Repeal of DACA: a Republican Success, an American Public Policy Failure

By: Sophia Cole

Edited By: Indira Bhattacharjee

Frequent and vigorous debates concerning immigration have thrust the DACA issue into the spotlight as one of the most contentious and relevant issues in the 21st century. We live in an increasingly transnational world, where border security and migration underscore critical national policies of most countries. Indeed, Western nations have experienced soaring immigration trends and governments are left scrambling to respond with appropriate policies. However, arriving at a national consensus on what is an appropriate response to an influx of immigrants is extremely difficult. President Trump’s recent dismantling of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program highlights one such decision.  To yank the rug out from under Dreamers who have invested their lives and money in the US is not only egregiously cruel but will also damage the US economy by creating human capital holes that would otherwise be filled by Dreamers. This paper seeks to show that this policy, or move to repeal policy, is based on a culture of fear rather facts by examining the market and government failures surrounding the policy.

DACA Background

DACA emerged from a 2012 executive order signed by President Obama. The program allowed Dreamers, classified as undocumented immigrants arriving in the US, to embark on a path to citizenship. By registering with the government, the possibility that Dreamers would get ‘lost in the system’ is removed; further stipulations ensure participants would be educated and have the desire to work, further reducing the chance of free riders.  

Additionally, the 90% of Dreamers who worked also paid into social security, but cannot collect it; this provided considerable support to a government institution groaning under the pressure of an aging workforce. Benjamin Goggin at digg, highlights that by the time President Trump announced the repeal of DACA, there were some 800,000-program recipients contributing to the wealth and knowledge of US society, a simultaneously minuscule and consequential number.  

The Labor Market

So, what really happens to the labor market with an influx of immigrants? Popular opinion claims immigrants reduce available income and capital for everyone in the labor market by taking a share. However, the Committee on National Statistics prove that immigration has the opposite effect, where it actually increases capital return, “making capital more productive and increasing income to owners of capital”. Immigration also causes aggregate income to increase, in which some would lose their jobs but the net benefits would exceed the losses.

Having said that, an individual’s boost in income  “depends on the number of immigrants relative to natives, natives’ share of income, and the size of the wage effect of immigration” and on whether immigrants complement or substitute native’s jobs. Theoretically, in the US labor market “the influx of immigrants initially drives down wages but native incomes still rise in the aggregate due to the immigration surplus.

Another common misconception about immigration is that migrants are mostly poor and have little to no savings, thus becoming a burden to the native society. However, data has shown the contrary is true, “Even if immigrants arrive without capital, domestic savings and investment will rise as a result of the higher return to capital”. In fact, when “the capital-labor ratio is restored, the adverse wage effect of immigration and the immigration surplus disappear. Immigrants who are who complements to native workers will cause a native wage increase as a result of increased productivity. However, the opposite is true as well- given immigrants are more likely to be substitutes for low- skilled labor jobs and the fact that most Dreamers do not fall into that category, this reasoning should not be the base of repealing policy.

Market Failures

Markets are not flawless. In very few cases, markets left to their own devices do facilitate astonishingly efficient allocation of resources. Immigrants in the US, documented or otherwise, face systemic discrimination that permeates the labor market, leading to market failure in the form of non-price entry barrier.  This can be quite devastating because it reduces labor supply and negatively affects quality because the applicant pool is reduced, drives up labor costs, increases income inequality and restricts the labor market.

Letting Dreamers work in the US has economic benefits. As aforementioned, many immigrants, including Dreamers are educated and contribute to our social security system. By removing those people and closing our borders, the US takes a loss on growth in social security. This leads to intergenerational inequity, in which policies have damaging impacts spanning generations.

It is still unclear what trends will emerge from the US’ declining workforce but we do know that it is crucial to focus on “educational investments in youth, including the children of immigrants; and on the skill composition of future immigrants… Driving out young workers who will pay into the system for many decades is a way to make these problems worse.”

Government Failures

Not all government is good government. Governments often have a crucial role in the success of a market when intervening in times of failure. According to empirical data, and Paul Krugman at New York Times, Dreamers are “an exemplary segment of our population”, productive and committed to working hard and staying out of trouble, and for many that meant pursuing higher education as ways to improve their lives.”

The repeal cast a wide net that covered high skilled workers and human capital, which the US will no longer be able to utilize, creating a social deadweight loss. What’s more is that the US government literally cannot afford to fully repeal DACA. The Brookings Institute declared DACA’s dismantling to come with “mind boggling” price tag of nearly $10 million, which is 100% more than ICE’s annual budget of $5 million.

