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Monday, October 16, 2017

Sorry Colin, Nobody Owes You A Job

I think I made my position crystal clear in a previous post that I have absolutely no problem with protesters using just about anything (short of violence or incitement), to direct attention to their issue and deliver their message of protest to as wide an audience as possible.

However, protesting is by no means a risk-free endeavor.

Right or wrong, protesters often risk verbal and even physical counter-protests, arrest, notoriety, loss of current employment, and even future black-listing (i.e. loss of potential future employment).

It now appears that as brave and admirable a gesture as it may have been, Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who kicked off (see what I did there?), a wave of player protests by kneeling during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner, didn't think things all the way through to their logical conclusion before taking a knee.

He has just filed a grievance against all 32 NFL teams, accusing them of colluding to keep him out of the league.

Listen up, Colin:

In the great country where you have the incredible good fortune to reside, you are blessed with the right to use your visibility as a professional sports figure to protest any real or perceived injustice you want.  But actions, even if they are enshrined in the Bill of Rights, are tricky things.  They carry with them nagging little things called consequences.

Just as in nature where there can be no action without an equal and opposite reaction, pretty much any action we choose to carry out in our lives carries a directly related reaction of some sort. 

For example, in a dictatorship or similar tyrannic state, the reaction to protesting anything related to the government or its various organs is likely to be horribly disproportionate and unreasonable (e.g. getting tortured, shot or dissapeared).

And in a healthy, open, society, the reaction is more likely to be proportionate and legally defensible... although there is certainly no guarantee it will be pleasant or brief: 

You are likely to be loudly disparaged by opponents of your stance (as well as by opponents of your chosen form of protest).  You are also likely to face professional stigmatization and ostracization; especially if you decided to use your professional standing and/or workplace setting to stage your protest. 

That's why academics who reach the higher levels of their fields are offered tenure; specifically so that they can advance and 'push the envelope' in their chosen discipline by presenting controversial scholarship and potentially incendiary viewpoints.  [We'll leave aside the fact that in order to qualify for tenure, most academics are forced to "profess conformance to the same level of mediocrity as those awarding the tenured professorships".] [source]

But outside the ivory tower of academia, even in the most liberal and open societies, public protest is almost always met with tangible consequences.

To be clear, Colin Kaepernick was not fired for using his workplace, uniform and fame to protest social injustice.  He opted out of his contract earlier this year all on his own, assuming (incorrectly, as it turns out), that there would be no consequences to his decision to stage a protest on the sidelines of a game, and that other teams would be falling over themselves to sign him.

Well guess what?  It is really hard to get into the NFL.  It is also really hard to maintain the level of professional prowess to stay there.  For every spot in the NFL, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of qualified players literally fighting to win a berth. 

Ever watch a college football game?  There's a reason they look so much faster and sharper than NFL games:  The players are literally playing every second of every game as if their professional futures depended on it!

So, if you are the owner of an NFL team and have the choice of signing one of dozens of qualified players, and one of those candidates has a track record of acting out on the field (i.e. using the workplace he was hired by in a way that turns away paying fans and reduces revenue), guess who isn't making the cut?

That isn't collusion.  That's called a sound business decision.  Those NFL teams are businesses with shareholders, balance sheets and bottom lines.  Every player has the right to behave as they see fit.  But any behavior that loses the teams viewers and causes empty seats in the stands, is going to make a player virtually unemployable once they are no longer under contract.

We're not talking about whistle-blowers or similarly motivated employees who should (must) be protected against retribution.  We're not talking about the NFL equivalent of Norma Rae.

This was a simple case of free choice on the part of all parties involved;  Kaepernick chose to protest.  Kaepernick chose to opt out of his contract.  The NFL owners each looked at the potential downside to signing him and chose not to do so.

As it turns out, along with the right to protest, free choice is another hallmark of a healthy, open, society. 

So, sorry Colin.  It turns out nobody owes you a job.  What you're thinking of is called 'communism'.  But hey... you're always free to go play for the other team.

Posted by David Bogner on October 16, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (3)

Monday, October 02, 2017

Who's Allowed To Join The Family?

