the year and rose only to 16.37 percent in the first quarter of 2015 before retreating to 14.84 percent in the second quarter. Only in the third quarter of last year did the subsidized private sector rebound to a third of all net private sector hiring gains.

But a somewhat clearer, and more statistically robust, pattern emerges when you compare third quarters going back to 2010, when the recovery in overall U.S. job creation was finally firmly established. In that year’s third quarter, the subsidized private sector generated 30.80 percent of all the net new private sector jobs created by American employers. Through 2015, here’s how those third quarter figures have changed:

2011: 16.81 percent

2012: 36.86 percent

2013: 23.47 percent

2014: 27.05 percent

2015: 33.01 percent

So there’s been fluctuation – as with the pace of economy-wide job-creation and economic growth. But the underlying trend over the last four years for which data exists has definitely been up. And it’s all too likely that the importance of the subsidized private sector has continued to swell since then, as U.S. growth has been slowing in recent months. (Tomorrow morning, we’ll get the first official read on gross domestic product – the size of the economy and how it’s changed – in the first quarter.)

If you think that creating jobs with ever more public dollars is a durable foundation for American prosperity, you should be cheering these trends. If you still put your trust in markets (however compromised they’ve become over recent decades) – not so much.

Im-Politic: America’s Trade Revolt Now Looks Even Stronger Than You Think

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Last June, I wrote that, although public opinion polls on trade policy were yielding results that are all over the place, one body of evidence was pointing strongly to mounting voter opposition to Washington’s longstanding – and largely bipartisan – globalization strategy: The number of presidential candidates trying to make hay of the issue. Now a new study is supporting some of that hypothesis, – and in the process indicates that pollsters genuinely need to get their trade act together.

The authors are essentially the same Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) team that conducted some of the most influential research on trade’s economic impact of recent years. Its February report found that the damage to American employment and wages resulting from dramatic post-2001 U.S. trade expansion with China has been much greater and longer-lasting than economic theory would have predicted.

This week, these scholars are telling us that damage from import competition has contributed significantly to the popularity of White House hopefuls like Republican front-runner Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Bernie Sanders. Moreover, the impact – which they contend dates to the beginning of the last decade – has been more pronounced among Republicans.

These conclusions are based on an examination of the district-by-district outcomes of the House of Representatives races in the 2002 and 2010 off-year elections. As the authors put it:

[W]e find strong evidence that congressional districts exposed to larger increases in import competition disproportionately removed moderate representatives from office in the 2000s. Trade-exposed districts initially in Republican hands become substantially more likely to elect a conservative Republican, while trade-exposed districts initially in Democratic hands become more likely to elect either a liberal Democrat or a conservative Republican.”

If they’re confirmed by follow-on research, these MIT results will matter because they’d represent the first robust findings that trade issues have exerted major effects on national politics. It’s true that trade issues have become much more controversial nation-wide since a raucous debate broke out in the early 1990s over the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). It’s also true that, over that last quarter century, trade-related job loss in particular has impacted a handful of House and Senate races in unusually hard hit districts or states.

But it’s true as well that to date there’s been no reason to believe that opposition to or skepticism about trade deals and trade policies has significantly influenced the make up of the House or Senate, the presidential choices of the two major parties, or the final White House verdicts in November.

In fact, when’s the last time you can remember a Democratic or Republican presidential nominee running hard and consistently against American trade policies? Or even any of the leading contenders for these nominations? And when it comes to Congress, the trade critics’ important legislative priorities have carried the day lately only twice – when Bill Clinton’s requests for fast track trade negotiating authority were rejected in 1997 and 1998, and when the authority itself was allowed to expire in 2007.

But although politicians as a group haven’t been acting as if trade issues mattered to their constituents, the new MIT study also suggests that they may not have had the chance to examine much useful, accurate evidence. One of the authors told a New York Times reporter that “In retrospect, whether it’s Trump or Sanders, we should have seen in it coming. ”

It’s likely that the polls have obscured their vision for three main reasons. First, the exit polls conducted after most elections simply haven’t asked voters about trade issues. Ditto for many polls about the state of the economy at any time. Second, polls that have focused on trade rarely gauge salience – i.e., how high respondents rank the issue on their list of major concerns. Third, as I’ve noted repeatedly, the trade questions that are posed by pollsters are often completely worthless. Sometimes the wording is flat-out biased, stacking the deck in favor of “pro-trade” responses. Indeed, it’s all too typical for surveys to present sharp black and white, yes or no choices that have little if anything to do with the real choices faced by policymakers or the public at any given time.

