Tuesday, January 6, 2015
Arthur C. Brooks
“I’VE fallen and I can’t get up.”
These words, shouted by an elderly woman, were made famous in a medical alert device ad in the 1990s. In 2015, they might be Europe’s catchphrase.
As the United States economy slowly recovers, analysts across the political spectrum see little to cheer them from Europe. The optimists see the region’s economy growing by just 1 percent in 2015; many others fear that a triple-dip recession is in the offing. Germany is widely viewed as a healthy country whose prosperity helps compensate for Europe’s weakness, yet over the past two quarters for which we have data, it has experienced no net growth at all.Predictions of decade-long deflation, low productivity and high unemployment are becoming conventional wisdom.
What does the Continent need? Most economists and pundits focus on monetary and fiscal policy, as well as labor-market reform. Get the policy levers and economic incentives right, and the Continent might escape the vortex of decline, right?
Probably not. As important as good economic policies are, they will not fix Europe’s core problems, which are demographic, not economic. This was the point made in a speech to the European Parliament in November by none other than Pope Francis. As the pontiff put it, “In many quarters we encounter a general impression of weariness and aging, of a Europe which is now a ‘grandmother,’ no longer fertile and vibrant.”
But wait, it gets worse: Grandma Europe is not merely growing old. She is also getting dotty. She is, as the pope sadly explained in an earlier speech to a conference of bishops, “weary with disorientation.”
Some readers might regret the pope’s use of language — we love our grandmothers, weary with disorientation or not. But as my American Enterprise Institute colleague Nicholas Eberstadt shows in his research, the pope’s analysis is fundamentally sound.
Start with age. According to the United States Census Bureau’s International Database, nearly one in five Western Europeans was 65 years old or older in 2014. This is hard enough to endure, given the countries’ early retirement ages and pay-as-you-go pension systems. But by 2030, this will have risen to one in four. If history is any guide, aging electorates will direct larger and larger portions of gross domestic product to retirement benefits — and invest less in opportunity for future generations.
Next, look at fertility. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the last time the countries of the European Union were reproducing at replacement levels (that is, slightly more than two children per woman) was the mid-1970s. In 2014, the average number of children per woman was about 1.6. That’s up a hair from the nadir in 2001, but has been falling again for more than half a decade. Imagine a world where many people have no sisters, brothers, cousins, aunts or uncles. That’s where Europe is heading in the coming decades. On the bright side, at least there will be fewer Christmas presents to buy.
There are some exceptions. France has risen to exactly two children per woman in 2012, from 1.95 in 1980, an increase largely attributed to a system of government payments to parents, not a change in the culture of family life. Is there anything more dystopian than the notion that population decline can be slowed only when states bribe their citizens to reproduce?
Finally, consider employment. Last September, the United States’ labor force participation rate — the percentage of adults who are either working or looking for work — reached a 36-year low of just 62.7 percent.
Yet as bad as that is, the United States looks decent compared with most of Europe. Our friends across the Atlantic like to say that we live to work, while they work to live. That might be compelling if more of them were actually working. According to the most recent data available from the World Bank, the labor force participation rate in the European Union in 2013 was 57.5 percent. In France it was 55.9 percent. In Italy, just 49.1 percent.
One bright spot might seem to be immigration. In 2012, the median age of the national population in the European Union was 41.9 years, while the median age of foreigners living in the union was 34.7. So, are Europeans pleased that there will be new arrivals to work and pay taxes when the locals retire?
Not exactly. Anti-immigrant sentiment is surging across the Continent. Nativist movements performed alarmingly well in European Parliament elections last year. Europe is less like a grandmother knitting placidly in the window and more like an angry grandfather, shaking his rake and yelling at outsiders to get off his lawn.
None of this should give Americans cause for schadenfreude. At a purely practical level, a European market in further decline will suppress American growth. But more important, European deterioration will dissipate the vast good the Continent can do in spreading the values of democracy and freedom around the world.
So what is the prescription for Europe’s ills — and the lesson for America’s future?