As dysfunctional as that family may be, that question is a reference to the international family of nations.

In a perfect world, separatist movements and proto-nations would be subject to something analogous to the process to which you or I have to submit when applying for a bank loan. 

After all, just as there are potential consequences to lending money (the borrower might use the money unwisely or even default on the loan), there are obvious potential consequences to turning a new country loose on the world with all the rights and powers that come with that status; including the right to form an army, enter into international agreements and join international bodies, to name just a few.

To be fair, this is far from a perfect analogy, since the lending of money is essential to a healthy economy, while the creation of new nations is something that is more a matter of 'convenience' than 'necessity'.

That said, whether considering lending money or supporting the establishment of a new country, it really all comes down to risk assessment.  At the end of the day, the bank wants to put its money to work earning interest, and the only way to do that is to lend it out.  

So, let's say you're a Bank Loan Officer and someone walks in and sits down across from you asking to borrow money. You may start the chit-chat with marginally important things such as what the money is going to be used for.  But before you approve a loan, the really critical thing you have to determine is how sure can you be that the money (principle and interest), will be paid back on time.

And be very clear, no matter how good a candidate might appear in person or on paper, there is no 100% certainty.  So instead of the decision being a simple binary yes or no, it actually becomes one of risk management and attaining as much insurance (security) as possible against a bad outcome.

But even that isn't perfect.  Let's say the applicant is willing to put up their house as collateral for the loan.  If they default, the house isn't easily fungible.  It can't be placed into the vault or easily used as legal tender (yes, I know banks do sell bad mortgages).  The bank would have to convert it to cash by selling it; a process that anyone who has ever tried to sell a home can tell you is fraught with risk, and is usually far from quick.

Banks assume that a certain percentage of their loans will be bad, so they put in place safeguards to mitigate the losses.  Some people make the cut and are given the loans, albeit with better or worse terms (safeguards for the bank) based on the apparent risk.  And some people are rejected, having too much risk for the bank's taste, and not enough of the prerequisite stability.

Just as any discussion of lending money must include an understanding of the things that might lead a borrower to default on a loan, any discussion of the risks associate with creating new countries must include a clear understanding of the term 'Failed State' and a historical understanding of what might lead to a country achieving that status.

"A failed state is a political body that has disintegrated to a point where basic conditions and responsibilities of a sovereign government no longer function properly. Likewise, when a nation weakens and its standard of living declines, it introduces the possibility of total governmental collapse. The Fund for Peace characterizes a failed state as having the following characteristics:

  • Loss of control of its territory, or of the monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force therein
  • Erosion of legitimate authority to make collective decisions
  • Inability to provide public services
  • Inability to interact with other states as a full member of the international community"

Naturally in a world where Gold, Silver and Bronze Medals have been largely replaced by participation trophies, many people take exception to the term 'Failed State'.  In fact, there are so many competing criteria and definitions that seem to have been created for the sole purpose of excluding states from being called 'failures', that there is now a new, more politically correct, term that is used instead of 'Failed State': 'Fragile State'.

I won't go into too much detail since there is an entire page here that gives the social, economic and political criteria by which countries are graded and ranked as 'Fragile States' (FS).  Go read it... it's a hoot.

Suffice it to say, just as with lending money where it is fairly easy to spot excellent and terrible risks, the same can be said for identifying countries that have a high likelihood of success or failure.

From a risk perspective, the separatist movement pushing for Kurdish independence should be a virtual slam dunk.  Let's go to their credit score:

From a social standpoint, the Kurds are a religiously and culturally moderate people.  They are also committed to gender equality (their female Peshmerga fighters that have been kicking ISIS ass on the battlefield for years), as well as minority rights, having peacefully absorbed more than two million Assyrians, Yazidi, Turkmen, Shabak and Christian refugees from the conflicts in Iraq and Syria. [source]

From an economic standpoint, the Kurds have a well developed and functioning economy based primarily on energy.  What distinguishes them from other, less stable, countries that possess rich energy assets, are the Kurd's willingness and ability to control access to the assets and ensure the proceeds are used towards the betterment of their population. [source]