Importance of Framing in Policy

The strategic terms used to shape political discourse surrounding immigration debates within the US conjure a frightening social problem. Negative connotations of immigrants frame the repeal of DACA as policy that is protecting Americans from those who cause them harm. Illegal alien connotes a dichotomy of Us versus Them by emphasizing “both the unlawful activity and the fact that those arriving are different and foreign.”

The term undocumented worker highlights a different narrative, in which “immigrants have entered the country to work and merely lack the appropriate paperwork.” Attorney General, Jeff Sessions has encouraged this discourse in effort to pass the DACA repeal by asserting the program has “denied jobs to hundreds of thousands of Americans by allowing those same jobs to go to illegal aliens.” The President himself is guilty of fueling an Us versus Them culture by stating his concern for “the millions of Americans victimized by this unfair system” in reference to DACA.

Government officials are rational humans and respond to incentives like everyone else, most often to gain political support, which often affects the outcome of a policy. In essence, the revocation of DACA was a political tactic born out of rent-seeking and nationalistic notions that immigration, and free trade by extension, should be curtailed.

Image Source: USA Today

Semper Paratus: Always Ready? Assessing Coast Guard Readiness for FY18



By: Dan Durak

Last month, President Trump unveiled his budget request for fiscal year 2018, which includes spending increases for the departments of Homeland Security, Defense, and Veterans Affairs. The preliminary budget proposed cutting nearly $1.3 billion from the Coast Guard to fund the administration’s crackdown on illegal immigration, but bipartisan pushback has led to a retention of its current funding levels. How will a retention of current funding levels impact this vital maritime law enforcement, security, and rescue force? Can it maintain its motto of semper paratus (‘always ready’)?


Currently led by Commandant Admiral Zukunft, the Coast Guard includes over 41,000 active-duty military personnel, nearly 8,300 civilian full-time employees, and 7,800 reserve military part-time forces. The law enforcement agency plays a critical role in the interdiction of narcotics, and seized nearly $5.6 billion of cocaine in 2016 alone. They also reported an intercept of over 6,300 undocumented migrants, while patrolling 3.4 million nautical miles. As an organization involved in transnational law enforcement, their demand for assistance in training Central American forces with interdiction efforts also increased by 320 percent this year.

While the Coast Guard falls under the jurisdiction of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), it can also operate under the auspices of the U.S. Navy, during times of war or when the President directs such action. Because it exists within DHS, it is not subject to the same treatment as Department of Defense (DOD) agencies. Through the Overseas Contingency Operations fund, DOD was able to bypass many of the sequestration spending limits that were put in place in 2013 when Congress failed to agree on spending reductions. As a result, the military can better meet their demands and remain ready to serve, while the Coast Guard must struggle to make ends meet with less resources.
Assessing Readiness

The Trump administration’s preliminary budget proposal for FY18 would have reduced the Coast Guard’s budget by $1.3 billion. These cuts would have nearly eliminated the maritime safety and security teams that perform counterterrorism security near major ports on the East and West coasts. After pushback for a constrained budget, the administration decided to maintain current funding levels for continuing operations and investments in acquisitions and improvements.

Breaking the Ice

A major setback from this budget would be to the Coast Guard’s polar icebreaker capabilities. These massive ships play a vital role in keeping shipping lanes open and operational while assisting in rescue missions. In its current fleet, the Coast Guard has two active-duty polar ice-breakers, one of which is in dry-dock and another, the Polar Star, which is nearing the end of its service. By comparison, Russia maintains a fleet of over 40 vessels, which help to maintain its own national security and economic interests in the Arctic Circle.

While testifying before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation in March, Admiral Zukunft highlighted this flaw in the overall readiness of his service branch and its larger application. When asked by Senator Wicker (R-MI) what would happen if the Polar Star were to go offline, Zukunft replied, “If there is a gap with a heavy icebreaker, there are no other heavy icebreakers.” Growing international tensions with Russia, combined with the increased use of sea lanes in the Arctic Circle make the need for several functional and effective polar ice breakers. When icebreakers are not available they are traditionally leased on the international market, but current tension between the U.S. and Russia could inhibit this trade.

While capability is a vital component of any fleet, size also matters. The Coast Guard maintains a current fleet of 12 Hamilton-class high-endurance cutters (commissioned vessels), which are being replaced with a class of eight new national security cutters (NSCs). Though they are more capable and larger in size, the reduced fleet would negatively impact the Coast Guard’s reach, which, according to Zukunft, still operates in seas around six of the seven continents.

