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Two Steps Back: The Yellow-Vest Response to Bad Planning

Message Domp Filanowski

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We're Destroying Ourselves out of Blind Faith and Excessive Pride

The Yellow-Vest movement that began in France on November 17, 2018, has spread to other nearby countries and escalated to a 'state of insurrection' last week, according to Jeanne d'Hauteserre, the mayor of Paris' 8th district, who continued, "I've never seen anything like it." Now, for the fourth weekend in a row, the looting and rioting of dissidents have been accompanied by the burning of cars and barricades, the vandalizing of shops and restaurants, and attacks on the police. Most of the protesters do not participate in violence, but the message is clear. Enough is enough, and the eco-taxes must go. French President Emmanuel Macron is set to address the issue this afternoon (Monday, 12/10/2018) at 2:00 PM EST (1900 GMT), and it appears as if he is reconsidering his original, hard-lined approach.

A response to rising gas prices and eco-taxes, the social unrest is a valuable lesson in planning with inadequate foresight. Before I go any further, I'd like to say that I'm not blaming the Yellow-Vest protesters for taking a stance against bad planning. Also, I am a proponent of good, carefully thought-out planning, so long as it isn't stagnant. No amount of foresight can predict every variable, and failed policies must be called out and changed. The same goes for laissez-faire governance when it doesn't pan out. Though when it comes to matters like climate change, laissez-faire policies should not even be a consideration. If we truly want to protect the environment, we must contemplate the potential social impact of (and reaction to) such protections.

Unfortunately, the Yellow-Vest movement is a short-term loss for conservation and a mild victory for climate change deniers like President Trump, having the optics of saving America from a similar fate of insurrection. And to be frank, he very well may have prevented a similar rebellion (assuming different leadership would have followed the EU model). However, I do object to Donald Trump's claim that climate change is a hoax, among other things. The movement is also a loss for globalization. Italian Yellow-Vests like Alberto Nardozzi are expressing their indignation with the European Union. I have mixed feelings about this development because, while I do support environmental protections, I am not a fan of their current deployment. Nor am I a fan of the current fast-and-loose method of globalization, which has already demonstrated some of its negative social consequences. As many of the Yellow-Vest protesters have expressed, the brunt of concessions to protect the environment should be felt at the top and not by the lower rungs of society.

SUPPRESSION-OF-THE-BAD Should Never Precede or Overpower PROMOTION-OF-THE-GOOD

Any policy that is perceived as being harmful to the financial wellbeing of the working class will result in a backlash. The current backlash in Europe will likely lead to an overall setback for environmental protection. Shortcuts often lead to dead-ends and, worse yet, hazards [1]. In regards to social engineering and economic planning, SUPPRESSION-OF-THE-BAD (taxation and restrictive regulations) should never precede or overpower PROMOTION-OF-THE-GOOD (economic stimulation created by subsidizing industry). In other words, WE SHOULD NOT IMPLEMENT ECO-TAXES UNTIL WE HAVE A BOOMING ECONOMY FROM SUBSIDIZING GREEN TECHNOLOGY. And if the stockpile of green technology is not great enough to COMPLETELY SUPPLEMENT OUR DEPENDENCY TO FOSSIL FUELS, then the quick-fix of eco-taxes are NO BETTER CONCEIVED THAN DONALD TRUMP'S TARIFFS. Additionally, flat, regressive eco-taxes have a greater negative impact on society than poorly implemented protectionism. The public must be weaned from its dependence on oil. If we try to go cold-turkey, withdrawal will likely have us relapsing. Government subsidies and taxation are the maintenance therapy that is needed to beat our addiction to oil, but the sequencing is crucial. And when the taxes are finally imposed, it may even be wise to match every dollar taxed with a dollar (maybe several) spent on subsidies.

