Im-Politic: More Illegal Immigration Coddling from the Washington Post


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Hard as it is to believe, The Washington Post news department’s coddling of illegal immigrants looks to have passed a new milestone. On April, I explained how the paper’s news editors and reporters (not the opinion folks) apparently have decided that drunk driving isn’t a serious crime when the guilty are living in the United States illegally.

This past week, the Post has acted conspicuously determined to ignore crucial questions of suspected criminals’ immigration status when they threaten to ruin or even complicate another prized narrative – that Muslim Americans are being victimized by a record surge in hate crimes prompted by irrational fears of Islamic terrorists stoked cynically by politicians like President Trump. Such journalistic selectivity is bound to intensify questions about the legality of any Americans of Hispanic heritage arrested for crimes, both when they’re justified and when they’re not.

There’s an alternative explanation for the paper’s behavior that’s comparably disturbing: In an effort to calm public fears about the public safety risks created by indulgent immigration policies, it’s been trying to sweep such immigration questions under the rug because it did report the status of two Hispanic teenage immigrants just a month before, when they were charged with a rape at a high school in the area. In early May, the charges were dropped, seeming to vindicate allegations that immigration policy critics had been using the case to demagogue their cause.      

The latest crime in question was the abominable killing of an Muslim teenage girl from the Virginia suburbs early last Sunday morning. The story quickly attracted national attention, and the Post‘s early coverage demonstrated the obvious reason: The local police seemed determined to classify the murder as an instance of road rage, while many in the local Islamic community — including the victim’s family — along with others insisted that it amounted to the latest hate crime committed against innocent Muslim Americans.

As the Post pointedly reminded readers in its report on Monday:

“Police said Monday they aren’t investigating the death as a hate crime, but the issue was on the minds of many Muslims on Sunday.

“Last month, two men on a Portland train were stabbed and killed after they intervened to protect two girls who were being harassed with anti-Muslim threats, according to authorities.

“Sunday night, a van struck a crowd of pedestrians, including worshipers leaving a pair of mosques in London. Witnesses said the pedestrians were struck as they departed late-night prayers.

“The ADAMS Center [victim Nabra Hassanen’s mosque] has a paid armed security guard at the Sterling site, according to [Arsalan Iftkhar, an “international human rights lawyer and commentator” who attended services at the mosque]. He said many mosques have increased security since six Muslim worshipers were killed at a mosque in Quebec earlier this year.

“Sunday night, a van struck a crowd of pedestrians, including worshipers leaving a pair of mosques in London. Witnesses said the pedestrians were struck as they departed late-night prayers.

“The ADAMS Center has a paid armed security guard at the Sterling site, according to Iftikhar. He said many mosques have increased security since six Muslim worshipers were killed at a mosque in Quebec earlier this year.”

And this focus on the hate crimes charge continued through the Post‘s last comprehensive coverage of the murder, on Wednesday.

But from the start, one crucial aspect of the murder appeared to be undermining claims that animus against Muslims was the suspect’s motivation – an aspect oddly neglected by the Post. As the paper specified from the outset, he was a young Hispanic-surnamed male – Darwin Martinez Torres. But nothing else about him was reported.

That may not sound suspicious to someone unfamiliar with that part of northern Virginia – or even worth writing about at all. But Sterling and environs have long hosted a large population of illegal immigrants. The offense in question was unmistakably felonious and abhorrent, not some trifle. So there are valid public safety issues involved, with large numbers of Americans understandably wanting to what kinds of individuals their leaders have – knowingly – welcomed into their country and their neighborhoods.

Moreover, a Post update later that day offered evidence suggesting Torres’ illegal status: U.S. immigration authorities had requested that local officials put a “detainer” on him – meaning that they were looking into deportation. Now on the one hand, the federal government can place detainers on and deport legal immigrants as well as illegal. But on the other hand, that decision should have raised a red flag with the Post right away, and the question could have been answered with little effort. But no one on the team of reporters assigned the story by the paper seems to have pursued the matter. The hate crimes issue and related concerns voiced nationally about American Muslims’ safety clearly were their top priorities.

As early as Monday, however, it was clear that Martinez’ immigration status was indeed in doubt with the authorities. The Associated Press reported that day that they determined he is “a citizen of El Salvador and there’s probable cause to believe he lacks permission to be in the U.S.”

But even though this AP report appears on the Post‘s website, it prompted no investigation of Torres’ status by the paper itself, either.

Moreover, on Tuesday, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) spokesperson announced that Torres is in the United States illegally. Readers of the The New York Times,, The Daily Caller, and CNN received this information. But nearly a week later, the Post staff itself still has not mentioned it. Neither, weirdly, has the Associated Press – but it’s not the Washington, D.C. area’s leading news organization.

