What the Houston Floods Should Teach Us

What a horrific mess. At least 30 people are dead and 100,000 homes have been damaged by flooding from Hurricane Harvey.  Aside from the humanitarian disaster, which will be intense and on-going for months, the damage to the environment is almost incalculable. Billions of gallons of water, mixed with practically every poison man can produce, is flushing its way across Houston and into the Gulf — so toxic, in fact, the authorities are advising people to throw away any clothes that have come in contact with the water. Then, when the floods recede, the polluted debris from 100,000 houses will probably be land-filled, and afterwards the immense carbon-cost of rebuilding.

Could this tragedy have been avoided? The answer is categorically yes, as much of the disastrous flood damage in Houston is man-made.  Let’s start with the egregious fact that our 4th largest city has no zoning laws. Anyone can build anything anywhere, say for instance, a toxic chemical plant in the middle of a flood-prone residential zone. Worse, unbridled construction has caused former green areas that could have absorbed critical quantities of rainwater water to be paved over. According to a report at CNBC, between 1995 and 2011 Houston has increased its paved surface by 25%, meaning that any rain that falls on a city already built on clay soil will run off to increase flooding somewhere else, translating into roughly $4,000 of extra flood damage per square meter of pavement. Add to this a population that has been growing by 90,000 people a month, with an expected increase of 4 million in thirty years, and you have one huge and growing environmental nightmare.

Aside for the urgent need for zoning laws, there are other remedies that would help in future crises, but it would take foresight and forceful leadership on the federal level to bring them about, two qualities notably absent in Washington these days. In fact, just a few days before the arrival of Harvey, Bumpkin-in-Chief used an Executive Order to roll back the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard put in place by President Obama, which mandated that infrastructure in areas prone to flooding be designed to withstand the increased impact of climate change. Trump’s rationale for this seemingly irrational act was that flood rules “slow down” infrastructure creation, apparently believing that the federal government should simply rush projects to completion in order to create jobs, and if they wash away, all the better, because that translates to more jobs to put them back again. It’s a simpleton’s thinking, which risks lives and squanders our tax dollars.

Perhaps the most potent tool in the arsenal of change would be for Congress to get serious about fixing the National Flood Insurance Program. Currently 24 billion dollars in debt and teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, this 50-year-old program dates from a time when few private insurers were interested in providing flood insurance, due to the actuarial uncertainties in predicting where and how often an area might flood. Since then however, owing to satellite imaging and other advanced technologies, the Federal Government has developed highly accurate flood maps that allow for precise predictions of risk,  opening the market for private insurers. Yet despite being at the point of insolvency, the National Flood Insurance Program continues to provide flood coverage well below market rates, essentially encouraging building and development in known areas of flooding. Worse, the program allows for repeat rebuilding on a site. If a structure washes away, federal dollars rebuild it. If it washes away again, it is rebuilt again, with your tax dollars. Only after the fourth flood is some type of mitigation required, usually in the form of raising the structure, which is again re-insured by the federal government. Obviously, this is ludicrous, especially in an era of increasingly intense storms due to climate change. As the Flood Insurance Program is set to expire on September 30, now would be the ideal time for Congress to act in a bipartisan fashion and change the law, along the lines of the Biggert–Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012, which was unfortunately diluted in 2014 by subsequent legislation. First of all, premiums should rise to full market rates, with discount provisions for low income residents. Secondly, vacation homes should be entirely excluded from federal coverage, and most importantly, pay-outs should only be allowed once per property, and be made portable, meaning that the owner is not obligated to rebuild on the same site. If a home or business is flooded, the owner would receive a payout and be encouraged to build on higher ground. If the owner disregards this advice, then he or she will need to find insurance on the private market.

It’s high time the Federal Government got proactive about protecting its citizens from the ravages of flooding. In FDR’s era, the Flood Control Act of 1936 tried to build its way out of the problem with dikes, levees and spillways, which we know now isn’t the answer.  Instead, it’s time for enlightened federal policy to promote ecologically sensitive rebuilding and buyout programs, programs that demand a change in human nature, not mother nature.

Because in the end, we know who always wins…

 

 

Developing Western Countermeasures to Disinformation

Delivered at “The Riga StratCom Dialogue 2017,” NATO STRATCOM CENTRE OF EXCELLENCE, Latvia, 5 July 2017

[Opening remarks, thanks, and prognostication comments]

Western counter-measures will develop along two metrics, one macro and one micro.

At the macro level we must broaden our understanding of what’s going on here, and come to a general agreement about what’s at stake.