Yeah, I know, the deficit of economic stimulation outlined above adds to the growing 'mountain' of national debt ($21.8 trillion and counting). I agree that wasteful government spending is similar to individuals living beyond their means, purchasing extravagant luxury items like sports cars. Proper economic stimulation, however, is how society invests in itself. Similarly, individuals invest in themselves with things like post-secondary education, often accruing debt in the process. Assuming there are enough employment opportunities to keep up with demand because society had the foresight to invest in itself, the debt that is accumulated from earning a college degree or a vocational certificate is likely to pay for itself with the increased earning potential of careers that require higher education. Likewise, social investment generates revenue that simultaneously empowers the masses, people who are then able to earn their advancement, while relative income, inflation, and taxation redistribute actual wealth (spending power) in a downward fashion. If such economic stimulation is enacted, retirees and other people on a fixed income should not be forgotten and therefore need to be given cost-of-living adjustmentS (emphasis, not a typo) that actually keep up with the cost of living.

Here's the other thing about the debt. The US dollar tends to depreciate over time, which is known as inflation. To account for inflation, the national debt is often compared to the GDP (Gross Domestic Product), which is expressed as the debt-to-GDP ratio. If a high debt-to-GDP ratio was inherently problematic, then one would assume that the highest debt-to-GDP ratio in US history would be accompanied by economic hardship, and the lowest debt-to-GDP ratio would be accompanied by economic prosperity. However, the opposite is true. The US has had a 'mountain of debt' ever since the Revolutionary War, but there was one point in America's history when there was no national debt whatsoever. In the 1830s, Andrew Jackson implemented economic policies that completely eliminated the national debt, but these same policies also significantly contributed to the Panic of 1837 (one of the worst economic crises in US history, which extended well into the 1840s).

On the other hand, the greatest debt-to-GDP ratio in US history coincided with the economic prosperity of the postwar period following WWII. In addition to the war effort (WWII), the New Deal, Fair Deal, and postwar defense spending, all amounted to the greatest economic stimulus in recorded history, which happens to have coincided with the most prosperous society in recorded history. Both world wars increased the national debt tenfold, but to give some perspective, government spending before WWI was relatively low. A high national debt is not inherently good, nor is it inherently bad. Correlation does not imply causation, and it is not my intention to suggest that a relatively high national debt will intrinsically create a flourishing society. Nor do I approve of the war economy [with the exception of the war on climate change]. What I am saying is that we shouldn't fear a number just because it's big and unrelatable without having some context for comparison.

The Cost of Earning a Bachelor's Degree is Greater than the National-Debt-Per-Capita

Yes, $21.8 trillion (or 21.8 million-million) is an astronomical figure in relation to my personal savings, but that number represents over 329 million people and an ever-depreciating currency [2]. Hypothetically speaking, if the national debt were to be evenly divided amongst Americans, each and every one of us would owe less than $67,000 [3]. This debt-per-person figure is slightly higher than the median household income in 2017 ($61,372), and it's actually lower than the real median income ($77,713) [4]. The average total cost of earning a bachelor's degree at a four-year public institution [5] is greater than the national-debt-per-person as well, as is the debt accrued in home ownership (several times over). Forbes periodically measures the debt in relationship to current taxpayers, which raises the figure to over $190,000-per-taxpayer in 2017 [6]. This figure is still comparable to home ownership, making it much less alarming than trying to grapple with the dreaded T-word (trillion). There was a time when Roman numerals were used in lieu of Arabic numerals because the number zero was feared and regarded as dangerous magic. It would be deplorable if history were to repeat the hindrance created by such superstition. Fear of amassing debt should not be used to deter self-investment (individual or societal).

Just like the mountain of debt, protectionist trade barriers seem to defy conventional wisdom. It has been postulated that protectionism prolonged the Great Depression, and it was the open trade policies of the GATT agreement (predecessor of the WTO), which allowed for economic growth and prosperity in the postwar era. However, this notion has come under scrutiny in recent years, as the oft cited statistics on pre-GATT tariffs appear to be grossly inaccurate, thus exaggerating the postwar agreement's effect on economic growth (see NBER Working Paper No. 21782, THE GATT'S STARTING POINT: TARIFF LEVELS CIRCA 1947). Free-trade agreements also lead to trade advantages that benefit some countries while others are left behind. This is essentially modern-day mercantilism.