Sadly, this journalistic inevitably raises the question of whether the Post has decided to cover up the legal status of other Hispanic Americans arrested for crimes. For example, also earlier this month, two Germantown, Maryland high school students were murdered on the eve of their graduation. The trio arrested? Jose Canales-Yanez, Edgar Garcia-Gaona, and his brother Roger Garcia. Any mention of their immigration status in the Post coverage? Nope.

But like Sterling, the Germantown area is home to many illegal immigrants, as well as a center of violence from criminal gangs whose crimes are becoming ever more brutal and that are often extensions of similar organizations in Central America. The police force of surrounding Montgomery County has not ruled out a gang angle, and according to Help Save Maryland, an organization favoring stricter immigration controls and enforcement, a photo of one of the suspects reveals a form of tattoo often sported by Central American gang members.  

It’s true that Montgomery police chief Thomas Manger has stated that “to my knowledge, there were no ICE detainers filed in those cases” resulting from some of the suspects’ previous arrests.” But it’s also true that Montgomery County has declared itself to be a safe haven for immigrants – if not an out-and-out sanctuary city – and that Manger has dutifully declared that it’s not his job to determine anyone’s immigration status.

Curiously, moreover, Post reporters and editors were decidedly more aggressive in March, when two Hispanic teenagers, including a minor, were accused of raping a younger schoolmate at Rockville High School in Rockville, Maryland — also in Montgomery County.  The paper’s first article on the incident prominently mentioned that Henry E. Sanchez “a native of Guatemala who arrived in the United States about seven months ago, has a pending ‘alien removal’ case against him, court officials said Friday. ‘He is a substantial flight risk,’ Montgomery County Assistant States Attorney Rebecca MacVittie said in court Friday.

“[Jose O.] Montano has been in the United States for about eight months, MacVittie said. Details about Sanchez’s removal case, or Montano’s immigration status, couldn’t immediately be learned Friday.”

Moreover, the Post‘s own reporting several days later contend that both suspects “were among tens of thousands of young people who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally in 2016.” Prosecutors dropped the rape charges against the pair in early May. Was the paper’s much more restrained coverage of immigration issues in the two, more recent, murder cases an attempt to keep anti-immigration sentiment in the public under control?    

It’s vitally important to be clear here. As suggested immediately above, I believe that many municipalities and states are ignoring their responsibilities to help the federal government enforce immigration law. But insisting that the Post inquire about the immigration status of criminal suspects is completely different from insisting that state and local governments, whose immigration law enforcement responsibilities are limited and reactive, proactively publicize the immigration status of criminal suspects.

It’s also completely different from insisting that the federal government, whose immigration law responsibilities are extensive and often proactive, seek out and publicize this information whenever an arrest is made by any level of government, even for serious infractions (although I’m leaning strongly in this direction, given the nation’s enormous and possibly still growing population of illegals).

Instead, insisting that the Post and the rest of the media at least seek this information simply entails insisting that they play their proper role as watchdogs of democracy – pressing for accountability for wielders of public and private power, and letting the chips fall where they may.

Viewed from a different perspective, the government at all levels enjoys certain established authority to keep information from the public for various, highly specific reasons – e.g., to protect national security or safeguard Constitutionally guaranteed privacy rights. In order to help ensure that this authority is not abused, the media’s job is to release whatever information it can procure, with certain exceptions that it generally has complied with voluntarily (e.g., protecting information whose exposure would immediately threaten national security and/or the lives of military and intelligence personnel whose lives literally are on the line, or the privacy of minors). When disputes arise over where these respective lines should be drawn, the judiciary steps in to try to provide the answer.

At least since the era of Watergate and the Pentagon Papers, the Post has epitomized a national media that understands these distinctions and acts accordingly. Does it now believe that, for reasons it has yet to explain, that its coverage of illegal immigration is an exception?


Following Up: Mercury News Treats H1B Debate as Non-News


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The story of the video of a major debate on U.S. immigrant tech worker policies that earlier this week looked like it was being kept under wraps now looks like the story of a video that never was – due to some astonishingly unenterprising journalism from the Mercury News, Silicon Valley’s main newspaper and therefore a leading source of information on the technology industry.

As RealityChek regulars know, the story began with a June 1 debate in Silicon Valley centering on the controversial H1B immigrant visas. Squaring off were the Valley’s new Democratic Member of Congress, Ro Khanna and Norman Matloff, a professor of computer science at the University of California, Davis. (A tech entrepreneur took part in the event, too, but in a minor way.)

Technology companies claim that the H1B and similar programs are crucial to accessing the world’s best talent. Critics charge that they’ve overwhelmingly been used to cut their costs by replacing native-born U.S. workers with much cheaper foreign counterparts. Khanna favors relatively modest changes to H1B policies; Matloff believes major surgery is needed.