Long-Term Impacts

Traditionally, budget requests and continuing resolutions (CRs) include funding for agencies to modernize their current resources – acquisition systems, office space, or upgrading its current fleet. In its 2017 budget request, the Coast Guard requested hundreds of millions of dollars to modernize its financial, acquisition, and asset management solutions in line with Treasury and DHS directives. While not operating on the front lines as part of the fleet, the management systems in place for acquisition are necessary to ensure the best resources are obtained and utilized.

After budget documents were made available to members of Congress, a bipartisan push quickly rose to beat back the budget cuts to the Coast Guard. Led by Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), 23 senators wrote a letter to the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Mick Mulvaney, highlighting how the cuts contradict the President’s priorities for enhanced maritime security. The 14 percent funding reduction for the Coast Guard was quickly seized and used by supporters to show just how vital the agency is to maritime and border security.

What happens next?

While Coast Guard authorizing legislation awaits action before the House and Senate, the administration’s own action may help define readiness for FY18. Through executive order and subsequent OMB guidance, the administration directed agencies to set comprehensive plans for reforming the federal government and reducing the civilian workforce. According to Director Mulvaney, “the government reorg [sic] is probably the biggest story that nobody is talking about…This is something that goes much deeper and to the very structure of government.”

Congress is in the process of funding fiscal year 2017, so it is too soon to tell if the Coast Guard will get the budget it needs. However, it is in the best interest of Senators from maritime border states, as well as those bordering the Gulf of Mexico and Great Lakes, to make sure the Coast Guard has the resources to keep up counterterrorism and search and rescue efforts. Additionally, states like New Hampshire that are experiencing high opioid-related deaths will want to make sure the Coast Guard can interdict the sale of these narcotics into the country. Coupled with the fear of Russian superiority on the Arctic shipping routes, Congress may seek to expand the current Coast Guard funding levels.

The Coast Guard has many supporters on the Hill to ensure it has enough resources to operate, yet being ‘always ready’ requires more than that. Admiral Zukunft, congressional leaders, and newly appointed Cabinet officials (like DHS’s Secretary Kelly) will need to work together to build a fleet of heavy icebreakers and NSCs while supporting ongoing safety and security operations of the Coast Guard. In the context of a push for workforce reshaping, it’s important for agency leaders to keep the mission-critical functions of the Coast Guard in mind to ensure they are always ready.


Image Source: CNN




The Answer for Democrats in 2020: A Compass and Elizabeth Warren

Now that the general election of 2016 has come and gone, Democrats need to start thinking about 2020. No doubt amongst their dream candidates the new standard bearer would be Elizabeth Warren, primarily due to her strong populist following within the party which will be needed to combat populist Republican Donald Trump. Her primary message of fixing income inequality was carried by Bernie Sanders to great success in the primaries. Messaging and building a coalition would certainly be two major factors going forward for any Democratic challenger in 2020, but they are only part of the answer, as guiding policy principles would complete the picture.

The message would be a starting point because, as Hillary Clinton learned, you can’t win without one. If nothing else, Donald Trump had a clear message addressing white working class disenfranchisement. He was able to appeal to this contingent by appealing to their insecurities based on a lack of jobs and opportunities and then painting a bleak picture of an overreaching government which had gone out of its way to ignore them while empowering minorities and other special interest groups. By telling them what was wrong and who was to blame, he channeled their anger and built a rapport with them. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton’s message seemed to be M.I.A.

Donald Trump was able to draw in white working class voters based on the message of a stagnant economy, which had not only failed to produce jobs for them, but in fact lost jobs. Much of the blame was directed at illegal immigrants taking jobs from American workers. Once Trump hooked his future coalition with the message, he introduced abbreviated policy solutions. For instance, in order to save and create American jobs he would build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and deport illegal immigrants who are taking jobs. He would also slap a 35 percent tariff on U.S. based companies who had moved their operations abroad. Mr. Trump did not elaborate much further on these policy solutions, and this was by design. After all, why bother providing details when you’ve already hooked your loyal fan base with half-baked resolutions?  After all, who amongst his supporters would care about where the arbitrary 35 percent tariff came from? Or where the money for building a wall would come from? Or how you deport 11 million men, women, and children? Those would be questions for another day.

Aptly, Mr. Trump did not stop there. Take his positions on healthcare and terrorism, for instance. He would immediately repeal and replace Obamacare with something “terrific”, skipping over the salient details such as cost and content of the new plan itself. Also, on the issue of national security, he would establish a registry for Muslims coming into the country, again skirting specifics such as the legality and application of such a move. The bottom line is, guiding principles on policy, not details, are what is most effective during a presidential election.

The message conveyed by Trump was the opening salvo in reaching and building a coalition which defied geographical, gender, and organizational bounds. Even more astounding was this coalition enabled him to breach the “Blue Wall” of states such as Pennsylvania and Michigan while peeling off union support from the Democrats.