YELLOW is a FUNDAMENTAL COMPONENT of GREEN

I also believe that there are social concerns like the health and wellbeing of the public, which are more important than the overall health of the economy. The positive economic indicators of the present don't appear to be an accurate assessment of median-income-earners' financial wellbeing. The GDP tells us nothing about disparity, and the unemployment rate tells us nothing about people who are underemployed or who have left the labor force early, due to a lack of prospects. I presume the opposite to be true as well. A sluggish economic recovery does not necessarily cause as much hardship (on the people) as the policies required to make a speedy recovery.

Additionally, it has been almost a year since President Trump imposed tariffs on solar panels and washing machines and just over six months since the steel and aluminum tariffs were levied. Going by the MSM alarmists, one would think that by now, the trade war would have significantly stifled the economy. I find it interesting that so many countries in Europe are facing insurrection, while the US is not. Now, I'm not suggesting in any way that Trump's implementation of tariffs will be good for the American economy in the long run, but it's obviously not the utter failure that his critics said it would be. As I previously stated, "SUPPRESSION-OF-THE-BAD should never precede or overpower PROMOTION-OF-THE-GOOD." There still isn't enough steel being produced domestically to meet demand, and, in all likelihood, that's not going to change with Trump's economic policies. I don't know if steel and aluminum et cetera are the right direction for economic planning, but even if they are, it would make sense to create a stockpile of supply through subsidies before imposing tariffs, which would then encourage the continuation of domestic manufacturing, possibly without the need for ongoing subsidies. It is also more sensible to invest in the future of manufacturing and not in the past. A SOCIALLY INCLUSIVE green economy seems to be the obvious solution. YELLOW (labor) is a FUNDAMENTAL COMPONENT of GREEN (conservation).

Labor protections are not the only form of trade barriers, which can actually have hidden benefits. Environmental and consumer protections can be affected by free trade agreements, especially the now infamous Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which would have given foreign businesses the right to sue the United States [within international tribunals composed of investment lawyers] over regulations that cut into their profit margins [by protecting labor, consumers, and the environment]. As Elizabeth Warren put it, the Investor-State Dispute Settlements would have undermined US sovereignty. Another subject that needs to be taken into consideration is the often-overlooked consequences of excessive international trade. The shipping industry produces roughly three percent of all greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, which is more than the individual output of ALL BUT FIVE NATIONS. Buying local does not just mean purchasing imports at local retailers. It means buying goods that are MANUFACTURED LOCALLY and not just domestically. Invasive species and alien diseases (Asian longhorned ticks; potential pandemics) would be less likely to hitch a ride if society supported local economies more effectively. Likewise, irresponsible travel can have a similar impact on the environment. People have a right to travel, but society has a responsibility to limit certain unnecessary risks.

Open Borders are the Laissez-Faire Approach to Immigration

Freedom of movement is a human right, but like all others, the right to swing one's fists ends where another's face begins [7]. It is also a right that must be balanced with a nation's right to sovereignty. I acknowledge the fact that the Central American migrant crisis is one that was largely created by US foreign policy [8], and I believe that the United States in particular bares the responsibility for ensuring the safety and wellbeing of Central American asylum seekers. At the same time, I believe that an open border policy is a foolish lack of planning that would likely lead to greater cruelties than having would-be migrants turned away at the border. An open border policy is the laissez-faire approach (let it be/leave it alone) to the very complex issues of border security and immigration.

