The dilemma of living in a failed state.

Dr. Jose Miriles

By “failed state”, I mean a country without a government capable or desirous of protecting it’s citizens from criminals, gangs, warlords, or itself, let alone external enemies; a country not even worth conquering. I am looking at Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and possibly soon, if AMLO keeps getting more corrupt, Mexico. The problems are obvious for ordinary citizens living there. It becomes a full blown dilemma when the world’s most stable, wealthy, free and powerful country is within walking distance, considerable as it is. If the United States suddenly opened our borders to migrants from the south, with no restrictions, and offered protection from criminals on the journey, the dilemma would be swept away in the ensuing flood of humanity. The dilemma isn’t “should I leave my home and country and go live in the United States?” The dilemma is “can I make it to the United States and get in and live there?” That’s how horrible it must be to live in a failed state.

How do I know, did I ever live in a failed state? No, I was born in the United States and have always lived here, except for a year in Vietnam and a month in Japan. I am inferring what it is like from the behavior and statements of the migrants. I invite anyone who disagrees with me to move to one of those places I named above, and then report back. Any takers? No? I didn’t think so.

What if there were no possibility of getting into, let alone settling in, the United States? In fact, what if The United States as we know it didn’t exist? “As we know it”, or perhaps I should say, “as we live it”, because too many Americans don’t know what my country is, but they live the benefits while taking them for granted. Freedom, security, opportunity, (mostly) just laws through guiding documents that have stood the test of time are what lures migrants, refugees, seekers of more, and beleaguered families to The United States. More than any other country, we are the world, in terms of the number of different nationalities, cultures, ethnicities, religions, and skin colors that reside here side by side, in relative harmony compared to anywhere else.

Back to my main point. There is no desirable place in the world that does not have borders and entrance requirements, so you don’t pack up your life and set sail to found a new colony anymore. The only questions for the beleaguered of Central American failed states are: “What is harder and less feasible, staying where I am and trying to improve it, or attempting the journey to the United States and hoping to get in and stay in? If conditions where I am are intolerable, but getting to and staying in the United States were impossible, what would I be willing to do to improve my country to where it was tolerable?” No country in Central America is beyond hope (as long as the problems are internal rather than being caught up in a war, like Syria). The vast majority of the problems are directly related to government and police corruption aiding rather than quelling gang and cartel power.  What can the ordinary citizen do?  Perhaps what theyu did in Mexico, when it became intolerable.

Autodefensas or Policia Comunitaria or “Policia Popular” are vigilante self-defense groups that arose in the Gulf of Mexico and South Mexico regions between 2012 and 2013. The Mexican government has attempted to monitor and absorb these groups into the federal government to act as Rural Police in order to avoid clashes between the paramilitaries and the military itself. “Auto Defensa,” or autonomous uprisings by campesinos who, pushed to the breaking point by criminal gangs operating in their communities, decided to take back control of their towns and villages. The event generally credited with sparking this movement occurred on January 5th in Ayutla de los Libres, a town of roughly 30,000, when a local representative, or comesario, was kidnapped for ransom. A group of locals decided to combat the kidnappers. They armed themselves, closed roads into and out of the town, formed patrols and, before long, freed the comesario and took his captors prisoner.

From Time Magazine: This contemporary incarnation of community policing in Ayutla, however, is special. It was not mediating land disputes or arguments over livestock, as its predecessors so often did. Donning masks and wielding shotguns and machetes, these self-deputized protectors were willing to confront — head on — the sort of crime and lawlessness that has turned parts of Mexico into North American killing fields. There have been 60,000 murders in Mexico since 2006, and large tracts of the country are virtually ungovernable. Incredibly, in Guerrero — as remote and impoverished as it is — drug gangs have operated with near-impunity and in collusion with corrupt security forces. The threat of extortion and kidnapping hangs like a pall over every farmer, stall owner and businessman — most of whom pay protection money to local mobsters. The darker side of this lawlessness, of course, manifests itself in the epidemic of violence, including rape and murder, that has become commonplace.” Exactly like Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