Matloff, who’s become a valued friend of mine, has written that the event marked  the first time a debate has been held between an elected official and a researcher on the topic, a major event in that sense. (Khanna has not disagreed.) Matloff also noted that a videographer from the Mercury News was present and apparently recording the proceedings.

Yet the Mercury News failed to cover the debate and never posted a recording on its website. Matloff asked a reporter on the paper to find out why, and was told that a recording existed, but that “it was essentially scrapped as a standalone report, but there’s apparently a possibility that parts of it will be used in coverage of Rep. Khanna. Not sure the reason(s) for this…” Matloff then speculated that the paper failed to make the video public because Khanna performed poorly – leading the Mercury News, which editorially has sided with the tech industry on H1B and related issues, to consign it to non-event status.

I emphatically agreed that the video’s import deserved to see the light of day, and last Sunday urged the Mercury News to post it both to perform a public service on a major technology policy area and to affirm its journalistic chops. Gratifyingly, the post and follow-up tweets prompted Khanna readily to agree, and to call openly for the video’s posting. (For the record, he contends that it was Matloff who was highly ineffective.)

Two days later, Matloff and I got answers from Mercury News editor Neil Chase. In the version he sent Matloff, he wrote, “We had a photographer there who captured some still photos and some video for use with a future story, but we didn’t attend with the intention of taping the full debate and did not.”

Based on information Matloff had shared with me and my own journalistic experience, yesterday, I sent Chase the following email. I had hoped to get a response from him in time to prepare this post, but no such luck yet:

Dear Neil,

Many thanks for your comment to my blog and my apologies for the short delay in responding.  

I must confess, though, that the response leaves me somewhat mystified on two counts.

First, the statement that the Mercury News videographer did not “record the whole event” doesn’t track with an email from one of your reporters, Ethan Baron, to Matloff.  Baron said, in response to the latter’s query re the video’s availability, “it looks like the video was essentially scrapped as a standalone report, but there’s apparently a possibility that parts of it will be used in coverage of Rep. Khanna.”  Granted he’s conveying some uncertainty here. But Matloff also has written in his blog that “the videographer seemed to be taping continuously.”  In addition, Matloff noted that “the video cam [was] on a high tripod, seemingly much for an occasional clip.”

Similarly, it sounds odd, as your email indicates, to give the videographer the responsibility for choosing the portions of the debate to be shot.  Was this the case?  If so, what were the criteria used to determine what was captured?  Or were they simply taken to get a bit of file footage of each participant, irrespective of what they were saying at the time?  

Second, I certainly don’t mean to tell you how to do your job.  But as someone with a journalistic background, I’m hard pressed to understand the paper’s seemingly offhand attitude toward this event.  After all, the H1B issue has been described as crucial by the dominant industry in the region served by the Mercury News, and it’s surely of comparable importance to all your tech worker subscribers.  The new Congressman from your area, Rep. Khanna, has been touted by several national publications as a rising star in the Democratic party, and possibly all of national politics.  To his credit, he was willing to appear in public with an outspoken, prominent critic of the H1B and related programs – a rare event at the very least, according to Matloff.  And of course, H1B and other immigration issues have become even greater controversies nationwide since the last presidential campaign heated up.  So from all appearances, the leading paper of Silicon Valley would be expected to view the debate was highly newsworthy from the get-go.  And yet it seems from your email that no coverage was ever planned.  

Now it’s clear that some fur was flying at the event, and that Rep. Khanna and Matloff are begun feuding in public over what was said and over their qualifications to claim expert status on the issue.  I.e., because of this aftermath, their debate has become by any reasonable definition even more newsworthy.     

So I respectfully make the two following requests:

1. Would you check whatever video archive you have – including whatever the videographer might possess – to determine conclusively whether a full recording of the debate is indeed available?  (If not, I would hope to find out how it was disposed of, and why.)

2. Would you assign a reporter to cover this emerging Khanna-Matloff dispute — in which a local Congressman who’s increasingly prominent nationally has publicly gone after a critic on an issue that’s one of his top legislative priorities, and a major national concern?  The Mercury News would get an excellent scoop, and perform a valuable public service at the same time.  

Thanks for your consideration, and I look forward to your reply.



As per the email, I’m still hoping that the Mercury News finds a recording and shares it, and that it reports on the differences between Khanna and Matloff, which cut to the heart of the debate on H1B and broader questions and arguments concerning the future of the domestic workforce in an age of rapid innovation. At a time when Fake News abounds, it would amount for welcome coverage of some real news.

Im-Politic: How I Scooped The Times on Trump and Nationalism 25 Years Ago


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However conceited it sounds, it really is time – again – 🙂 to pat myself on the back. This morning’s New York Times featured a long analysis by contributor Thomas Edsall titled “The End of Left and Right as We Knew Them.” The main thesis (as per a quote from the director of the “International Institutions and Global Governance Program” at the Council on Foreign Relations):

The most salient political division today is not between conservatives and liberals in the United States or social democrats in the United Kingdom and France, but between nationalists and globalists.”