It's also important to distinguish refugees from immigrants. Immigrants choose to relocate, often to better themselves economically. Most asylum seekers are refugees, displaced people who are often fleeing for their lives. Determining their status is part of the vetting process, as is the minute possibility that some are radicals with bad intentions for entering the US. Without a doubt, REFUGEES SHOULD BE ADMITTED, BUT THEY MUST STILL BE RIGOROUSLY VETTED. If JUST ONE fraudulent asylum seeker carries out a public attack (e.g., mass shooting), there will likely be exaggeration from conservative media outlets and a rise in hate crimes against POC. If we want to push for action that will have a practical, long-term, positive impact, the first step would be to change US foreign policy in such a way that we stop instructing people on how to implement authoritarian violence and, at the same time, allow our foreign neighbors (near and far) to have the right of self-determination.

According to Reihan Salam, in the panel discussion on 'This Week' (10-28-2018), US intelligence is in fact concerned about violent extremists taking advantage of the migrant caravan to gain entry into the United States [see quotes and link to full transcript; 9]. If someone is banned from entering the US, it is logical to deduce that the person may try to enter the country by first traveling to another landlocked country. Salam also mentions the potential backlash that can result from an open borders policy and the potential for a migrant cascade (people from other locations might follow suit, creating a large influx of migrants). This can then lead to misdirected anger and an increase in hate crimes targeting the migrants and also individuals associated with them [10]. It can also empower right-wing populists like Trump and Orban.

To the best of my knowledge, the Yellow-Vest movement focuses on the financial burden caused by eco-taxes and not immigration. More specifically, it focuses on the resulting imbalanced strain felt by the working class. However, there are numerous movements in Europe with anti-immigration sentiments. This stems from open border policies and the perception that the cascade of migrants is to blame for their financial distress. Anti-immigration sentiments were exacerbated by the 2015 European migrant crisis.

My critique on policies and their implementation may be a hard pill for some to swallow, but it is not my intention to dampen anybody's spirits or to criticize desires stemming from compassion. I do not believe that we have to give up on our ambitions, but we should reconsider our priorities in addition to the timeframe of our expectations. Back in the postwar period (WWII), many people assumed that we would all have access to [among other things] flying cars, jet packs that can safely travel long distances, and humanoid, autocephalic, multitasking robotic servants that can navigate the environment of a traditional home [with steps and other barriers], all by the year 2000. We're nearing the end of 2018, and it's highly unlikely that we will have these things any time soon. Rome wasn't built in a day, and people tend to underestimate the herculean task of implementing change. If we all work hard and come together, we can change the world. But if we want the change to be an improvement, we must be patient and well informed. We must stop relying on shortcuts, which often lead to backtracking or, worse yet, conceivable hazards.

I'd like to conclude with one final note. That bracket-faced working stiff sporting reflective-yellow raingear is me, standing in solidarity with the Yellow-Vest movement. At the same time, I'd like to point out that I (along with the majority of Yellow-Vest protesters) support peaceful demonstrations, but in no way do I condone burning cars, vandalizing monuments, outright violence, or other destructive forms of protest. But in a world with poor management, c'est la vie.

Footnotes:

*Pro Tip: Instead of scrolling up and down to view the body text and footnotes together, try the following: duplicate the tab in your browser, adjust the scroll bar to view the body text in one tab, adjust the scroll bar to view the footnotes in the other tab, toggle back and forth accordingly. If using a computer, you could also use separate windows to view the body text and the footnotes simultaneously.

1. I also wonder whether this shortcut of poor economic planning is a result of incompetence/arrogance (denial of failures), or whether it is in fact a PLANNED FAILURE of the 'left' to castrate itself and dismantle long-term regulation. The latter is also similar to an acronym I coined, CLWP (Concessionary Left-Wing Populism), which ironically benefits a select few. Basically, CLWP means focusing on trivial victories/battles of social policy and refusing to pursue or even acknowledge the potential benefits of wealth redistribution.

2. I believe the true depreciation of USD is masked by a depreciating value for labor, partially due to the outsourcing of manufacturing, overseas.