We are in a period of quick and dramatic societal change that’s not just technological, but more importantly socio-economic and structural, on a global scale.

This is a period when the way humans organize and govern themselves will shift, and the direction of that shift is what we are contesting.

And at the micro level we need to learn how to apply the lessons from social science, campaign management, and big data to information and influence campaigns.

These lessons are more immediately applicable to the problem and perhaps therefore more exciting, but in all honesty I do not believe they are nearly as important in the long run as the macro understanding.

So… what kinds of cooperation and actions will enable Western countries and alliances to triumph at the macro level?

We will learn to be clear about our ideology, the narratives we use to communicate and support that ideology, and our identities.

I say “identities,” plural, both because multiple identities build resilience in our populations, and because we’re going to learn that there is power in considering oneself not just a good Latvian, but also a good Balt. And also a good European. And simultaneously a good Transatlanticist, and also a worthy child of the Enlightenment.

Cultivating multiple identities will enable us to more effectively coordinate Western voices across boundaries without sacrificing authenticity.

We will increasingly understand that effectively responding to foreign influence requires standing up for who we are and what we believe. And that to do so requires a whole-of-government, and indeed whole-of-society response.

If this sounds challenging, it is. It will require strong and honest leadership, and a willingness to clarify the difference between real threats to our societies – and there are real threats to our societies, from automation to climate change – and conspiracy theories.

Honestly, though, I think many of our leaders are already there. Here’s a quote from Canada’s Foreign Minister Freeland a month ago, discussing the liberal international order:

“Since before the end of the Second World War, beginning with the international conference at Bretton Woods in 1944, Canada has been deeply engaged in, and greatly enjoyed the benefits of, a global order based on rules…. These institutions may seem commonplace now…. We may take them for granted. We should not. Seventy years ago they were revolutionary. And they set the stage for the longest period of peace and prosperity in our history…. Seventy years ago Canada played a pivotal role in forming the postwar international order. We are now called—by virtue of our unique experience, expertise, geography, diversity and values—to do this again, for a new century.”

And here, speaking the same day, and also in Canada, is President Obama:

“We’re in an environment where we are only accepting information that fits our opinions rather than basing our opinions on the facts that we receive — and evidence and reason and logic…. By the way, that’s been part of our prosperity — the Enlightenment — and we should continue to promote those values.

“[The liberal international order] based not just on military power or national affiliations, but on principle, on rule of law, on human rights, on individual freedoms, on empathy, on understanding across cultures — that’s our only choice. Those of us who believe in those values and believe in democracy have to speak out with conviction. We have to listen, we have to acknowledge imperfect information. We don’t have a monopoly on wisdom, but we have to speak on behalf of those things that we know are true and are right because both the facts and history are on our side.”

As the former president urges, the West will learn to embrace the challenge and have the argument: we will eagerly pit our system of governance against the alternatives. We will openly argue that the Rule of Law, Independent Judiciaries, Electoral Integrity, Representative Government, and Freedom from Corruption are good things, that Liberal Democracy works well and that we like our systems, both domestically and internationally.

We will learn not to debate about which Western actors are Nazis; not to repeat lies about child abductions, or gay mafia plots, or genocidal plans; not to waste any more energy than absolutely necessary in refuting blatant lies about nonexistent bombing errors, or arms deals, or anti-male or anti-white agendas. Instead we’ll learn to re-frame questions – like any good politician – and consistently promote our own, positive, Western narrative.

Which brings me to part two: what does this look like at the micro level?

At the micro level, Western countries and alliances will learn to run information campaigns like political campaigns. We will tap into the rich traditions of research in neuroscience, psychology, social psychology, anthropology, history, economics, political science, and other sciences to help us formulate the most effective methods of promoting our own values, and reframing adversarial campaigns.

We are already pretty good at tracking adversarial narratives. We will next learn to reframe those narratives and replace them with our own.

We will make the truth louder. Not so much with bots as with consistency of messages shared across ministries, governments, and civil society actors; the building of networks, and the identification of credible messengers; and with effective audience analysis to make sure our themes are well adapted to existing preconceptions.

We will learn to be proactive with those audiences, reaching out to them before they encounter disinformation.

We will become better mapping the networks of so-called experts utilized by our adversaries – and better at building networks of our own, replete with messengers credible to our target audiences.

We will prepare memes supporting our narrative and nullifying our adversaries’. Memes designed to break apart unnatural alliances between far left and far right, between loyal domestic opposition and foreign interventionists. Wedge memes, if you will.