“The Ayutla uprising has been so successful (residents say criminal activity has dropped 90% since early January) that it caused a ripple effect in villages all over La Costa Chica and in other indigenous communities throughout Guerrero. The group from Ayutla and the district of Teconapa (known as UPOEG) have even gained recognition from State Governor Ángel Heladio Aguirre Rivero, who has publicly praised their fight against crime.The movement is not without its own dark underbelly, however. By mid-January, newspaper reports began appearing detailing the operations of the Policia Communitaria, operating what seemed like a program of social cleansing, arresting criminals and those suspected of crimes and detaining them in makeshift prisons in the Guerrero hinterlands. At the beginning, there were 30 prisoners. Soon as many as 60. It was rough popular justice: the accused were often paraded and shamed before crowds of hundreds.” There you have it. Such vigilante “solutions” tend to get out of hand and often become a bigger problem.

The Zeta cartel in Mexico started out as a military solution to stopping drug cartel violence, and soon became the most brutal drug cartel of all. But, and I am guessing, if the beleaguered peasants and ordinary citizens of the Central American failed states preferred the “vigilante solution” to what they have, AND had no hope of living here, they might have to fix their own problems. If they did, they would be better off in the long run.


The global warming risk premium….or not.


I got my Masters degree in Ecology in 1974. Barely 40 years ago, we were on the precipice of “The Ice Age Cometh”…Scientists were warning about a coming Ice Age. The cover of Science News, March 1, 1975, featured the headline THE ICE AGE COMETH? with a lurid drawing of NYC skyscrapers being swept away by glaciers. Somewhere along the line, the winds of climate research funding shifted, and global warming became the next new great fear of the future. But the phrase “global warming’ was just not adequate marketing, and what if those winds were to shift again back to cooling….? Aha, call it climate change and you cover both bases.

So whom to look to for objective evidence of the seriousness of climate change-global warming? I spent the last 25 years of my professional life in financial planning, which included an emphasis on risk management. The risk premium is a ubiquitous feature of not only daily life, but also finance. Investments, insurance, loans and credit ratings all have armies of actuaries who gather voluminous information to help them calculate the proper risk premium–the extra cost associated with increased risk. Probably the most familiar example is auto insurance rates. Get in a fender bender, and if no one is hurt, the very next worry is how the accident will affect your insurance rate. In applying for a loan or credit card, a person with a lower credit score will pay a _________ rate of interest. A high risk driver pays _______ for insurance than a low risk driver. The interest rate a bond pays the investor on a safe, secure company is _________ than the interest rate an investor will demand on a high risk or “junk bond”. The correct answers are higher, more and lower respectively. Therefore, the most reliable indicator of the seriousness of climate change is the risk premium, or how much more the insurance company would charge to insure a home at sea level vs. a home higher up.

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners–NAIC–survey asks insurers questions about governance structures in place to address climate risk, climate risk management programs instituted across their enterprises, how they are using modeling tools to manage climate risks, how they are engaging with stakeholders on climate risk and how they are measuring and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Despite the improvements from two years ago, the report shows that most of the 148 insurers evaluated still lack focus in addressing climate risks and related opportunities. A report says, “From their disclosures what we could tell was that they’re not really addressing climate risk in any sort of comprehensive way. Many responses lacked information about the impact climate change is expected to have across insurers’ lines of business, investments at risk because of climate change, underwriting practices and modeling. What that usually means is that perhaps senior leadership and maybe the boards of directors are just not engaging this topic.”

Since vast sums of money, and possibly the very solvency of many insurance companies, is at risk if climate change fears have a solid basis in fact, and if climate models promoted by the climate change lobby are even close to accurate, insurance companies should be pulling out the stops to re-evaluate their risk premiums. They “are not engaging the topic.” What does this mean? Are they lazy, foolish, ignorant or…maybe the world as we know it won’t end in 12 years. Can you still get a 30 year mortgage on beach front property? Yeah, or even a longer one. Hysteria comes and goes, it recycles. Those covers of Time Magazine should be a lesson.