No realistic person expects polling to be an exact science. But the new MIT study combined with the way both students and practitioners of politics have been blindsided by the Trump and Sanders campaigns shows how urgently pollsters need to change their losing trade game. At this stage, even minimal confidence would be welcome.

Meanwhile, the study and the Trump-Sanders successes should be signaling to trade critics that their efforts have been bolstering the cause of trade realism, despite the imposing money and political power arrayed against them. Their next challenge is capitalizing on today’s momentum and turning it into enduring policy change.

Im-Politic: Is the Conventional Wisdom Wrong on Trump and Women Voters, Too?

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I normally don’t consider WalMart a reliable purveyor or sponsor of polling data, and I normally wouldn’t make a big deal out of a single focus group. But new Walmart-financed findings by Democratic pollster Margie Omero and Republican counterpart Neil Newhouse – and reported in the Washington Post – are so potentially game-changing for this year’s presidential election that they deserve at least some attention.

In short, they indicate that if Donald Trump wins the Republican presidential nomination, he won’t have nearly as much of a problem with female voters as held by the conventional wisdom. And these results seem at least reasonably credible since you wouldn’t think that outspoken trade critic Trump is import-happy WalMart’s favorite politician these days.

The focus group was held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and zeroed in on “WalMart moms” – a demographic “defined as women who have children younger than 18 at home and have gone to the store at least once in the past month.” And participants were split evenly between Trump supporters on the one hand, and backers of the two other remaining active Republican candidates on the other.

According to a summary of these Republican women from Omero and Newhouse, Characterizing Donald Trump as a type of car or animal resulted in some fascinating descriptions …women depicted him as a Porsche, a Ferrari, a muscle car, a boxer who stands his ground, a bulldog, an Escalade, a lion (fierce and king of the jungle) and as an unpredictable cat. These Moms praised him as someone who speaks his mind, stands his ground, and is refreshingly politically incorrect.”

Newhouse added in an interview with Post reporter Chris Cillizza, These GOP Walmart moms seem to want no part of the #NeverTrump movement. In fact, they respect his strength and his straight talk and believe he is the party’s best shot to beat Hillary.”

And what about the numerous degrading comments the Republican front-runner has made throughout his career about women? When these GOP Moms were pushed about Trump’s gender issues,” the two pollsters wrote, “there was some acknowledgment that he may be a ‘sexist,’ but general agreement among these women was that ‘I don’t really care, I’ve seen worse.’”

Given these attitudes, it’s not surprising that this focus group seemed unenthusiastic – at best – about Trump’s Republican rivals Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Ohio Governor John Kasich. But the terms used to describe them are worth quoting:

Voters were generally unable to tell us much about either Cruz or Kasich, [The Walmart moms] seemed to dislike Cruz perhaps more than the swing Moms [from suburban Philadelphia and questioned in a separate focus group]; he was generally described in both groups as ‘religious,’ ‘gorilla — almost human,’ or ‘like a neighbor’s dog — you don’t know if they’re going to bite.’  Kasich’s image was even thinner, ‘I think they like him in Ohio,’ said one, ‘too sane,’ or ‘Mild, like a kitten,’ said others.”

And how would the Walmart moms react if Trump was denied the GOP crown? “Terribly misled” and “cheated” were representative reactions.

National polls still show Trump with high negatives with American women overall (70 percent, according to a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal survey), and even with Republican women (50 percent.) But pollsters and the rest of the U.S. political establishment never saw the Trump challenge coming and have underestimated him from the get-go. (Ditto for analyses of Democratic challenger Bernie Sanders.) Who’s to say that the supposed experts won’t be just as wrong in doubting that his relationship with women is just as “amazing” as he’s claimed it is with other key voting blocs?

(What’s Left of) Our Economy: Medical Jobs are Still Where the Money Is

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Even when I was a know-it-all teenager, I strongly suspected that my parents were right when they told me, “Be a doctor if you want to make the best living.” But judging from a new data dump by the U.S. Labor Department, they (and the countless others like them) were off-the-chart geniuses. For it shows that physicians flat-out dominate the rankings of America’s best-paying jobs.

These Labor Department statistics list wages for more than 800 occupations in all the nation’s metropolitan areas. So the total number of entries in this study – which you can examine on this spreadsheet – is 134,475. Then, the Department did something new. It adjusted these wages for the cost of living in these locations. And the results are startling.