It is true that good monetary and fiscal policies are important. But the deeper problems in Europe will not be solved by the European Central Bank. No matter what the money supply and public spending levels, a country or continent will be in decline if it rejects the culture of family, turns its back on work, and closes itself to strivers from the outside.
Europe needs visionary leaders and a social movement to rediscover that people are assets to develop, not liabilities to manage. If it cannot or will not meet this existential challenge, a “lost decade” will look like a walk in the park for Grandma Europe.
President Barack Obama will veto the Keystone XL bill if Congress passes a measure green-lighting the oil pipeline, White House press secretary Josh Earnest announced on Tuesday.
By Hemin Abdulla
By Hemin Abdulla
Yezidi women baking bread on Mount Shingal.
SHARAFADIN, Kurdistan Region – Rasho and Salim, survivors of the Islamic State’s (ISIS) unmitigated violence against the Yezidis, are the two faces of a community struggling with the aftermath: one regards all Arabs as enemies fit to die, and the other sees them as fellow victims.
As Kurdish Peshmerga forces fight to clean up remaining ISIS fighters from Shingal and the surrounding Yezidi areas the jihadis captured in an assault last August, many Yezidis cannot forget how their own Arab neighbors had turned against them and sided with the militants.
Anti-Arab sentiments are so deep rooted among Yezidis that most of their religious men refuse even to wear the Arab headbands, or “agals,” that used to be part of their traditional costume.
Rasho and Salim have both returned to see if their homes still stand in Sinune, a Yezidi Kurdish town near the Syrian border that the Peshmerga recaptured from ISIS just a few days ago.
“If I see an Arab right now, I will kill him,” says Rasho, a 20-year-old in the Kurdish Yezidi town of Sinune near the Syrian border who has joined the Peshmerga forces and sports a beret in the style of the late Argentinian revolutionary, Che Guevara.
Whenever he sees Arabic writing on the walls of Sinune he turns away in anger: “I used to have so many Arab friends, but they betrayed us.”
For Salim, who works as a laborer and lives in a camp near Duhok, all Arabs “are not the same.”
He adds: “I still have Arab friends. Just like us, they have left their hometown and now they are sheltered in Erbil. They call me regularly and ask about my situation. As a matter of fact, during the Eid they called me.”
The village of Hardan, just a 10-minute car ride from Sinune, used to be populated by Arabs, Turkomen and Yezidi Kurds.
Although there has been no fighting there for several days, plumes of smoke are still seen rising from the village. One villager, Rashid, whispers that the smoke is from Arab homes being secretly burned in revenge.
“Some Kurds, without the knowledge of the Peshmerga, go and set those houses on fire,” he explains, confiding that he agrees with the practice.
He and others in Hardan testify that, before the arrival of ISIS, the Arab residents closed the villages gates to prevent anyone from escaping. As a result, ISIS captured and massacred 500 Yezidi Kurds.
The brotherhood that once existed among the Yezidi and Arab residents is gone forever, one villager says: “There is no brotherhood after betrayal. They insulted our honor; they are no longer our brothers.”
Tensions seethe in villages like Awinat, where many Arabs have remained put in their homes, despite efforts by some Yezidis to force them out – which has been prevented by the Peshmerga.
“I saw Arabs with my own eyes when they tied our children to the trees, cut off their legs and executed them,” says Ageed, a Yezidi Kurd who has joined the Syrian-Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) that have joined forces with the Peshmerga in the fight against ISIS.
He says that the Arabs should pay for what they did, and he is more than willing to fight them out of the village.
“The price is that they should leave us, we don’t want them to live among us,” says Ageed, who tries to convince a Peshmerga commander for permission to enter one of the Arab villages.
But the commander warns: “We have orders from the president of the Kurdistan Region that no one should attack them.”
In the village of Sharafadin Sheikh Ismael Bahri, guardian of the second most important shrine for Yezidis after Lalish, shares the anti-Arab sentiments of much of his community.
In his guesthouse, the photos on display show him with an agal on his head, though he says he no longer wears one.
“The Arabs in our area betrayed us, that is why we decided to throw away our agals. Now you can rarely see a Yezidi wearing an agal, even if someone does, he is looked down upon,” Bahri explains.