From a political standpoint, the Kurds have fully  functioning governmental institutions (and have had for decades!), including free and transparent elections for Parliament and a relatively unfettered media. Their government also has successfully exerted a monopoly on the use of force and has consistently ensured that that their military, which has been successfully fighting ISIS for years, is not a danger to other nations or its own population. [source]

Yet, most of the so-called First and Second World countries have come out quite vocally against the non-binding independence referendum that was just successfully passed in Kurdistan.  And the most frequently heard reason for opposition to the idea of Kurdish independence is the risk of instability that even the discussion of Kurdish independence might cause.  

Now I'd like to draw your attention to an independence movement that is a veritable infant compared to that of the Kurds;  one whose bid for independence is considered by nearly everyone in the world to be an urgent and immediate imperative: that of the Palestinians.

From a social standpoint, the Palestinians are an unsurprising social mix of the Egyptian and Saudi social mores from which the majority of the Palestinian population hails.  Thrown into the mix are the social and religious influence of Gaza's Iranian patrons who have long sought a foothold in the Levant, and you have a socially dysfunctional, religiously intolerant entity which, in grade-school terms 'does not play nicely with others'.  Honor killings still abound in all areas under Palestinian control, and 'criminal offenses' such as being gay and selling property to unapproved buyers are quite literally punishable by death.

From an economic standpoint, on paper the Palestinians should have viable, perhaps even robust, economic prospects due to their potential income from tourism to historic sites located in areas under their control, and their prime Mediterranean coastal real-estate holdings in Gaza that are geographically and climatically ripe for development as a resort destination.  Yet it is clear from the absolute absence of even the most preliminary development of those economic areas that the Palestinian leadership prefers an economic model based exclusively on international charitable donations, for the simple reason that that type of revenue stream is the easiest for the rulers to divert into their Swiss bank accounts, and for the population (at least those well connected to the leadership), to enjoy without the need for gainful, productive employment.

Lastly, from a political standpoint, the Palestinians, except in name, are far from a unified people.  The two major political forces - Fatah and Hamas - are joined by no fewer than six other political parties that claim to represent the true will of the people: Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), Palestinian National Initiative (PNI), Third Way, Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), Palestinian People's Party (PPP).  Add to that a host of armed militias (Al-Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Islamic Jihad, Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command (PFLP-GC), Harakat al-Sabireen), which may or may not be directly under the command of some or any of the previously mentioned political parties, and 'risk' seems to be one of the first words that jumps to mind.

So regardless of which Palestinian faction one thinks is the most stable and/or moderate,the moment there is a Palestinian State, the actual political power will reside with the strongest warlord (or warlords) left standing at the end of the country's birth pangs.  And if the current Palestinian leadership (or any leadership in the Near East at present), is any indication, the idea of a Palestinian government having any sort of monopoly on the use of force is actually laughable.

So, let's put our Bank Loan Officer hat back on for a moment and try to look dispassionately at the Kurds and Palestinians purely in terms of their respective risk factors and the likelihood of their respective national experiments having a successful outcome:

The Kurds are an ancient people with a centuries long history of moderation, stability, religious tolerance, self-reliance, education, institutional control of essential services and governmental functions and a firm but stable grip on the ability and prerogative to use force. 

And since I'm into the whole brevity thing, the Palestinians are simply the polar opposites in pretty much every way possible.

So why are we, the world, stamping 'Rejected' on the Kurds application... and fast-tracking the Palestinian's request? 

The only explanation that comes to mind (feel free to offer another), is that the Kurds have been pushed around and oppressed by various peoples and nations that, to us white folks, are indistinguishable from the Kurds.  While the Palestinians have had the good fortune to accuse the Jews, out of all the nations and organizations responsible for their current plight (Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq, Yemen, Pakistan, Sudan, Muslim Brotherhood, Arab Liberation Army, etc.*), of pushing them around and oppressing them.

 Is it any wonder that Israel is pretty much alone in supporting the idea of an independent Kurdistan?

* Belligerents in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war

Posted by David Bogner on October 2, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)