Edsall himself elaborates:

By now it has become quite clear that conservative parties in Europe and the United States have been gaining strength from white voters who have been mobilized around issues related to nationalism — resistance to open borders and to third-world immigration. … On the liberal side, the Democratic Party and the center-left European parties have been allied in favor of globalization, if we define globalization as receptivity to open borders, the expansion of local and nationalistic perspectives and support for a less rigid social order and for liberal cultural, immigration and trade policies.”

Moreover, at the heart of these new divisions are class distinctions: The nationalists on both sides of the Atlantic are likeliest to be relatively poor and relatively uneducated – although Edsall does present research findings showing – unconvincingly in my view – that classic “racial resentment, more than economic anxiety, influenced the [U.S.} presidential election.”

Yet the author also unmistakably believes that the left “In recent decades…both in Europe and in the United States [has] begun to include and reflect the views of large numbers of well-educated elites — relatively affluent knowledge or creative class workers….” Indeed, he coins a nice phrase: “The rise of the affluent left.”

So what does this have to do with yours truly? Plenty. Because nearly 25 years ago, I predicted the development of exactly the same trend. My forecast came in an article for the journal The National Interest that was called (wait for it) “Beyond Left and Right” – and it got a fair amount of media attention from both liberals and conservatives. (The National Interest itself is on the right end of the spectrum.) 

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find versions on-line that aren’t behind pay walls, but here are a few excerpts from a dog-eared xerox:

…a new underlying fault line [replacing the old left-right divisions] is already emerging in American foreign policy, dividing what might best be called nationalists and internationalists. In terms of American diplomacy, this new alignment will pit a generic model of foreign policy-making that long predates the Cold War – one based at bottom…on the belief that international activism itself is the key to American security and prosperity – against a rival approach…whose supreme goal is consolidating American military and economic strength, and enhancing America’s freedom of action. In the realm of economic policy, those who argue that the nation-state, as an economic player, is obsolete or dangerous will vie with those convinced of its continuing relevance and legitimacy. In electoral politics, sharp differences in economic interests and cultural outlooks will produce a widening rift between business, professional,and government elites on the one hand, and wage-earners on the other. The issue of class, in other words, is re-emerging in American politics.”

I added that these divisions were arising from “the different impact of world economic trends on different classes” and were producing “a foreign policy debate [that] increasingly pits social and economic classes against each other, focusing on the questions of who pays the costs and who incurs most of the risks involved in competing economic and security policies.

Polls repeatedly show that the best educated and wealthiest Americans are the staunchest internationalists on both security and economic issues. The surveys also show strong support for internationalist policies to be lacking nearly everywhere else on the social spectrum. “

And there’s more. I wrote that “At the mass public level,” the nationalist faction would be comprised of “blue collar union members, white collar middle managers and small businessmen from the Perotista ranks; family- and community-oriented immigrants; and grassroots environmental activists.”

As for their rivals, “The social base of internationalism would include many big multinational businesses and their upper level managers, financiers, professionals, and retailers. Journalists and the rest of the mass media, as well as academics, also tend to support an idealistic globalism. Other members of a new internationalist coalition might include minorities whose fear of cultural conservative nationalists outweighs their qualms about job-destroying internationalist free-trade economics, and affluent, mainstream environmentalists.”

And there was more on the role of the media: “Much of what they lack in numbers, the internationalists would make up for in money, influence, and the aura of respectability that their media allies will continue to provide.”

What would happen to liberal and conservative internationalists in the process? The former

may wind up permanently alienating labor, minorities, and the white-collar middle class whether they intend to or not – and lose their identity as champions of the underdog and as agents of progressive change in the process. Internationalists of the Right will face similar problems. Without offering their voters something more than NAFTA, the continuing “creative destruction” of their jobs, endless foreign interventions, and Marilyn Quayle’s definition of family values, it is difficult to see them avoiding George [H.W.] Bush’s political fate.”

For good measure, I added that if they do crystallize, the resulting new coalitions are likely to be “less inclined to compromise than their predecessors….”

Clearly, I didn’t get everything right. But I’m kind of amazed at how many developments I absolutely nailed. Further, we’re only a few months into the Trump era. In other words, the American political realignment I anticipated still probably has a long ways to go.

Our So-Called Foreign Policy: Trump’s China Strategy Seems Troublingly Silo-ed


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Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mathis are meeting with Chinese counterparts today in Washington, D.C. to conduct a “Diplomatic and Security Dialogue” – a stripped down Trump administration version of some of the ginormous official bilateral sessions the two countries have held periodically in recent years.