Elizabeth Warren has a powerful populist message of her own that addresses the growing income inequality felt by middle class and poverty stricken Americans. The message conveys a way forward by holding the greedy accountable, fixing Washington, standing up for fair trade, raising the minimum wage, and protecting people’s entitlement benefits. Best of all it strikes all racial, cultural, and gender boundaries, giving a higher ceiling to this coalition. Much like President Obama’s message, Warren’s would fire up the base while encouraging disenchanted voters to come out again.

Her policy positions, although more expansive than Trump’s, can be abbreviated as well to appeal to non-politicos. For instance, on the issue of income inequality, she has proposed to raise the minimum wage. In regard to unions, she suggested reinforcing and enforcing current labor law, so that workers can organize. On jobs, she endorses making deep investments in infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, and tunnels, as well as institute fair trade policies for the American worker. In relation to corporate greed, she’s an advocate for breaking up the biggest banks to lessen their influence, regulating predatory lenders, and closing corporate tax loopholes.  These are all policy positions which can be easily conveyed to the same working class folks Trump appealed to.

As a career public servant and academic well-versed in policy, along with a well-defined message and built-in coalition, Elizabeth Warren would be the perfect foil to Donald Trump’s brand of populism. The difference between them is she actually believes just about every word she says, endearing her even further to a hungry base. Standing on her own message of fixing income inequality, she has admonished corporate greed and corruption, promoted worker rights, stood for universal healthcare, affordable education, and civil liberties.

An “Alternative Fact:” Muslim Refugees Are Not a Threat to America

During his Presidential campaign, Donald Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” Less than a month into his presidency, Mr. Trump attempted to uphold this promise by signing an executive order prohibiting immigrants and visa-holders from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States for 120 days. This also included the indefinite suspension of resettling Syrian refugees. The countries included in the order are Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. While House officials attempted to justify the order by citing the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, the Boston Marathon bombing, and the San Bernardino, CA shooting rampage; none of these attacks were perpetrated by people born in the seven named countries. Further, the White House’s own list of 78 terror attacks that targeted the West does not include any individuals from Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, or Yemen, four of the seven countries named in the ban. Former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani claimed the ban focuses on “the areas of the world that create danger for us . . . it’s not based on religion. It’s based on places where there are substantial evidence that people are sending terrorists into our country.” As numerous legal battles and massive protests in airports from Los Angeles to Chicago to New Jersey show, the executive order was quite politically and legally contentious.

Despite claims to the contrary, there is overwhelming evidence, supported by both Republicans and Democrats, that there is a minuscule chance any refugee intends to engage in terrorism in the U.S. According to the Washington Post, Senators Lindsey Graham, R-SC and John McCain, R-AZ issued a joint statement expressing concern that the executive order could “become a self-inflicted wound in the fight against terrorism.” Muslim extremists have on average killed 9 people per year since 9/11; while guns kill over 12,800 people on average per year. Since 9/11, Muslim-American extremists have caused 123 fatalities, while during the same period over 240,000 Americans were victims of gun violence. In fact, according to the Cato Institute, zero Americans have been killed by foreigners from the seven listed countries in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil in the past 40 years. Omar Mateen, the individual responsible for the deadliest terror attack in the US since 9/11, which killed 49 of the 54 fatalities in 2016, was an American citizen.

Citizenship of U.S. Terrorists


Americans are at a significantly higher risk of dying at the hands of a fellow American due to gun violence or by homegrown violent extremists. Between 2002 and 2014, 85 percent of terrorist attack victims were killed by guns. This makes perfect sense, as guns are far more accessible than other weapons like explosives or biological weapons. If even a fraction of the budget spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the so-called War on Terror was spent on pragmatic gun control policies, the US could address a real threat to Americans. Though gun control is also a contentious issue among Americans, according to Gallup, large majorities of Americans agree with at least using more thorough background checks on gun purchases and banning gun sales to individuals on the no-fly list.


If President Trump wants to live up to his promise of protecting Americans from terrorism, he might also consider focusing on homegrown right-wing extremists. The Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, carried out by anti-government extremist and American citizen Timothy McVeigh, killed 168 people, making it the second deadliest terrorist attack in US history. From the KKK and white supremacists to neo-Nazis, anti-abortion attackers, and sovereign citizens, these right-wing extremists actually pose a threat to Americans, while refugees fleeing violence and persecution do not. Local law enforcement officials have been aware of this domestic threat for years. In a 2015 survey of 382 police and sheriff’s departments nationwide, roughly 74 percent listed anti-government violence as the biggest violent extremist threat to their jurisdiction, while only 39 percent listed “Al Qaeda-inspired” violence. According to the United States Military Academy’s Combating Terrorism Center, right-wing extremists averaged 337 attacks per year in the decade after 9/11, causing a total of 254 fatalities.