Medical professionals occupied the top 242 slots in these rankings. And all but one category – nurse anesthetists in greater San Antonio, Texas – were MDs. Healthcare’s dominance extended much further down this ladder, too. Of the top 500 metro job classifications, medical professionals accounted for 488.

As expected, “chief executives” also do well in America. They represented the other classifications in the top 500, but there were only 12 of them in this group. And interestingly, they were clustered in the southeast (nine) and North Carolina in particular (six).

Not until ranking number 530 do you find a non-healthcare, non-chief executive job among the leading U.S. wage earners. That distinction belongs to economists in the Columbus, Ohio region. And remarkably, of the top 1,000 listings, only two others fell outside healthcare occupations and chief executives: training and development managers in Spartanburg, South Carolina (number 906) and judges and magistrates in some of the east suburbs of Los Angeles (number 962).

What about those information technology jobs that the conventional wisdom touts as the future of (worthwhile) U.S. employment? The first one showing up that’s a non-chief executive position comes up at number 1,362 – computer and information systems managers in Johnstown, Pennsylvania.

Some important qualifications need to be mentioned. These figures claim to measure actual pay per hour, but seem to leave out compensation like bonuses and stock options – so chief executive pay here could well be significantly understated. In addition, if national inflation (and therefore cost-of-living) data are controversial, you can bet that even more uncertainty surrounds regional figures. And of course, gauges of pay tell us nothing per se about job satisfaction or stress or anything else about non-monetary working conditions.

All the same, results this skewed toward one occupational field can hardly be ignored. They also track with healthcare’s growing share of the economy based on total spending. (It hit 17.5 percent in 2014 – up 5.3 percent over 2013 levels.) The next step for the Labor Department is to figure out how these patterns have changed over time. For now, though, it’s looking clearer than ever that my parents and their peers were right about high-paying jobs – though I’m pretty confident that they wouldn’t have advised me to move to Ft. Smith, Arkansas or Brownsville, Texas. That’s where the Labor Department tells us that doctors’ pay goes furthest.

Our So-Called Foreign Policy: North Korea Nuke Progress Shows Trump’s Right on Asia Strategy

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All that was left out of the (minimal) press coverage of North Korea’s latest weapons test were the two most important – and intimately related – aspects. First, Pyongyang’s apparently successful launch of a ballistic missile from a submarine further undermines the grand strategy pursued in the East Asia-Pacific region by the United States for half a century — by bringing the North a big step closer to the ability to drop nuclear bombs on the American homeland. Second, as a result, the American people and their leaders need to start taking Donald Trump’s critique of this strategy much more seriously right now.

Although everything North Korea does is shrouded in mystery, the U.S. military said its “systems detected and tracked what we assess was a North Korean submarine missile launch from the Sea of Japan.” South Korea’s military seemed to agree, and added that what appeared to be a ballistic missile traveled about 19 miles from its naval platform.

Now 19 miles obviously doesn’t get the North’s weaponry very close to American territory. And the Pentagon conspicuously added that the launch  “did not pose a threat to North America.”  But these points are completely beside the point. Pyongyang’s last such test – at the end of last year – evidently was a flop. So progress has clearly been made. And the U.S. Army’s commander in the Pacific has testified to the Senate – in public, for attribution“Over time, I believe we’re going to see [North Korea] acquire these capabilities [to strike the United States with nuclear weapons] if they’re not stopped.” The big question is, “Why would any responsible American leader assume the opposite?”

Shockingly and scarily, however, that’s exactly what every prominent figure in U.S. politics and policy seems to be doing – except for Trump. For their criticisms of the Republican front-runner’s challenge to America’s alliance strategy in the Far East all assume that America will indefinitely retain escalation dominance in the region. As I’ve explained, this means that the United States will be able to keep deterring aggression from the North with threats to use nuclear weapons against Pyongyang that would be credible because U.S. territory would remain safe from any comparable danger.

As I (and many others) have reported, escalation dominance on the Korean peninsula has been fading for years, as Pyongyang has moved steadily toward building land-based missiles capable of delivering nuclear warheads on U.S. soil. But submarine capabilities greatly magnify even this terrible threat, as the near-impossibility of finding these vessels – unlike land launchers – rules out the possibility of knocking them out in a preemptive attack. And although the United States keeps working on missile defenses, their test record so far shouldn’t inspire any confidence.