It’s unclear whether these talks will turn out to be more than the elaborate gabfests their predecessors quickly became. But it’s much clearer that their potential to contribute significantly to America’s security will be limited unless the administration starts taking many more urgently needed steps to move the nation’s Asia grand strategy into the twenty first century. And the major missing piece of this effort continues to be a serious effort to deny China the advanced technologies it will need to continue becoming a more formidable military competitor.

Some promising decisions have been taken, or are being considered. For example, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is thinking of launching a national security review of U.S. trade in semiconductors with an eye toward fending off what he describes as an increasingly dangerous Chinese challenge in this defense-critical sector. Mathis and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have both publicly called for updating the interagency U.S. government process for screening prospective Chinese and other foreign investments in all defense-related companies (the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, or CFIUS). And they along with Ross have strongly suggested that they’re thinking of redefining the relevant statute’s mandate to include economic dimensions of national security. Just as encouraging, prominent members of Congress are drafting legislation along these lines.

And most recently, the administration has announced a big new effort to ensure continued American leadership over China in super-computing (although the semiconductor industry isn’t happy with some other features of Mr. Trump’s stance on federally sponsored research and development).

Moreover, the Trump administration is responding to the Chinese challenge much more promptly than its predecessor, which prioritized this cluster of problems very late in its tenure. Its proposed responses to mercantile Chinese industrial policies in technology industries were especially weak beer.

But as with the Obama administration, Team Trump seems to be paying little attention to the continued outflow of cutting-edge defense-related American knowhow to China – including to entities that are unquestionably controlled by the Chinese government. It’s unmistakably paying much less attention to these investments than to spending billions more to upgrade American military forces in East Asia – which of course could wind up facing Chinese weapons based on U.S. tech advances.

Today’s U.S.-China talks in Washington are due to be followed up later this summer by a session devoted to economics. Maybe by then, President Trump and his advisers will be pursuing the comprehensive, integrated approach that meeting the China challenge adequately requires?

Im-Politic: The Uses of Anger


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The more I think about the surge in political rage that’s just produced the terrifying attempt to assassinate Republican Members of Congress in Alexandria, Va., the more I’m convinced that the resulting deluge of well-intentioned commentary and introspection has missed a big reason for doubting that, as so many have urged, Americans will stop demonizing and dehumanizing their political opponents. Moreover, I’m also more convinced that there are real limits to how far this admittedly troubling tendency actually should go.

To clarify right away, this isn’t to say that violence is ever justified in U.S. public life — although history teaches us to be wary even of this generally worthy sentiment. For example, I’m not at all convinced that Americans would have responded even in the inadequate way they did to problems in the country’s then-heavily black inner cities had riots not convulsed many of them. The nation almost certainly wouldn’t have responded as quickly as it did. And I haven’t forgotten that too many of the rioters were simply looters.

I am prepared, though, to say that violence isn’t ever justified in public life nowadays. Ditto for urging violence, either explicitly or through various dog whistles.

But it’s going to be a lot harder to exorcise extreme, hate-filled rhetoric and emotions. For many of the most prominent assumptions and arguments made about most of our major public issues entail the claim that those who disagree aren’t simply motivated by different philosophies and ideologies. They’re motivated by – often appallingly and/or dangerously – selfish interests. And many of these claims by no means should be dismissed out of hand.

Are there inexcusable, purposeful excesses? How could there not be? We’re dealing with human beings here. But take the left-ish view of the whole cluster of economic inequality issues. Do many champions of cuts in various safety net and other social programs sincerely believe that they have on net eroded incentives to work and form families? Obviously the answer is Yes.

But are many others simply selfish? Of course they are. Are many working openly or on the sly for interests that would lose income or profits if taxes were raised to finance such spending – although they would clearly remain affluent by any reasonable measure? Yup. Has American history been filled with the efforts of the affluent and the powerful to maintain their positions at the expense of the poorer and weaker? How could anyone dispute this? Should plutocracy and its defense not be called out? Absolutely not.

Similar points can be made about causes favored by liberals and Democrats. Are many on the left acting mainly out of compassion or other altruistic sentiments when urging legalization and citizenship for illegal immigrants? Do many other genuinely believe that various forms of amnesty-like policies will benefit the economy, including more workers? Definitely.

Do many others back amnesty etc in the hope of creating new pro-Democratic voting blocs or expanding existing ones, regardless of the impact on public safety or social cohesion? No doubt about it. And can’t signs be seen of misplaced senses of guilt so powerful that they shunt completely aside the needs of the existing legal population? Clearly they can. Should this kind of hypocrisy or childishness be ignored? How would that strengthen democracy?

No doubt you all can come up with many other comparable examples – because the creation and maintenance of a democracy can’t possibly guarantee that men (and women) have or will become angels. But the genius of this country’s politics so far (with the mammoth exception of the Civil War) has been to keep political battles battles in name only, and to sustain the consensus that, though opponents may be deeply and justifiably hated, their removal from power or the frustration of their aims according to accepted procedures is the only acceptable goal – not their literal destruction.

