Saturday, April 21, 2018

Syria 2018

Missile attacks on chemical weapons facilities in Syria last week by combined American, British, and France forces make me wonder if we are pursuing the right course in that beleaguered country. Although the attacks were in response to apparent chemical attacks against Syrian rebels, and seemed to have been carried out with a precision that minimized the damage to civilians, I think they raise serious questions.

What are we doing in Syria in the first place? Or rather, why have we been involved in the civil war that has been raging in Syria since the early days of the administration of President Obama? You can even say that if it weren’t for our involvement in the Syrian civil war on the side of the rebels, there would have been no civil war in the first place. Actually, without our support of the rebels, ISIS might never have gained a foothold in Syria.

One of the reasons I voted for Donald Trump in 2016 was the belief that he would take a more pragmatic approach to foreign affairs than candidate Hillary Clinton had done during her stint as Secretary of State during the Obama administration. Clinton and Obama had worked together to foment the so-called “Arab Spring,” a movement designed to oust dictators and bring democracy to the Arab world.

The ouster of a dictator or strong man in Libya did not result in democracy but in chaos and anarchy that still persists today. The rebels we supported and armed might even have participated in the infamous attack on our embassy in Benghazi. Obama and Clinton also encouraged an uprising in Egypt that ousted another strong man but only led to the emergence of the fanatical Moslem Brotherhood that commenced to impose Sharia law as well as brutally persecute Christians. Eventually, the Egyptian army had to take over and now the country is ruled by a military strong man.

What can possibly make us think that the overthrow of the Syrian strong man, Bashar Assad, will not have similar results. A glance at a map of Syria today shows an incredibly divided country that is acting like a vacuum sucking others into a potential devastating confrontation.

The forces of the Russian backed Assad government control most of the central part of the country. In the north a large portion of the country is in the hands of American backed Kurdish forces that have played a leading role in driving out ISIS. For their efforts in both Syria and Iraq, the Kurds want an independent state of their own.

American backed rebel forces still control parts of the country but during the Obama administration, officials liked to distinguish between extremist and moderate rebels. If recent history is any guide, moderates in places like Libya and Egypt were quickly overwhelmed by more extremist and violent elements.

In the city of Homs, a rebel stronghold, practically all of the Christian population has either been killed or forced to flee. It is possible that the rebels we have armed in the past might eventually turn their arms against us. Isn’t it amazing that we want to disarm our own population but think nothing of providing Moslem militants with the latest sophisticated weapons?

Finally, the Wall street Journal has just reported that the defeat of ISIS has led to the emergence in Syria of a rival Moslem terrorist group led by Al-Qaeda, a Sunni Moslem group formed originally by Osama bin Laden. Is this one of the reasons why Shiite Iran is also intervening in Syria.

Some, like the editors of the Wall Street Journal, argue that an American presence in Syria is now necessary to counter Russian and Iranian imperialism. I wonder if that is a good or practical reason. It seems to me that Russia’s Putin has done a much better job of restoring peace and ending the bloodshed in Syria than we have.

We have demonized Russia’s President Putin in this country but if you take an objective look, it would appear that his measures have done a much better job of restoring peace than ours. A few years ago Putin restored Russian sovereignty over the Crimea in a practically bloodless coup. Since that time has anyone heard of civil war, bombings, or general anarchy in that area? Would anyone in the Crimea today like to live in Syria?

Instead of confronting the Russians and Iranians in Syria we should be working with them to find a solution that must involve all those who have thrown in with the Assad regime. Arming rebels and calling for Assad’s ouster has caused untold misery in Syria.


Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Gender Gap 2018

Equal pay day arrived for women this week. According to gender rights advocates, a woman must add to her 2017 income almost three and a half months of work in 2018 to make as much as a white man made in 2017. In other words, a woman in Connecticut only makes 79% of what a white man makes in income. Black and Latina women are even more disadvantaged. Black women make only 58%, and Latina women come in last at 47%. For some inexplicable reason black men don’t seem to be counted.

These familiar statistics were recently re-iterated in an opinion article that appeared in the Connecticut Mirror written by Ashika Brinkley, a board member of the Connecticut Women’s Educational and Legal Fund (CWEALF). Ms. Brinkley claimed that her statistics came from the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) and provided a link to the report. I checked it out and found this disclaimer:

Source Note: What a woman makes for every dollar a man makes is the ratio of women’s and men’s annual median earnings for full time, year round workers. The “wage gap” is the additional money a woman would have to make for every dollar made by a man in order to have equal annual earnings. Overall figures calculated by NWLC are based on 2016 American Community Survey Data.

The term “annual median income” is very significant. It means that half the people in the group made more than that figure and that half made less. Statistically, median income only represents an average and not anyone’s actual earnings. Annual median income can therefore be skewed by high earners on one end, and low earners on the other.

Moreover, gender gap ratios do not actually compare salaries of full time employees working the same job. Such reports just use averages based on the salaries of men and women across companies, industries and job titles. How this information is gathered is a mystery to me? I suspect Census data or IRS compilations are used but these figures often show great variation.

Interestingly, Ms. Brinkley’s opinion piece did not list even one incident of wage discrimination in Connecticut even though she is calling for legislative action. A few years ago a spokesperson for the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities reported, “the number of women who complain about not getting as much as their male counterparts is small.”