We will learn the importance of repetition, repetition, and repetition when it comes to telling our own stories. And of not repeating adversarial or false narratives. We will make the truth louder.

We will not be trapped by our adversaries’ framing of persons or events. Here I quote MacLeans’ Kerry Glavin, describing how the Canadian media handled accusations that their new foreign minister was from a family of Nazis:

“Unfortunately, we’ve all spent a great deal of effort being clever in our elucidations upon how to properly distinguish between a Ukrainian patriot and a Nazi collaborator in the terror time of the 1940s, and about where one might situate the boundaries of Soviet-occupied Eastern Galicia on contemporary maps of the Polish-Ukrainian borderlands, and other such boring ephemera. This is what Moscow wanted, and it also wanted the not-especially-bright among us to be wondering out loud and often about whether it might be true that Freeland is a Russophobic Nazi sympathizer who can’t be trusted with the Foreign Affairs portfolio.”

Don’t get trapped in their frame. Discredit it, instead.

In short, we will realize that this is an ideological conflict, a contest of narratives with strategic outcomes.

We’re going to learn to take the fight to the level of meta-narrative, and there we’ll have the argument about which systems of governance are best for the governed.

And we’ll win the argument, because for all our challenges – and the challenges are real – liberal democracy, the post-war international order, and democratic governance are responsive and effective.

Especially compared to corrupt, dysfunctional, kleptocratic, patriarchal autocracies.

[If necessary / time permitting]

Finally, to the question of information activities having a higher profile in Western defense policies and doctrines.

They may not become as predominant in United States defense policy so long as we have by far the largest military and therefore the tendency to view problems and solutions through a steel lens.

Then again, that could change if the military successfully pivots toward a strategic doctrine that emphasizes the non-kinetic phases of “combat,” a process that I’m told is underway – but that I’ve been told “is underway” for probably ten years now.

I’d be interested in hearing from the Americans in this room as to progress around doctrine coping with “human terrain,” “target audience analysis,” “phase zero,” etc.

There’s also the chance that the United States could begin to re-emphasize information activities in civilian agencies, along the lines of our investments during WWII and the Cold War. I really don’t see this happening in the next two years, though. Quite the opposite, in fact.

But… outside of my country I believe we’re seeing a dramatic increase in the understanding of information activities. Especially in Northern Europe, from here in the Baltics straight over to Britain.

This is not surprising since (1) other democracies lack the burden of possessing history’s largest kinetic force and (2) they invented this stuff – some of the most compelling examples of information activities date back to WWI and the interwar period, when France, Britain, Germany, Italy, and the Soviet Union pioneered the use of modern technology to fight non-kinetic battles worldwide.

When you look at the current speed of technological change today, and the corresponding empowerment of individuals and non-traditional groupings of individuals, I see tremendous parallels with the interwar period.

I also see a greater clarity back then around the nature of the conflict. The people and organizations working to promote fascism, communism, and liberal democracy were consciously battling to define human destiny. And all sides were convinced they were right.

And this gets me back to my initial point: Western democracies will be well placed to cope with disinformation campaigns when we’re confident enough to reframe them.

I’m confident enough in the the post-war international order broadly, the European experiment specifically, and the Enlightenment tradition ideologically to believe that the West can win the narrative argument… once we learn not to play by our adversaries’ rules.

The Real 100 Days

Franklin D. Roosevelt delivering his inaugural address, March 4, 1933. Courtesy Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, image 48224291.

The chronically insecure Richard Nixon appointed a Hundred Days Group to try to ensure passage of the requisite amount of legislation in his first hundred days.

Newt Gingrich declared one in 1995, pledging that the Contract with America would be passed in one hundred days.

In 2011 Andrew Cuomo congratulated himself on a successful first hundred days when the New York legislature passed an on-time budget for the first time in many years.

And so it has been for elected officials since 1933—many of them trying to evoke for themselves the warm glow of accomplishment that accrued to Franklin Roosevelt after his famous first hundred days, March 9 to June 16, 1933.

Much is being made today about the impending end of President Trump’s first hundred days and whether his record of accomplishment will live up to his promises. But it was the news media, not Franklin Roosevelt, who gave the benchmark its name. Its origins might give students of history pause.

The first “first hundred days” marked the period between Napoleon’s return from exile on the island of Elba on March 20, 1815, the turbulent battles including his defeat at Waterloo that ensued, and the second restoration of King Louis XVIII—under escort from the Duke of Wellington—on July 8, 1815. (It was actually a period of 111 days, but the French are not such sticklers for precision in the face of a grand pronouncement.) Thus it was the prefect of Paris, Gaspard, Comte de Chabrol, who first used the term “les Cent Jours” in welcoming the return of the king and the Bourbon monarchy. Were the newsmen of 1933 being ironic in dubbing the Roosevelt’s first months in office a modern-day “cent jours”?