The trick, then, or much of it, is for Americans to learn (or re-learn) the ability to decompress once even the most heated political campaigns or legislative contests have ended, to accept as legitimate any winner – even the most seemingly odious – who has triumphed within the specified rules, and to continue pushing causes as fiercely as ever while respecting those bounds. You say you don’t like some of the rules and bounds? Work (again, within the system, or via peaceful civil disobedience if you so choose) to replace them. The system makes such mechanisms available.

As I write these words, I find myself thinking of the human maturation process and to the development of perspective so central to its arrival. And I can’t help but think that’s no coincidence.

(What’s Left of) Our Economy: Will Trump Take Ford’s New China Trade Hint?


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President Trump and his administration have certainly been active on the trade front in their first months in office, both in word and deed. The question remains whether they’ve been effective, and a breaking news story has just added powerfully to the doubters’ case.

The news has to do with Ford Motor Company’s announcement that it will scrap plans to relocate its remaining small car production from the United States to Mexico and supply the American market from an existing plant in Hermosillo, and instead import the vehicles from a retooled factory in China. The initial Ford production decision came under fire from Mr. Trump, and the company’s reaction – a rejiggered Mexico plan – looked chancy for two main reasons:

First, the president had declared his intention to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in large measure to stop such production offshoring. Second, the staunchly pro-trade Republican leaders of the GOP-controlled House of Representatives had been pushing a border adjustment tax proposal that would have imposed new costs on imports from anywhere.

Ford has now underscored why both opponents and supporters of a transformed, less import-friendly U.S. trade policy have been right in one of their major criticisms of Mr. Trump’s emerging strategy: A tight focus on bilateral trade issues and balances overlooks the ability of multinational companies to shift export-oriented production in order to evade country-specific tariffs or other trade curbs.

Not that business’ ability to hopscotch is unlimited. The massive level of sunk corporate costs in export-focused production in China, for example, won’t always be easy to walk away from. And not all countries offer comparable advantages to manufacturers. So given, for example, that China accounts for more than 43 percent of the American merchandise trade deficit, or that Mexico’s geography makes it such an unusually attractive base for selling to U.S. customers, focusing on individual-country or regional priorities often makes good sense.

It’s also legitimate in principle to base trade preferences on non-economic aims, like national security (e.g., rewarding allies or strengthening third world economies against the appeal of terrorism) – though Mr. Trump has expressed strong skepticism for this approach, notably in his Inaugural Address. And of course, prioritization is often the key to any successful public policy.

But what’s especially strange about the Trump trade strategy so far is the president’s indifference – at best – to the border adjustment tax idea. On top of undercutting corporate tariff arbitrage strategies by levying a tax on all imports (and encouraging exports), the measure would also bring in revenue needed to finance crucial domestic needs like infrastructure and healthcare reform without completely busting the federal budget. And its passage would by no means preclude addressing special trade priorities of all kinds with additional restrictions.

Ford’s new production announcement is just the latest in a series of comments from Corporate America that bear out one of President Trump’s central insights: that trade policy changes can decisively influence corporate sourcing decisions to America’s benefit. Now, however, he needs to recognize that his essential goal of using trade restrictions to lure valuable manufacturing production and jobs back to the United States requires policies with global scope. The half- (at best) measures he’s favored so far are just too easily gamed.

Following Up: Progress in Freeing the Mercury News H1B Debate Video


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What a day it’s been for RealityChek on Twitter today! Yesterday, I posted on the peculiar failure of the Mercury News, the top newspaper in technology industry center Silicon Valley, to post a video it made of a landmark and apparently heated recent debate on the H1B visa program. Under this controversial feature of U.S. immigration policy, American employers can secure foreign workers they can demonstrate are needed because they boast special talents that generally can’t be found in the U.S. workforce.  

Thanks to this item, and to some tweets today, I seem to have persuaded the most prominent participant, Rep. Ro Khanna (D.-Cal.) to ask the paper to release the full version.

Another participant in the event, University of California, Davis computer science professor Norman Matloff, had already made such a request, but got a “Thanks, but no thanks”-type answer.

So this morning, I decided, via Twitter, to ask Khanna to join the campaign. It was great to see him respond, and after a few tweets back and forth, at about 1:45 PM EST, he declared, “I have told them [the Mercury News] I would welcome the release of the tape if they have one. I would love for this to be public. I’m all for transparency.” So let’s hope that a request from a Member of Congress will do the trick. And let’s also hope that the paper still has the video!

I’ve asked Khanna to let me know the Mercury News‘ answer as soon as he can, and of course, I’ll pass the word on to you – ideally with a link – right away. And FYI, you can get in on this kind of action first-hand yourself by following me at @AlanTonelson. As with RealityChek, feedback is always welcome, and that includes heavy doses of snark!