As evidenced above, the threats of gun violence and ring-wing extremists far outweigh the threat of jihadist-inspired terrorism in the US. Banning refugees and thoroughly vetted immigrants from entering the US is not only futile in the fight against terrorism, but could have serious consequences to counter-terrorism efforts. Setting aside the obvious humanitarian and safety implications, President Trump’s hypocritical statements, and the blatant xenophobia embedded in the immigration ban, the “evidence” on which the order is predicated is simply untrue.

Image Source: Andres Kudacki, AP

The Future of the Iran Nuclear Deal Under The Trump Administration

Since Implementation Day, January 16, 2016, the Iran Nuclear Deal has succeeded in its goal of preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons-capabilities. However, in the past year, relations have not substantially improved between the U.S. and Iran and Iran has not seen the economic improvements it expected. The deal has also been tested by several temporary violations of the agreement by Iran and a suspected violation by the U.S. via the recent extension of the Iran Sanctions Act. Iran’s recent missile test and President Trump’s travel ban for citizens of Iran have further contributed to the tense environment surrounding the agreement. Given these circumstances, Yukiya Amano, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, described the deal as “fragile,” saying, “reaching an agreement was very important, but making it sustainable requires a lot of effort.” Continued U.S. support for or withdrawal from the Iran Nuclear Deal will have significant consequences for Iran’s nuclear status, stability in the region, global proliferation, and U.S. credibility with current and future international negotiating partners.


A Brief History of the Deal
On July 24, 2015, the U.S., China, France, Russia, Germany, and the UK signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran, a long-term agreement in an effort to curb the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. At the time of the agreement, Iran was believed to be 2-3 months away from producing enough weapons-grade uranium for at least one nuclear weapon. The agreement has extended this breakout time to one year or longer, providing enough time for world powers to “mobilize action to interrupt Iran’s pathway to a bomb,” should Iran deviate from its obligations outlined in the agreement.

The agreement blocks all of Iran’s paths to gain nuclear weapons capability. First, the deal has reduced Iran’s nuclear stockpile of uranium by 98 percent, eliminating much of the material that could have fueled 8 to 10 bombs. Second, Iran agreed to maintain uranium enrichment at the level of 3.67 percent, well below the enrichment level necessary to make a weapon. Third, under the deal, Iran reduced their number of centrifuges at the Natanz and Fordow facilities from 20,000 to 6,104 for the next ten years. Furthermore, no enrichment can take place at Fordow, and the only centrifuges that can be used are the “oldest and least efficient models.” Fourth, the deal prevents Iran from accessing weapons-grade plutonium through redesign of the Arak reactor and spent fuel rods are now sent out of the country. Iran is also not permitted to build a heavy-water reactor for at least 15 years. Lastly, the deal enables International Atomic Energy Agency officials to inspect facilities and monitor compliance with the agreement.iran-map-final

Despite concern coming primarily from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. Congressional Republicans, on Implementation Day, international inspectors determined that Iran had complied with its terms of the deal sufficiently to trigger the lifting of sanctions. Iran had shipped 98 percent of its fuel to Russia, dismantled over 12,000 centrifuges, and poured cement into the core of the Arak reactor to prevent the production of plutonium. This resulted in the lifting of oil and financial sanctions and release of roughly $100 billion in Iranian assets, though the U.S. maintained human rights and terror-related sanctions on Iran, most recently extended in December 2016.


An Uncertain Future Under President Trump

The recent election of Donald Trump has placed the deal in jeopardy as he has claimed to renegotiate or leave the deal entirely. Trump criticized the agreement throughout his campaign, calling it “incompetently negotiated,” and telling American Israel Public Affairs Committee members in March, “my number one priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran.” Also, several of Trump’s cabinet picks have also been highly critical of the agreement. Rep. Mike Pompeo, tapped to lead the CIA, tweeted in November, “I look forward to rolling back this disastrous deal with the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism.” Gen. James Mattis, the incoming Secretary of Defense, and Gen. Michael Flynn, the incoming National Security Adviser, have both also been vocally critical of Iran. Flynn stated the U.S. “gets nothing but grief from the deal.” Additionally, Trump has, at times, seemed to accept the inevitability of global nuclear proliferation. He noted during the campaign, “he wouldn’t object if Saudi Arabia, Japan, or South Korea obtained nuclear weapons, since, as he told CNN, proliferation is “going to happen anyway.” More recently, he stated, “let it be an arms race” while proposing to increase the nuclear arsenal of the U.S. If he takes this same blasé approach to Iranian proliferation, he has little incentive to continue with the deal. Trump has also demonstrated a tendency to favor extreme approaches, and disregard for precedent and norms, demonstrated by his stance on the use of enhanced interrogation, immigration measures, and “winner-take-all” style military operations.  