We will never know, but it may be worth revisiting the historical context of the modern concept of the hundred days. Roosevelt took office at a time of unparalleled national despair. Trump may have described the country as beset by American “carnage” in his inaugural, but it is impossible for us to imagine the state of the nation when Roosevelt took office on March 4, 1933.

A string of bank closings beginning on February 14 had sent the nation’s financial system into a new crisis.  Most of the nation’s banks were closed. On inauguration morning the governors of Illinois and New York closed the Chicago and New York stock exchanges.

These were the final weeks of what historians have come to call the “interregnum,” the seemingly interminable four months between the election and inauguration of FDR. After this terrifying episode of presidential limbo, Inauguration Day was changed from March 4 to January 20.

But the conditions in 1933 were just the most recent in a series of economic disasters. Since 1929 the Great Depression—the deepest and longest in our history—had tested the endurance of Americans. Eighty years later the grim statistics of life in the United States in 1933 remain shocking.

Depression era breadline, New York City, 1932. Courtesy Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, image 7420(244).

In a population of about 125 million, one in four workers was jobless.  In industrial cities like Youngstown, Ohio, close to three-quarters were unemployed.

Nineteen million Americans depended upon meager relief payments to survive. There was no national safety net.

Those lucky enough to have jobs earned (on average) 30 percent less than three years earlier.

Over 1,300 municipalities—and many states—had defaulted on their obligations to creditors.

Two statistics, selected from thousands, capture the sense of paralysis that gripped the nation.

  • In 1929 the US Steel Corporation—a cornerstone of the American economy—boasted 225,000 full-time employees. In 1933 it did not have a single full-time worker.

 

  • The nation’s farmers were in even worse shape. Farm prices fell 53 percent from 1929 to 1932; farm income fell 70 percent. By early 1933, 45 percent of farmers were delinquent on their mortgages.

Violence erupted at farm foreclosure sales and the homeless gathered in tent cities called Hoovervilles.

Some voices, fired by desperation and fear, even called for a suspension of constitutional government and near-dictatorial powers for the president. Instead the new president famously declared in his first Inaugural Address:

This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.

He called for “action, and action now.”

Immediately on taking office, the banking crisis consumed the president and his advisors.  Columbia law professor Raymond Moley, head of Roosevelt’s Brain Trust, and the new Treasury Secretary William Woodin worked day and night with Hoover’s financial team, including former Secretary of the Treasury Ogden Mills and other holdovers from the previous administration.

The plan they adopted was essentially that of Hoover’s team, a conservative approach designed to save rather than subvert the capitalist system.

On his first full day in office, by executive order, Roosevelt declared a four-day national banking holiday effective Monday, March 6.

He then called Congress to Washington in special session. Their first task was to pass legislation under which the banks could be reorganized and reopened.

On March 8, to explain the banking plan, FDR held the first of the 997 press conferences of his twelve-year presidency.

On March 9, five days after his inauguration, he signed the Emergency Banking Relief Act. It gave him broad discretionary powers over banking and currency and was introduced, passed, and signed in less than eight hours.

Roosevelt’s advisors believed it was key to get people to deposit, not withdraw, their savings from the banks. To explain the plan to the public, the president delivered his first Fireside Chat, on banking, on March 12.

In plain language Roosevelt spoke to the America people as if speaking to a single family gathered around their firesides.

He calmly and clearly explained the reorganization. “My friends,” he said, “ I want to talk for a few minutes . . . about banking. . . . I want to tell you what has been done in the last few days, and why it was done, and what the next steps are going to be.” He explained the phased reopening of the banks, concluding by asking the public to return their savings to the reorganized banks. “My friends,” he assured them, “it is safer to keep your money in a reopened bank than it is to keep it under the mattress.” Amazingly, people returned their precious savings to the re-opened banks.

The people also began a national conversation with their new president. In the week following his inauguration, more than 460,000 people wrote to FDR. He was forced to replace Hoover’s one mailroom clerk with a staff of fifty; over the course of his presidency, an average of six thousand people a day wrote to their president.

On March 16 Roosevelt decided to keep Congress in session to move forward on the relief and reform measures that would address systemic problems in the financial system, agriculture, and industry—and meet the immediate problems of food, shelter, and work for the suffering masses.