3. $21,900,000 M/329 M people = $66,656-per-person. National debt rounded up and population rounded down for liberal estimate. **$66,315-per-person (as of 12/03/2018), according to JustFacts.com.

.usdebtclock.org/

.census.gov/popclock/

.justfacts.com/nationaldebt.asp

4. .census.gov/library/publications/2018/demo/p60-263.html

5. $19,189*4 = $76,756. $19,189 is the annual cost for tuition, fees, and room-and-board for the 2015-16 schoolyear.

s.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=76

6. The $400,000 and $1.2 million figures include unfunded liabilities, which will accrue debt in the future. Meanwhile, the GDP and taxpayer pool will likely increase while inflation lowers the value of the USD. $190,000-per-taxpayer is an apples-to-apples comparison.

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7. Citation for the quote I paraphrased is complicated.

8. SOA/WHINSEC

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9. Transcript from 'This Week' (10-28-2018).

click here

SALAM: If you look at 2015, if you look at the European migrant crisis, it was a crisis in which initially you had desperate people fleeing Syria and Iraq, but then had folks coming from Morocco, from Pakistan, from various other points, because WHEN YOU HAVE SUBTLE SHIFTS IN ENFORCEMENT POLICY, YOU CAN GET A BIG CASCADE, YOU CAN GET A VERY BIG REACTION.

This is a serious issue. WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT IT CALMLY, DISSIPATIONATELY, CAREFULLY, BUT THERE IS NO QUESTION THAT THE MIGRANT CARAVAN IS A REAL LEGITIMATE ISSUE. And when you have a migrant cascade...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Is it a national emergency?

SALAM: Look, when you have a MIGRANT CASCADE of this kind, you can actually get a POLITICAL BACKLASH, that's what we've SEEN IN EUROPE SINCE 2015, THAT CAN BE A ROLLING EMERGENCY, George. AND THAT'S WHAT WE NEED TO PREVENT.

We need to remember that ALL OF US HAVE AN INTEREST IN BORDER SECURITY, IT'S NOT ABOUT PITTING ONE GROUP AGAINST ANOTHER. And it's true that President Trump hasn't always been as careful as he ought to be in talking about it, but there's no question that this is a real issue. And 10 years ago, you have had bipartisan agreement on this. AND IT TROUBLES ME THAT NOW YOU CAN'T TALK ABOUT THIS IN A MEASURED, SENSIBLE WAY"

"[Matthew] DOWD: "Yes, we need solutions to the problems. Yes, we should be welcoming to be immigrants in this country. Yes, we should be a country that deals compassionately with the refugees in this. But we as a country are not allocating resources in this country today to the problems in a -- in a priority order.

The biggest problem of violence in this country today is from white supremacists and we are allocating basically no money to deal with that problem, but we're sending 800 solders to the border to deal with a problem that's not only 1,000 miles away, but there's been zero evidence that says these people are criminals.

SALAM: I think you're doing a disservice to the intelligence agencies, to those working in Homeland Security who are profoundly concerned about this. I think this is absolutely the case that you have a domestic terror threat, but here's what I worry about that (ph) "

[Given the context, I believe Mr. Salam meant a foreign terrorist carrying out an attack within the United States]

10. The separate issue of Sikhs being attacked after 9/11 is similar to the recent Chemnitz attacks on 'foreign-looking people.'

Recap

Come join in the comments discussion below, and please try to keep the conversation relevant to the following TOPICS FROM THE ARTICLE:

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11. We're Destroying Ourselves out of Blind Faith and Excessive Pride

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12. Governance cannot be stagnant, and failed policies must be called out and changed, whether it's carefully thought-out planning or laissez-faire governance.

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13. The possibility that failures of the 'left' are planned.

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14. Concessionary Left-Wing Populism, or CLoWP: focusing on trivial victories/battles of social policy instead of wealth redistribution [1].

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15. SUPPRESSION-OF-THE-BAD (taxation and restrictive regulations) should never precede or overpower PROMOTION-OF-THE-GOOD (economic stimulation created by subsidizing industry).