With the backing of a GOP-led Congress, President Trump is “positioned to swiftly pull the U.S. out of the Obama administration’s landmark nuclear agreement.” However, there is also reason to believe President Trump may not kill the deal. First, during his campaign, Trump rapidly changed policy positions, and this may be no exception. NBC noted that within the first six weeks since being elected, Trump “took ten new policy stances on eight different issues”, following his pattern during the campaign in which he “took 141 distinct policy positions on 23 issues over the course of 511 days.” Furthermore, he has not given the deal much attention since the election, indicating that he may not may not, as previously claimed, make this his first priority as president. Additionally, though Trump’s cabinet picks argue for a strong approach against Iran, they do not necessarily oppose the Iran deal in particular. Incoming Secretary of Defense Gen. Mattis noted that “there is no going back” from the deal and Secretary of State choice Rex Tillerson voiced interest in U.S. companies doing business in Iran which is only possible with limited sanctions.


The Case for Maintaining the Deal

There are a great many reasons Trump would be unwise to abandon the Iran Nuclear Deal. Though the agreement has experienced hiccups, may be temporary, and the US is right to be concerned with Iran’s role in the region, the deal has prevented Iran from becoming a nuclear power. Abandoning or even attempting to renegotiate the deal seems to provide little benefit in terms of preventing Iranian proliferation, and risks a return to pre-agreement Iranian practices, leading to far more difficult foreign policy decisions in the future.  It would also incur costs to U.S. credibility.

First, a unilateral U.S. desertion of the agreement will not somehow kill the deal as a whole. The U.S. is one of seven countries party to the agreement, none of which have voiced desire to leave the deal. In the past, President Rouhani said Iran would not “allow” Mr. Trump to “rip up the deal,” and European partners, China, and Russia have all voiced continued support for the pact. Even President Trump’s incoming Secretary of Defense, Gen. Mattis favors working with allies to enforce the deal, recently emphasizing that U.S. “would be alone” if it left the deal, and that the unilateral resumption of sanctions from the U.S. “would not have near the impact of an allied approach.” Thus, efforts to harm Iran’s economy such that they could not develop their nuclear program is untenable in a world in which Russia, UK, China, France, and Germany are all doing business with Iran.

Second, based on empirical evidence, Iran would be able to advance its nuclear program even if the U.S. “doubled and tripled up sanctions” as Trump as suggested in the past. The U.S. has maintained nuclear-related sanctions on Iran since 1992, yet, just this year Iran positioned itself 2-3 months from acquiring weapons-capability. Additionally, the U.S. still maintains non-nuclear related sanctions on Iran, and President Trump has failed to demonstrate why doubling sanctions are likely to produce any effect unique from that of current sanctions.

There are also good reasons to think that scrapping the deal would exacerbate the likelihood of Iran getting the bomb. First, Iran could pull out of the deal altogether. While President Rouhani has continued to be a strong proponent of the deal, he has made clear the deal cannot be renegotiated, and the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran threatened to increase uranium enrichment capacity to 100,000 SWU in a year should the U.S. backtrack on the deal. Furthermore, Iranians haven’t seen the level of economic benefit they were anticipating, and hardliners in Iran believe Iran is not getting enough from the deal.  Iranian hardliners may try to capitalize on these concerns, discrediting President Rouhani and opting for a new candidate for June presidential elections, making future deals less likely, and proliferation more likely.

While President Trump casually discusses proliferation, there are real risks associated horizontal proliferation. The existence of any additional nuclear weapon increases risk of intentional or accidental use, theft, hazardous leaks, impacts from waste storage, and instability stemming from the mere perception of use, testing, or increased further proliferation. This may also trigger proliferation by other countries in response, intensifying these risks further.

Additionally, as noted by CIA John Brennan in a recent BBC Interview, tearing up the agreement made by a previous administration would be “unprecedented.” Pulling out of the deal would give Iran little incentivize to renegotiate with the US and would damage U.S. credibility with other negotiating partners in the international community. This action would alienate us from our allies and perhaps reduce the likelihood of future negotiations with other states in the future. Considering deals often take many years to negotiate, partners must know that future administrations will honor past and pending deals to endure the time and energy it takes to craft an agreement such as the Iran Nuclear Deal.  