The list that follows is the standard of accomplishment that has proved an elusive benchmark for every president who followed.

March 20, Economy Act. Ironically, an attempt to reduce the budget—this act cut veterans’ pensions, reduced federal salaries by 15 percent, and reorganized several government agencies. It was the opening salvo of the New Deal. Like most Democrats, FDR believed a balanced budget would put the government on sound financial footing. So the regular federal budget actually contracted even as the new emergency spending skyrocketed. He believed the Economy Act would save $500 million; the actual saving was about $240 million. The real value was probably in terms of morale, a signal of the new administration’s determination to act decisively.

March 22, Beer–Wine Revenue Act. As the repeal of the Volstead Act of 1919 made its way through the states, the Beer–Wine Revenue Act legalized the sale of wine and beer that contained no more than 3.2 percent alcohol—and people rejoiced. The act went into effect on April 7. The 21st Amendment, which repealed the 18th Amendment, was enacted on December 5, ending the failed experiment of Prohibition.

March 31, Civilian Conservation Corps Reconstruction Relief Act. This act created 250,000 road construction, soil erosion, flood control, national park, and reforestation jobs for young men on relief between the ages of 18 and 25. Those employed received $30.00 weekly, $25.00 of which was sent to their families. The CCC employed more than two million young men (referred to as “Roosevelt’s Tree Army”) by the end of 1941 and is credited by some historians with a vital role in preparing young men for the war effort.

April 19, Abandonment of Gold Standard (executive order). This brought about a decline in the dollar value abroad, but commodity, stock, and silver prices increased on American exchanges.

May 12, Federal Emergency Relief Act. This act vastly enlarged and reorganized Hoover’s Emergency Relief Act. It was administrated by Harry L. Hopkins and was replaced by the WPA in 1935. Half of the $500 million appropriation was allotted to the states.

May 13, Agricultural Adjustment Act. At the time about 30 percent of the American workforce was agricultural. The AAA was designed to raise farm prices by cash subsidies or rental payments to farmers in exchange for curtailment of production and by establishing parity prices for certain basic commodities. Funds came from taxes levied on farm product processors. This feature of the AAA was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1936.

May 18, Tennessee Valley Authority Act. This act authorized the TVA to construct dams and power plants and to produce and sell electric power and nitrogen fertilizers in a seven-state region. It inaugurated Roosevelt’s vision for progressive land and social reform, model communities, and resettlement, reforestation, and agricultural educational programs.  It also provided the basis for the Sunbelt, the industrial development of the Tennessee Valley. Between 1933 and 1945, electrification grew from about 2 percent to 75 percent of the population in the Tennessee Valley.

May 27, Federal Securities Act. This act required most new securities issued to be registered with the Federal Trade Commission and established the Securities and Exchange Commission.

June 5, Abandonment of Gold Standard. FDR signed the gold repeal joint resolution—which canceled the gold clause in all federal and private obligations—making all debts and contractual agreements payable in legal tender.

June 13, Home Owners Refinancing Act. This act authorized the Home Owners Loan Corporation (HOLC) to refinance nonfarm mortgage debts. HOLC made loans on about one million mortgages by June 1936, or about 20 percent of the nation’s mortgages.

June 16, National Industrial Recovery Act. This act created the National Recovery Administration (NRA) and established regulatory codes for control of numerous industries. Employers were exempted from antitrust action; employees were guaranteed collective bargaining and minimum wages and maximum hours. The second section of the act established the Public Works Administration (PWA), which provided employment by public works construction. The PWA spent more than $4 billion on 34,000 public works projects. In 1935 the Supreme Court declared the NIRA unconstitutional.

June 16, Glass–Steagall Act. The Glass–Steagall Act created the Federal Bank Deposit Insurance Corporation, which guaranteed bank deposits, separated investment from commercial banking to halt speculation with deposits, and widened the powers of the Federal Reserve Board. The Graham–Leach Act of 1999 repealed important provisions of this act, leading—many observers say—to the abuses that resulted in the recession that started in 2008.

June 16, Farm Credit Act. This act reorganized agricultural credit activities and agencies.

June 16, Emergency Railroad Transportation Act. This act created the office of federal coordinator of transportation and gave the Interstate Commerce Commission supervision over railroad holding companies. It tried to smooth out operating duplications and inefficiencies and required national railroads to limit layoffs due to consolidation.

***

And then — and only then — Franklin Roosevelt took a vacation. He left Washington for a sailing vacation and returned to the family vacation home on Campobello Island, for the first time since contracting polio there in 1921.