P.S. Just for a bit of context, a major point of contention between Khanna and Matloff is a bill sponsored by Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois and Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa that attempts to address H1B-related problems.  Khanna is another sponsor of the legislation; Matloff considers its remedies inadequate.

Im-Politic: Free the Mercury News H1B Debate Video!


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There’s been no shortage of controversy stirred up by the H1B visa program that brings immigrants to the United States to take jobs allegedly requiring special talents – mostly in technology companies. So when what could well have been the first public debate ever that centers on this subject is held that included a researcher on the visas (who has charged that they overwhelmingly go to foreign workers who simply lower wages for companies who want to replace more expensive Americans) and a politician who’s been strongly in favor, you’d think a major newspaper would find that pretty newsworthy.

In the case of the Mercury News, however, you’d be wrong. And much worse, it looks like the San Francisco Bay area daily is keeping a video of the event under wraps because it makes the politician – whose views closely mirror the paper’s pro-H1B editorial stance – look absolutely terrible.

Here’s the skinny on the event. Precisely because there’s no recording available, I’m relying on this account from participant Norman Matloff, a computer science professor at the University of California, Davis, a leading national authority on immigration issues and the H1B program in particular, and a strong critic of the latter. Joining Matloff on a panel convened at the newly opened offices of the Voice of America’s Silicon Valley bureau were freshman Silicon Valley Congressman Ro Khanna and Kamran Elahian, who Matloff describes as “an immigrant tech entrepreneur.”

According to Matloff, most of the H1B exchanges took place between him and Khanna, who has been characterized in the press as “the favorite of the tech industry since he tried to first overtake incumbent Mike Honda in the 2014 election” in large part because of his defense of the domestic tech industry’s H1B practices.

As Matloff describes it, Khanna – who has also been described in the national media as a rising Democratic party star and champion of pragmatic fixes for economically besieged middle class Americans – was stunningly ignorant about recent H1B-related news developments. More troubling: Khanna sunk to thinly disguised personal (and completely unjustified) attacks on Matloff and several times seem to have flown off the handle when presented with evidence that clashed with his preconceived ideas.

I’d say “Don’t take my (or Matloff’s) word for it; see for yourself” – but I can’t. The debate was filmed by the Mercury News, but in response to a query from Matloff about whether the video would be posted, a reporter he knew at the paper told him that

it looks like the video was essentially scrapped as a standalone report, but there’s apparently a possibility that parts of it will be used in coverage of Rep. Khanna. Not sure the reason(s) for this, but I know videos of such events are often just used in bits and pieces…”

As Matloff noted in an email to me, “Certainly it would have cost the Merc nothing to put the video on the Web, quite easily and simply.” And it’s hard to disagree with his judgment that the paper “would be performing a major public service by placing the video online (in full, of course).”

So it’s necessary to take seriously Matloff when he speculated, in that same email to me: I can certainly see the Merc wanting to protect Rep. Khanna. They had endorsed Khanna, and generally feel their loyalty is to the tech industry. Their coverage of H-1B has been fair, but their editorial position has always been pro-H-1B.”

Matloff’s views are hardly dispositive – though I have always found him to be scrupulously honest. What could not be clearer, however, is that the Mercury News could reenforce its claims to objectivity by posting the video. With every passing day that it fails, the case for questioning its motives can only grow.

(What’s Left of) Our Economy: Smart Phones, Dumb Economy?


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I’m always wary of drawing conclusions about the American economy from what I see in everyday life for reasons that should be obvious. All such anecdotes should be viewed suspiciously because individual observations or incidents are much more likely to result from randomness or unique circumstances than to reflect a genuine trend. And I’d be the last to claim that my own experiences have ever been representative of anything larger.

Still, it’s undeniably, and understandably, gratifying when some actual data seems to bear out something that’s had me (figuratively) scratching my head for some time. It’s the seeming tendency of folks who at least appear to be well into the lower depths of the “99 percent” of non-uber-wealthy Americans owning what look (to my admittedly non-expert eye) like state-of-the-art smartphones. Although all sorts of reasonable explanations are possible, a recent survey of consumer finances at least has supported my suspicion that something genuinely peculiar – and not so encouraging – really is going on here.

First, let’s examine some of the extenuating circumstances. Prices for smartphone services have been falling steadily – and steeply over the last few months, thanks largely to the spread of unlimited data plans. Just check out this chart:

Younger consumers in particular also have shown some tendency to value buying experiences (like the extraordinary connectivity provided by modern personal communications) over goods. Some of these millennials and others in the post-baby-boom categories (especially students) may be getting help from their families – and that doesn’t necessarily raise red flags. More disturbing, however, are the odds that many of the young are avoiding or deferring goods purchases (especially big ones they used to make in the twenties and thirties, like cars and homes) because they simply can’t afford them, and are therefore substituting relatively cheap indulgences like phones with every conceivable bell and whistle.