Though the Iran deal has not worked to perfection, it is working. The Trump administration’s penchant for making decisions guided by hyper-masculinity and vengeance without regard for strategy, historical awareness, or long-term vision is both dangerous and counterproductive to the goals of the U.S. President Trump must first determine the strategic interests of the country, which should be to prevent further nuclear proliferation. He then must determine his course of action related to the deal, to scrap it, attempt to renegotiate it, or maintain the status quo. If Trump is serious about ensuring Iran does not reactivate its nuclear program and avoiding a future conflict, he would be wise to heed the advice of Gen. Mattis and maintain the deal, focusing efforts on ensuring compliance to create stability.

Image Source: Majid Asgaripour/AP

Stringent Cyber Policy Under a Trump Administration?

Over the final years of the Obama administration, cybersecurity had become a top priority of government agencies.  Massive compromises of citizen data have propelled the issue to the forefront of discussions to reshape government, most recently the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).  After campaigning on a robust response to cybersecurity, what will the Trump administration do to improve the cyber resilience of government institutions?

From 2014 to 2015, OPM announced that there were major breaches of government databases that impacted over 22 million current and former federal employees.   An initial hack, made sometime in early 2014, was not first reported to the public, and was only revealed to the public by a New York Times article in July 2014.  It was suspected that the breach impacted nearly 400,000 current and former federal employees and may have been caused by stolen keycards.

A second breach, believed to have begun in December 2014, was not revealed to the public until June 2015 when OPM reported that 4 million current and former federal employees had their personal information compromised.  Within the next few months FBI Director James Comey estimated that an additional breach of data impacted 18 million individuals, and an OPM investigation fixed this number at 19.7 million individuals.


The Obama Administration’s Response

An audit released by the Inspector General for OPM highlighted the IT security management system and high turnover of information security officers as two key concerns in the agency’s cybersecurity role.  Additionally, the audit found many of the investigative service technology systems used by OPM were past due for security checkups.  While OPM’s Federal Investigative Service, which conducts civilian background checks, remains within the agency, it is now secured by the Department of Defense and is now the National Background Investigation Bureau.


In December, the Obama administration’s Commission on Enhancing National Cybersecurity released a comprehensive report on Securing and Growing the Digital Economy.  Among several recommendations the Commission suggested a national cybersecurity public-private program as a forum to address cyber concerns and for all agencies that interface with the public to use strong authentication software.  Additionally they set forth several workforce planning initiatives to attract 100,000 new cybersecurity practitioners by 2020, and a motion to move federal agencies into a management approach based on enterprise risk management to better adapt to challenges and design better solutions.


The Commission’s report noted however that the Obama administration was mostly powerless to implement any of these recommendations, as they were released with a little over two months left before Trump took office.  This highlights the approach that has been taken toward cyber reform within the past few years, which has been mostly through executive memorandum or orders and little legislation.  One of those few pieces of legislation was the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act of 2015, which gave private companies the legal protection to share information with government to help protect consumers.


The Trump Administration’s Approach

The Trump administration can change course from the previous administration by undoing or overturning executive orders or memorandums on cyber initiatives.  However, efforts on the congressional front are already showing that cybersecurity efforts are a top priority for the 115th Congress.  The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), passed by Congress before their final recess in 2016, includes several provisions for workforce planning that focus on attracting top cyber talent to the Department of Defense.  Congressional action on this front adheres to the belief that the best way to remain on the forefront with cyber resilience is to hire the best talent.  


According to President Trump’s platform, there will be a comprehensive review to all cyber defenses within the country and continued work across all levels of government to respond to cyber incidents.  Additionally, there will be a push for ‘offensive’ cyber warfare in response to the attacks and government system compromises within previous years.  The proposals given in Trump’s platform are more broad strokes, and may not reflect what next steps will be taken.


After the San Bernadino shooting, Trump called for a boycott of Apple products when the company signaled that it wouldn’t assist the FBI in breaking into the iPhone of the shooters.  According to some security and privacy experts, calling on a private company to give its secure communications over to government so easily is an area of concern.  While the cooperation of private companies with government falls in line with Obama cybersecurity recommendations, the encryption of consumer data by private companies is a level of protection that many feel is necessary given the frequent cyber breaches in the U.S.  Trump’s comments suggest that the new administration may be more willing to compel private companies to cooperate with federal investigations on data breaches, which can be helpful in better understanding attacks and preventing future compromises of data.