In other words, according to the nation’s leaders and the rest of its foreign policy establishment (not that they dare make this point overtly), they’ve yoked the United States into a policy of risking Los Angeles to defend Seoul, Trump calls this “a position that at some point is something that we have to talk about,” and he’s the irresponsible one.

Even more ludicrously, the establishment (including President Obama) insists that it’s Trump’s comments – not the mounting dangers to U.S. survival created by Washington’s current approach – that are undermining the long-term American goal of keeping nuclear weapons out of Japanese and South Korean hands. What these supposed experts either don’t know or won’t admit is that these allies are bound to go nuclear because the increasingly suicidal nature of America’s Asia strategy is so glaringly obvious and literally unbelievable to them. Indeed, Japan is widely thought capable of manufacturing a working nuke in six months. It’s true that the Japanese – responding to U.S. pressure – are transferring much of their existing large stockpile of weapons-grade and near-weapons-grade nuclear fuel to American facilities. But it’s also true that they’re still planning to build new facilities to make more.

The establishment is almost certainly correct in arguing that, all else equal, the fewer nuclear powers in the world the better. But all else hasn’t been anywhere near equal for years. Despite his personal flaws, Americans already owe Trump thanks for calling out an economic elite whose policies have disastrously failed the nation and world. Arguably, he deserves even greater thanks for calling out a foreign policy elite that’s now unmistakably – and needlessly – exposing the United States to literal destruction.

Our So-Called Foreign Policy: Why the Middle East Refugee Debate Has Just Been Settled

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Here’s hoping that President Obama has found time on his current overseas trip to read the Washington Post carefully. Because if he does, he would realize that opponents of admitting more Middle East refugees into the United States have been utterly and completely correct, and that from now on, the only remaining supporters are either willful know-nothings and guilt-drenched-to-the-point-of-being-suicidal bleeding hearts – along with politicians determined to pander to them.

What’s ended any serious debate over the refugee issue are the results of a Post investigation published yesterday. It offers overwhelming evidence that significant numbers of terrorists have indeed hidden in the tides of migrants streaming from war-torn Syria, Iraq, and the like into Europe, and that in the last few months alone they’ve helped carry out the horrific attacks in Paris and Brussels.

The Post article, by Anthony Faiola and Souad Mekhennet, doesn’t mean that Republican Presidential front-runner Donald Trump’s Muslim ban or similar religious litmus test proposals are good or practical ideas. It also makes clear that Europe’s efforts to vet the migrants were marked by the kind of incompetence not yet displayed by American national and homeland security authorities, and that the Europeans were also simply overwhelmed by numbers that not even the most utopian U.S. politicians have been talking about.

But no fair-minded reader can possibly end the piece confident that Americans can be adequately protected against enemies that have seized thousands of passports from embattled Middle East countries, that use the latest technology to doctor them – and that recruit from failed states like Afghanistan, Somalia, and Yemen that lack any serious record-keeping capacity.

The key finding in the article: “[O]ver the past six months, more than three dozen suspected militants who impersonated migrants have been arrested or died while planning or carrying out acts of terror. They include at least seven directly tied to the bloody attacks in Paris and Brussels. “

In addition, the authors claim to have interviewed an ISIS commander, who told them that “We have sent many operatives to Europe with the refugees. Some of our brothers have fulfilled their mission, but others are still waiting to be activated.”

The Post article isn’t the first to detail the exploitation of the refugee crisis by terrorist groups. In February, Germany’s domestic intelligence chief stated that European governments have “seen repeatedly that terrorists are being smuggled in, camouflaged as refugees. That is a fact that security authorities must always seek to recognize and identify.”

Yet the president is clinging to his goal of admitting 10,000 Syrian refugees by October 1 – even though only some 1,200 have been settled so far.Mr. Obama hasn’t backed away from his claim that opponents of his policies are fear-mongering (not to mention “scared of widows and orphans”). Indeed, if not for the pushback, it’s likely that he’d press for letting in even more migrants.

Supporters of greater refugee quotas – including the president – are right to note that the United States faces a variety of terrorism threats, including those from home-grown radicals of all faiths who arguably are at least as dangerous. They’re also right to note that, whether you favor religious litmus tests for admissions or not, they’re all too easy to fool or evade.

But as the Post article documents, the admissions backers are profoundly wrong — and reckless — to use these arguments as excuses to maintain or increase American admissions. For if U.S. leaders are already hard-pressed to protect the public from existing dangers, multiplying these threats in any way is simply unconscionable.

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