Nonetheless, that consumer finance survey – from the Credit Sesame website – sadly suggests that many low-income earners who use smartphones of some kind (it’s not possible to say that they’re the latest and greatest) literally can’t afford them. Instead, they’ve bought them with seriously over-extended credit.

According to reporter Maria LaMagna, Credit Sesame examined the finances of 5,000 consumers and found that those whose cell phone accounts are considered delinquent were carrying an average balance of $887. I couldn’t find any information about what percentage of the 5,000 consumers analyzed were carrying such cell phone debt, but here’s a reason to think that the share carrying significant amounts is pretty big: phone service companies don’t usually report customers’ payments histories to credit bureaus until the collections process formally begins. I also wish that the article indicated how credit card-related debt has changed over time.

But it’s hard to believe that a reputable site like Marketwatch would have reported these numbers had they been more the exception than the rule. And the amounts of cell phone-related debt are especially striking given how services are now cratering in price.

It’s entirely possible that cell phone debtors will take advantage of these price plunges to pay up and stay fully paid up. In principle, the companies could start cracking down, too. But there’s also a real chance that the debtors will simply start paying their minimums on time, and that the service companies – currently engaged in price wars determined to get and keep customers practically at all costs – will keep treating them leniently (and milking them as cash cows for as long as they can). Raise your hands if you think this is any way to run an economy for any serious length of time.

(What’s Left of) Our Economy: Why Ag Fears Mustn’t Drive Trump’s NAFTA Revamp


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You have to hand it to the American agriculture industry: It has great lobbyists and public relations flacks. Just look at the job they’ve done convincing the Trump administration to pay special attention to the farm sector’s concerns when renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Mexico and Canada. And as made clear by The Wall Street Journal today, they’re keeping the pressure on in an effort to convince the president that the United States doesn’t hold such overwhelming leverage in these talks with Mexico in particular.

No one can blame ag from doing its job. But maybe the press could do a somewhat better job of providing valuable context, as the Journal article today simply didn’t?

It’s indeed noteworthy, as The Journal‘s Jacob Bunge reported, that American farm exports to Mexico have fallen so far this year, especially given that Mexico is the third largest foreign market for these goods. Moreover, it does look like the drop stems at least partly from Mexico’s search for alternatives to U.S. suppliers in order to create NAFTA revamp bargaining chips.

But a broader examination of bilateral trade flows shows that, however important, agriculture doesn’t deserve pride of place in America’s trade negotiations – with Mexico or any other countries. First of all, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, last year, agriculture (along with forestry, fishing, and hunting) comprised 0.9 percent of the American economy on a value-added basis. Manufacturing represented 11.7 percent.

Last year, moreover, manufactures exports (of $1.05127 trillion) topped agricultural exports ($134.88 billion) by a factor of nearly eight. It’s true that agriculture ran a trade surplus and manufacturing an immense deficit. But the former – about $20 billion – was hardly an economic game-changer, and that was especially so considering the nearly $862 billion scale of the latter.

U.S.-Mexico trade tells a similar story: According to The Journal, 2016 saw America sell $18 billion worth of agricultural products to Mexico. Manufacturing exports were about eight times as great: just over $143 billion.

But there are some big problems with these manufacturing exports. For example, they’re much more than offset by U.S. manufactures imports from Mexico. In fact, since 2009 (the year the current recovery began), this bilateral trade deficit has risen more than twice as fast (by 125 percent) than that with China (52.56 percent).

Moreover, Trump is right about much of this imbalance resulting from NAFTA-induced American production offshoring to Mexico that aims to sell back into the United States. That’s had much to do with the 1990-2013 drop in the United States’ share of North American light vehicle production from 78 to 64 percent, and the rise in Mexico’s share from six to 19 percent. That’s also had much to do with the more than tripling of the U.S. bilateral trade deficit in autos and light trucks since NAFTA’s signing.

In fact, in the first eleven months of 2016, Mexico exported nearly 80 percent of the 3.22 million autos it produced, and fully 77 percent of them were sent north of the border.

As a result, auto industry leaders have plainly stated that without the unfettered access NAFTA provides to the American market, and without the incentives to produce in super-cheap and largely unregulated Mexico created by the treaty, most of their auto investment in Mexico would lose its raison d’etre.

No one is calling for neglecting America’s farm sector during the NAFTA renegotiation. But the outsized role played by manufacturing, and manufacturing trade deficits in regional trade, along with manufacturing’s historic role as the United States’ productivity growth and innovation leader, couldn’t make clearer that letting ag export fears dominate this economic diplomacy would be a classic case of letting the tail wag the dog.