 

Unity Ball Keynote

For those of you who missed The Unity Ball on January 20th, here is the text of Consul General Emilio Rabasa’s keynote speech – marking the 85th anniversary of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt´s Good Neighbor Policy

Distinguished guests!

Ladies and gentlemen!

My first recognition goes to the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Foundation, its President & Executive, Michael Weishan and its Director, Jed Willard, for not only having organized this significant event, but also launching a whole year program based on the celebration of the 85th anniversary of the “The Good Neigbour Policy” which include different expressions of the Mexican-USA relations.

I also want to acknowledge and thank Dean Katie O’Dair of the Office of Students Life; Harvard Public Affairs and Communications; The David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies; the Latin Initiative “Camino Arts”; Radio Jarocho and Ronstadt Generations y Los Tucsonenses for their support and participation to make all this possible. Special thanks to Adams House of Harvard University for hosting us tonight, and to Acitrón for their catering, hope you like this sample of Mexican food.

Thank you guests, staff and students for being here tonight.

For the Mexican Consulate it is an honor to participate at this “Unity Ball” to remember and celebrate the “85th anniversary of the Good Neighbor Policy“, which generated substantial changes in the democratic life and fundamental values in Latin America and in Mexico.

Today, it is specifically relevant to remind ourselves and everyone what the good neighbor policy was about. For that purpose, I would like to quote former President Roosevelt at his inaugural speech in 1933: “In the field of world policy, I would dedicate this Nation to the policy of the good neighbor—the neighbor who resolutely respects himself and, because he does so, respects the rights of others—the neighbor who respects his obligations and respects the sanctity of agreements in and with a world of neighbors. We now realize as we have never realized before our interdependence on each other; that we cannot merely take, but must give as well.”

Roosevelt was undoubtedly a visionary: 84 years after those words México and the United States have become fully interdependent in a diversity of activities like trade, investment, academia, technology, innovation, culture, particularly cinema, tourism, agriculture, industry, services and national security.

The good neighbor policy enforced the ties between USA and Mexico in such a way that transformed our relationship from distant neighbors to great partners and friends after NAFTA in the 1990s. From war in the XIXth and beginning of the XXth Century, to an alliance of two neighbor-friends who fight together against common foes such as crime and drug dealers; partners who invest and trade among each other, in a dimension seldom found between other neighbor countries; and creative cosponsors of art, sports and entertainment.

Integration has been so intense between our two countries that particularly now, it is essential for Mexico to conduct a proactive and creative foreign policy that includes political dialogue, constructive negotiation, the protection of Mexicans abroad, cooperation for more economic development and the defense of Mexico’s interests, here and in the world. We are now facing a new era in the relationship with the United States of America.

As such, a good neighbor policy has to consider the wider context of our present and future relation.

Thirty five million Mexican-American leave in this great country, out of which the third part were born in Mexico. These immigrants through hard work and effort, produce $240 billion each year, pay $90 billion in taxes and use only $5 billion in public services. Mexican-Americans generate 8% of the US GDP. Mexican migrants spend 86% of their earnings inside the United States; they only send 14% as remittances.

It is important to mention that those millions of Mexicans who have emigrated to look for work, are productive and good people, who represent Mexico´s best. Their contributions include professionals, scientists, innovators, artists, creators, academics, small and large entrepreneurs who invest in the United States and generate many jobs. Also, women and men who work tirelessly every day in agriculture, trade and services; Mexicans who contribute not only to their families on both sides of the border, but also share their values and efforts to the greatness of the United States and Mexico.

I consider this isn’t a zero sum game, but a win- win relation. Let me be clear that undocumented immigrants are not taking away a slice of anybody else’s pie, they’re making the entire pie bigger.

Additionally, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates that trade inside NAFTA sustains 14 million American jobs, 6 million exclusively by Mexico and eight million with Canada. Trade US/Mexico is more than $1.3 billion dollars per day, almost 1 million dollars per minute. 40% of the parts that make up Mexican exports are made in the US, in other words, 40 cents of every dollar spent on Mexican goods support US jobs.

However such strong interchange has not been limited to trade and business. Some concrete examples show the diversity and richness of our common endeavors: The Academy of Arts and Sciences of Hollywood awarded the last 3 Oscars for best movie directors to two Mexicans: One for Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity) and two for Alejandro González Iñárritu (Birdman and The Revenant). In sports, ask the Dodgers about their Mexican pitcher Fernando Valenzuela’s performance. In Science, NASA awarded the Exceptional Achievement Medal in 1989 for his work in the USA, and in 1995 the Nobel Prize in Chemistry went to Dr. Mario Molina, a Mexican scientist, for his research achievements at the University of California. There is an endless list that comprises also other activities such as gastronomy, arts, music, dance and certainly the business world. Our Marine and Armed Forces have engaged in humanitarian aid to the USA, in case of natural disasters such as it was when hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005.