Beyond the President, what will top policymakers in the new administration do with cyber reform? Of the appointments announced so far, Trump’s pick for Attorney General, Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), provides some insight into what cyber could resemble under the next administration.  As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sessions also stood in solidarity with the FBI over its battle with Apple over encryption.  He also supports greater power for the NSA and other surveillance agencies that may limit civil protections, and an amendment he proposed for the Email Privacy Act would have allowed government officials to demand data from tech companies without a warrant in emergency situations.

Fewer privacy protections in place and stringent requirements for companies to share data with government entities resembles a cyber environment that caters less to consumer protections and more to security concerns. However, the sharing of data between private and public entities, while mandatory, may improve the government’s response to cyber attacks in the new administration.

Image source: New America

LGBTQ Candidates Try to Make History in 2016 Election

In the wake of a tumultuous presidential election, it is important to recognize some of the significant down-ballot electoral efforts. Hundreds of LGBTQ candidates sought office at the local, state, and federal levels this election cycle. The Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, an organization that works to elect LGBTQ individuals to office, endorsed 135 candidates. Of those 135 individuals, 86 were elected to public office. The candidates sought offices ranging from the Florida Keys Mosquito Commissioner to the US Senate.

LGBTQ politicians have been present in the US political realm for decades, but have recently made a huge resurgence as LGBTQ equality has come to the forefront of policy issues. In 1974, Kathy Kozachenko won a seat on the Ann Arbor, Michigan City Council, becoming the first openly LGBTQ candidate to win an election in the US. Also in 1974, Elaine Noble, a lesbian, was elected to the Massachusetts State House, becoming the first openly LGBTQ individual elected to a state legislature. In 1977, Harvey Milk, a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, became the first LGBTQ politician to be elected to office in California and launched an effort to defeat the Briggs Initiative, which sought to ban openly LGBTQ teachers in public schools. In 1987 Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank told the Boston Globe he is gay, becoming the second member of Congress to discuss his homosexuality. In 2012 Tammy Baldwin became the first openly LGBTQ Senator in American history, and in 2013 Rep. Kyrsten Sinema became the first openly bisexual member of Congress, while Rep. Mark Takano became the first openly gay person of color elected to Congress.

Many candidates who ran this past election cycle also sought to make history. Denise Juneau ran for Montana’s at-large US Senate seat. Although unsuccessful, Juneau would have been the first LGBTQ member of Congress from Montana and the first Native American member of Congress. Brady Pinero Walkinshaw ran for Washington state’s district 7 US House seat unsuccessfully, but would have been the first LGBTQ Latino member of Congress.

Four LGBTQ candidates: Jennifer Webb, Ken Keechl, Carlos Guillermo Smith, and Beth Tuura, ran to serve in the Florida State legislature in an attempt to quintuple LGBTQ representation in the chamber. Ultimately, only Carlos Guillermo Smith won, becoming the first LGBTQ Latino to serve in the Florida legislature. In a major victory, Governor Kate Brown of Oregon was elected and became the nation’s first bisexual governor. In total, the Victory Fund endorsed 6 candidates for Congress, not including Misty Snow of Utah and Misty Plowright of Colorado, who both sought to become the first transgender members of Congress. All eight candidates lost their races, but Snow and Plowright made history by becoming the first transgender candidates to win major party primaries for Congress.

Although LGBTQ Americans won the right to marry in 2015, many states have attempted to curtail LGBTQ rights via bathroom laws, such as North Carolina’s HB 2, which prohibits transgender individuals from using the bathrooms of the gender they identify with. Additionally, some governors, notably former Indiana governor and Vice President elect-Mike Pence, have passed or attempted to pass religious freedom laws, which allow business owners to refuse service to LGBTQ individuals on the basis of religious freedom. In 28 states, LGBTQ individuals can still be fired from their jobs without legal repercussion. Only 22 states have laws that prevent LGBTQ individuals from being discriminated against from employers, and unlike race and gender, no federal law protects citizens based on gender identity or sexual orientation. These hurdles highlight the importance elected LGBTQ officials.

According to a report released by the Victory Fund, LGBTQ representation is crucial in working towards more inclusive and diverse policies for LGBTQ Americans. In states not facing anti-LGBTQ legislation, 85 percent have two or more openly LGBTQ state lawmakers. In states with anti-LGBTQ legislation, nearly 75 percent have only one or no openly LGBTQ legislators. Additionally, 80 percent of states facing religious refusal bills have either one or no openly LGBTQ legislators, and nearly all states with anti-transgender bills have one or no openly LGBTQ legislators.

Aside from the historical wins LGBTQ candidates seek or achieve, every candidacy is important. The increased visibility of LGBTQ candidates this election cycle shows that the fight for LGBTQ rights remains strong and that the election of LGBTQ individuals helps usher in equality one candidate at a time.

Image source: Creative Commons