In four mass graves found in Sharafadin, many of the agals mixed in with flesh and decayed body parts are shot through with bullet holes.
Bahri calls upon the international community “to help Yezidis establish an independent Yezidi Region which would be part of the Kurdistan Region and under the supervision of the United Nations.”
He warns: “there will be no place for Arabs in that Region.”
Iraqi Minister of Human Rights Mohammed Mahdi Ameen al-Bayati says the Takfiri ISIL militants have sold more than 5,000 women and girls from Iraq’s Izadi Kurdish minority in their slave markets.
He said on Monday that the terrorist group has also displaced thousands of Iraqi families, and forced their children to carry out bombings.
Global rights organizations have also reported about Izadi women and girls being forced into slavery by the ISIL militants, saying each girl is sold for only 200 dollars.
Amnesty International has reported that Iraqi Izadi girls and women who have been sexually enslaved by the Takfiri ISIL group commit suicide or attempt to do so.
“Hundreds of Izadi women and girls have had their lives shattered by the horrors of sexual violence and sexual slavery in ISIL captivity,” Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International’s senior crisis response advisor, said after interviewing over 40 Izadi girls who had escaped captivity in northern Iraq.
“Many of those held as sexual slaves are children -- girls aged 14, 15, or even younger,” Rovera added.
Iraqi Minister Bayati said the ISIL militants are committing atrocities against the Christian minority groups as well.
Bayati added that his country has provided the UN Human Rights Council with evidence about the ISIL terrorist group’s crimes and called on the international community and global bodies to declare them as genocide.
ISIL terrorists are currently in control of some areas across Syria and Iraq, where they have been carrying out horrific acts of violence, including public decapitations and crucifixions, against different Iraqi and Syrian communities such as Shias, Sunnis, Kurds, and Christians.
The Iraqi army, backed by Shia fighters and Sunni tribes, has so far managed to make many gains in the fight against the ISIL extremists.
The deadlock over senior cabinet positions underlines the challenges Ghani faces under a power-sharing deal reached in September with Abdullah after a disputed election marred by fraud.
Their unity government deal was aimed at averting a civil war.
But the ongoing political deadlock over the details of that deal, including who will take key cabinet posts, threatens to fuel the Taliban insurgency after most foreign troops have withdrawn from the country and handed over security responsibilities to Afghan forces.
Ghani, a former U.S. citizen and former World Bank official, had pledged before taking office that he would implement ambitious policy changes within the first 100 days in office.
In his September 29 inaugural speech, Ghani pledged that he would stamp out corruption within the Afghan government.
He also said he would purge Afghanistan’s judiciary of corrupt judges and he called on lawmakers in the Afghan parliament to stop abusing their influence by pressuring ministers for personal favors.
Ghani also called on the Taliban and other militant groups to come to the negotiating table with Afghan officials.
But Taliban leaders rejected those calls and increased their attacks in some parts of the country, including the capital, Kabul, as most foreign combat forces were withdrawn by the end of 2014.
Of 140,000 foreign troops once in Afghanistan, about 13,000 remain under a new two-year mission called Resolute Support.
The bulk of the force for that training and support operation, about 10,800 of troops, are from the United States.
On January 4, during an interview with the CBS program 60 Minutes, Ghani said that Washington might want to "reexamine" its timetable for the remaining U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
Ghani said: "Deadlines concentrate the mind but deadlines should not be dogmas."
Faced with frequent attacks by Taliban militants, Ghani also said "there should be a willingness to reexamine a deadline" if all sides have "done their best to achieve objectives."
A Pentagon spokesman, U.S. Army Colonel Steve Warren, said on January 5 that the U.S. "plan remains in effect and there have been no changes to the drawdown timeline” as a result of Ghani’s remarks.
Warren said the Pentagon still plans to reduce the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan to about 5,000 by the end of 2015 and to draw down to a "normal" U.S. Embassy presence in Kabul at the end of 2016.
But many observers inside and outside Afghanistan have expressed concerns about the ability of Afghan government forces to maintain security across the country.
Analysts say President Barack Obama may eventually review the U.S. withdrawal timeline and that Ghani's statements would help explain that decision if he does so.