At present, Mexico, a 1.2 trillion dollar economy, is one of the world´s more open economies in the world, with a free trade network along 46 countries. We are the 13th exporter world wide, and by year 2050 project to be the 8th world economy.

In agricultural goods 1,596 million dollars are worth of exports in the food industry to more than 150 destinations

In education the percentage of graduate students in engineering and manufacture is higher than in Germany, Brazil, Spain, USA and UK.

Mexico is the 9th exporter of medical appliances, and an elite country of medical tourism who attends one million foreign patients each year.

Culturally Mexico is the 6th country with more sites declared Patrimony of Humanity, 1st one in Latin America, By the way, for this year UNESCO declared the Mexican Constitution that celebrates its centennial, a “memory document for humanity”. The Mexican capital has been recognized as the American Capital of Culture for 2017. Since 2015 we returned to the 10th touristic destination world wide, with more than 30 million visitors each year.

Last but not least, we proudly host more than one million Americans leaving throughout Mexico.

In 2017 Mexico will continue promoting the best causes of humanity, including respect for human rights, combat climate change, create a new global governance on migration and refugees and a new instrument for the prohibition of nuclear weapons, among our key foreign relations goals.

Finally, I would like to recall two examples drawn form our bilateral relation´s history that clearly show, how a good neighbor policy between the USA and Mexico, has worked in solving border issues by dialogue and negotiation:

Last century a shift in the regular curse of Río Grande that served as frontier between the two neighbor countries, created a conflict over about 600 acres (2,4km2) between El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, known as the Chamizal conflict. After intense dialogue and negotiations during the administrations of Presidents Kennedy and Johnson of USA, and López Mateos-Díaz Ordaz from México, a solution was reached with a construction of a channel to redirect its waters, in which both countries shared the cost, along with the cost of three new bridges and the creation of the Chamizal National Memorial as a museum, to increase visitors awareness of cooperation, diplomacy and cultural values as a basic means to conflict resolution.
Another case was the dispute over de salinity of the Rio Colorado waters which originated in the USA side and deeply affected agriculture on the Mexican side, mainly in the northern state of Baja California. In 1972, the United States and Mexico found a “permanent and definitive solution” to the salinity problem. The US in addition to agreeing to provide Mexico with the quantity and quality of water required by its farmers, built a desalinization plant in Arizona to process the water from the Wellton-Mohawk diversion. This solution was reached during the Nixon-Echeverría administrations, and I know the case very well, because my father being the Foreign Secretary of Mexico talked and negotiated the solution with Henry Kissinger, the then American Secretary of State.

Those examples are true inspirations on how to solve frontier issues among our two countries through dialogue conducted with respect, and negotiation shaped with creativity.

It is true that nowadays we need a more secure border, but, for the benefit of both countries, not only of one, since the issue is not only for the control of undocumented migration and drugs into the US, but also to stop the weapons and money trafficking from the US to drug cartels and organized crime in Mexico, which is literally killing my people. A two ways problem, requires a two ways solution, between two good willing neighbors.

The friendship between our countries has been mutually beneficial and such harmony deserves to be preserved. Let’s continue on building the bridges of friendship and goodness through negotiation, cooperation and mutual respect.

A good neighbor policy must be conductive to solving problems, particularly border issues, through dialogue and negotiation on equal footage, not by confrontation, less so by subordination.

A good neighbor policy means finding ways to leave, not only in peace, but even more so, in harmony, making the neighbors border a truly bridge of richness and security and not a wall of isolation.

Thank you all and have a great night!

Pearl Harbor and the End of Isolationism

Seventy-five years ago this morning, the United States was firmly isolationist. Widely disillusioned by the aftermath of the “War to End All Wars,” the American public turned its attention inward after WWI, first preoccupied with the financial glitter and gains of the Roaring 20s, then plunged into social introspection and cross-examination by the Great Depression. In 1941, America was deeply divided as to whether to rescue Europe again, however dire the situation there. Only the huge shock of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th 1941 —  “a date which will live in infamy” — jolted the nation from its isolationist stance.