I would venture to guess that there is little wage discrimination in Connecticut and that the disparities in income are largely based on choices that people choose to make. All government employees, for example, work on gender-neutral pay scales. Teachers, police officers, firefighters, mail carriers, all get the same pay for the same work. Even high income occupations are no longer the exclusive male bastions of the past. The medical and financial professions have become increasingly open to women and will become more so since the majority of college graduates today are women. No modern corporation would dare to have differing wage scales for men and women. Of course, most engineering students are still men and over 90% of art history students are women.

If there is no wage discrimination, why is there an income gap between women and white men, and why is the gap for Black and Latina women even greater? As mentioned above average median income figures can be skewed by very high earners on one end, and very low earners on the other. I was surprised to discover a while ago that the majority of women in well-to-do Westport are stay at home moms. I imagine that many of them do some kind of part time work where their incomes will be only a fraction of their husbands.

On the other hand, it is a sad fact that the low income of single, unwed mothers will statistically drag down average median income for women. A recent op-ed in the Wall St.  Journal by Wendy Wang cited statistics indicating that poverty is practically an inevitable result when women have children before they have jobs or marry. She claimed that the obvious success of Asian immigrants in this country is basically due to a traditional “success sequence” of education, work, marriage, and children in that order. In China, where she grew up, illegitimacy was unthinkable. Even in modern China, the out of wedlock birth rate is only 4%.

A few years ago a statistical survey came to the comical conclusion that it was better for a woman to live in depressed Bridgeport where the gender gap was narrow, than in posh Darien or New Canaan where it was the widest. It used to be said that if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. But if you don’t understand the problem, you can’t be part of the solution.


Thursday, April 5, 2018

Success Sequence

Wendy Wang
It’s college admissions time in the USA again, and letters of acceptance and rejection have all been mailed out. Inevitably, elite colleges and universities will find themselves overwhelmed with extremely qualified applicants with Asian backgrounds. It has long been suspected that admissions offices impose quotas to keep the number of Asian students down. On the other hand, affirmative action administrators  will bend over backwards to find qualified black applicants.

Why do Asian students do so well in school while black students do so badly? It is easy to blame prejudice and racism but my own experience has led me to believe that the reason is cultural. A recent Wall Street Journal op-ed by Wendy Wang, the Director of Research at the Institute for Family Studies, bore out my suspicions.

Ms. Wang argued that there is a “sequence” that must be followed to achieve success in rising out of poverty. The sequence begins with education, at least a high school diploma, followed by a job, and only then marriage and children. There will be exceptions but her research shows that failure to follow this sequence results in a high probability of a life of poverty or worse. In other words, if children come before marriage, work, and education the results are disastrous.

Wang cited statistics concerning so-called millennials from a study that tracked young adults from their teenage years to early adulthood. Of those who failed to follow the “sequence”, 53% were in poverty. The rate dropped to 31% for those who had at least a high school diploma, and 16% for those with a full-time job. Finally, the poverty rate dropped to 3% for those who held off having children until married.

Interestingly, the success sequence worked extremely well for young adults from low income backgrounds. “Eighty percent of those with lower income backgrounds made it into middle or upper income brackets when they followed all three steps.” Missing one of the steps or putting them out of sequence, like having children before marriage, led to a very high probability of failure.

Ms. Wang cited her own Asian background. In the small Chinese city in which she grew up there were practically no childbirths before marriage. It was unthinkable. Today in China, Japan, and South Korea the out of wedlock birthrate is only 4%. Compare that rate to America’s urban centers where the out of wedlock births often exceed children born to married couples.

I know a young white woman with a degree in elementary education from a fine college who started her teaching career as a first grade teacher in a Bridgeport school made up largely of black and hispanic children. Her college degree could not have prepared her for the chaos she encountered on her first day. Every day presented new pathological personal and social behaviors, and these were only first graders. In many ways, first grade is pivotal for it is then that the mind is ready to learn how to read. If the opportunity is missed, students will inevitably fall behind and never catch up.

Sadly and significantly, the teacher told me that on Parent’s Night, only four parents showed up to hear about their child’s progress. Maybe parent is the wrong word because most of these Bridgeport first graders didn’t have parents. They were being raised by grandparents some of whom were not even in their forties. Sometimes even great-grandparents were the caregivers for these children. Moreover, in most cases there were no men involved in the raising of these children.

No amount of money will rectify the tremendous social disaster that has taken place in American cities in the past few generations. Unwed teenage pregnancies create an almost impossible educational problem. To get an education certificate today, teachers have to take courses that would almost qualify them as master psychologists.

Even the best teachers will not be able to overcome this cultural disaster.  There is a high probability that the parentless first grader will come to regard school as a prison and even before he or she gets to eight grade they will likely be attacking classmates and teachers, and destroying school property. Next, the probability is also very high that they will join a street gang, become a drug addict or dealer, and eventually wind up in jail or dead on the street.

Some will argue that Ms. Wang’s “sequence” success formula of education, work, marriage, and children is old fashioned. Actually, the success formula she finds in Asia was once the norm in the USA, especially among that generation that we now fondly recall as the “greatest generation.” Some may also argue that just getting an education and a job is sufficient for success, and that marriage and children are no longer necessary. However, another recent news article indicated that there is an epidemic of loneliness and depression sweeping over the country today that seems to indicate that love and marriage are still part of the success sequence.