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16. We should not implement eco-taxes until we have a booming economy from subsidizing green technology.

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17. The stockpile of green technology must be great enough to completely supplement our dependency to fossil fuels.

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18. The quick-fix of eco-taxes are no better conceived than Donald Trump's tariffs.

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19. The public must be weaned from its dependence on oil.

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20. Social investment generates revenue that simultaneously empowers the masses, redistributing actual wealth (spending power) in a downward fashion.

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21. People on a fixed income should not be forgotten.

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22. Andrew Jackson implemented economic policies that completely eliminated the national debt, but these same policies also significantly contributed to the Panic of 1837.

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23. The greatest debt-to-GDP ratio in US history coincided with the economic prosperity of the postwar period following WWII.

*

24. We shouldn't fear a number just because it's big and unrelatable without having some context for comparison.

*

25. In 2017, the national-debt-per-taxpayer was a little over $190,000 [6], which is comparable to home ownership, making it much less alarming than trying to grapple with the dreaded T-word (trillion).

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26. Roman numerals were used in lieu of Arabic numerals because the number zero was feared and regarded as dangerous magic.

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*

27. The oft cited statistics on pre-GATT tariffs appear to be grossly inaccurate, thus exaggerating the postwar agreement's effect on economic growth (see NBER Working Paper No. 21782, THE GATT'S STARTING POINT: TARIFF LEVELS CIRCA 1947).

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28. Free-trade mercantilism.

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29. A sluggish economic recovery (e.g., the Great Depression) does not necessarily cause as much hardship (on the people) as the policies required to make a speedy recovery.

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30. Since the tariffs on aluminum and steel have been levied, there still isn't enough material being produced domestically to keep up with demand.

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31. Eco-taxes alone do not create a supply of green technology sufficient enough to supplement oil dependency.

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32. We should create a stockpile of supply, through subsidies, before imposing trade barriers.

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33. Invest in the future of manufacturing, a SOCIALLY INCLUSIVE green economy.

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34. YELLOW (labor) is a FUNDAMENTAL COMPONENT of GREEN (conservation).

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35. Overlooked consequences of excessive international trade.

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36. The shipping industry produces more than the individual output of ALL BUT FIVE NATIONS.

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37. Buying local means buying goods that are MANUFACTURED LOCALLY.

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38. Invasive species and alien diseases (Asian longhorned ticks; potential pandemics).

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39. The US is particularly responsible for taking in the Central American refugees (SOA/WHINSEC [8]).

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40. An open border policy is a foolish lack of planning that would likely lead to greater cruelties than turning people away.

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41. Open borders are the laissez-faire approach to immigration.

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42. Reihan Salam's comments from 'This Week' (10-28-2018) [9].

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43. Refugees should be admitted, but they must still be rigorously vetted.

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44. If JUST ONE fraudulent asylum seeker carries out a public attack (e.g., mass shooting), there will likely be a rise in hate crimes against POC.

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45. We need to stop instructing people on how to implement authoritarian violence, and we need to allow our foreign neighbors (near and far) to have the right of self-determination.

*

46. US intelligence is in fact concerned about violent extremists taking advantage of the migrant caravan.

*

47. A 'migrant cascade' (a large influx of migrants) can lead to amplifying anti-immigration sentiments (2015 European migrant crisis).

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48. The separate issue of Sikhs being attacked after 9/11 is similar to the recent Chemnitz attacks on 'foreign-looking people.'

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49. We should reconsider our priorities in addition to the timeframe of our expectations.

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50. People tend to underestimate the herculean task of implementing change.

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51. We must be patient and well informed.

(Article changed on December 13, 2018 at 08:59)

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Dominic M Filanowski, II is a self-described writer-artist-activist and a cultivator of thought. He's a Philly-boy that truly knows the meaning of brotherly love. Educated in the field of graphic design, Dominic has a working knowledge of (more...)
 

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