 
Since that fateful day, the international landscape has been entirely reshaped, largely as a result of the hard-fought efforts by Roosevelt to create a new post-war world order: one that would link the world in an interconnected web of economic, political and social cooperation and prevent us from slipping back into the slumbers of isolationism. From FDR’s Fourth Inaugural Address:

 
“Today, in this year of war, 1945, we have learned lessons – at a fearful cost – and we shall profit by them. We have learned that we cannot live alone, at peace; that our own well-being is dependent on the well-being of other Nations, far away… We have learned to be citizens of the world, members of the human community. We have learned the simple truth, as Emerson said, that, ‘The only way to have a friend is to be one.’”

 
And, in fact, the world we live in today is largely that of Roosevelt’s vision. But as of today, the 75th anniversary of the trigger for the North Atlantic Alliance, cracks have appeared and deepened in the shining façade. Public mistrust of trade agreements such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership — on both sides of the Atlantic — threaten to derail economic cooperation. Reluctance among some Americans to maintain NATO in light of sometimes lackadaisical European allies portends trouble for the military alliance, illiberal ideologies and anti-immigration populism are on the rise, and the related resurgence of isolationism in the United States menaces U.S. foreign relations.

 
Does America, and the West broadly, have the will to to maintain the post war order over the next 75 years? Or will something new, or old, replace it?

On Democracy and the Election

fdr-1st-inaugural-copy

Franklin Roosevelt famously considered General Douglas MacArthur the most dangerous man in America.  Huey Long was number two.   What would he think of Donald Trump?

That got me thinking about what advice he might give us today.  When Roosevelt wanted the American people to face a difficult challenge, he often asked them to look to the past to find strength in the endurance of our forebears and wisdom in the actions of past leaders.  So, in the wake of our recent election, I turned to Roosevelt himself for some strength and wisdom.

Where, then, are the parallels for today? We face an uncertain future with an unproven president-elect whose campaign has stigmatized great swaths of the American public.

First of all, let us remember FDR’s charge to be wary of the hazards of fear.

Second, let us remember a comment from Woodrow Wilson that Roosevelt often repeated when things looked grim for progressive government. “It is only once in a generation that a people can be lifted above material things. That is why conservative government is in the saddle two-thirds of the time” (as quoted in James MacGregor Burns, The Lion and the Fox, 1956, p. 54). Perhaps progressive government in our generation had its moment with the Obama presidency and the pendulum has swung back to the country’s natural center.

But Roosevelt also said in the aftermath of a conservative backlash in 1938, “You have read that as a result of the balloting last November, the liberal forces in the United States are on their way to the cemetery—yet I ask you to remember that liberal forces in the United States have often been killed and buried, with the inevitable result that in short order they have come to life again with more strength than they had before” (Address at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, December 5, 1938).

We are deeply worried today about our populace, which seems hopelessly divided into separate and antagonistic camps. Roosevelt had something to say about that too, and in the aftermath of this election it is a warning that bears serious attention. In 1940, with Hitler’s conquest of Europe complete but for the elimination of Great Britain, the United States was deeply divided—more divided, the historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. wrote, than he ever again experienced in his long life.

War hovered over all, and the argument between interventionists and isolationists grew each week more savage and despairing. There have been a number of fierce national quarrels in my lifetime—over communism in the later Forties, over McCarthyism in the Fifties, over Vietnam in the Sixties—but none so tore apart families and friendships as the great debate of 1940–41. Though historians have dealt ably with the policy issues, justice has not been done to the searing personal impact in those angry days
[A Life in the Twentieth Century, p. 241].

While the attack on Pearl Harbor put an end to most national discord a year later, Roosevelt warned in his his 1940 Annual Message to Congress that internal conflict—which pits one group against another—is an open door to totalitarianism:

Doctrines that set group against group, faith against faith, race against race, class against class, fanning the fires of hatred in men too despondent, too desperate to think for themselves, were used as rabble-rousing slogans on which dictators could ride to power. And once in power they could saddle their tyrannies on whole nations and on their weaker neighbors.

Roosevelt was warning Americans to unite in the face of an external threat, but he was also speaking to a nation that was tearing itself apart. His deeper message was to strengthen democracy by uniting behind its values, which in 1940 as in 2016 require us to work together to use the tools of our democracy to preserve it.

Our times are not as desperate as those of 1933 or 1940. We are a nation that enjoys many blessings. We have serious challenges and we must meet them, but now is not the time for fear and dissention. Now is the time to redouble our efforts to strengthen our democracy, for what FDR said in 1940 must be reconfirmed in 2016. President-elect Trump used the tools of a demagogue to gain the presidency, but we must not allow the country to descend into autocracy.