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A new report from the House Homeland Security Committee lays bare the culture of misconduct that continues to plague the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), finding a surge in complaints and a pervasive lack of accountability at the agency.

This comes on the heels of another significant increase in cases of employee misconduct at the TSA, as a 2013 investigation from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported a 27 percent increase from fiscal years 2010 to 2012. In response to that earlier report and the GAO’s related finding that the TSA did “not have the process in place to adequately address it,” the TSA installed adopted many of the GAO’s recommendations for investigating misconduct in an attempt to finally bring some effective oversight and accountability to the troubled agency.

Despite those efforts, there has been no slowdown in the surge of misconduct allegations filed against TSA employees: misconduct complaints increased by 28.5 percent from fiscal year 2013 to 2015 while the number of full-time equivalent employees grew by only 1.6 percent.

These allegations range from relatively mundane but still troubling offenses like a failure to follow instructions and failure to report to duty to more egregious cases like an officer being charged with facilitating human smuggling and allegations of sexual misconduct by officers.

The concerns go beyond just the sheer number of complaints or the recent surge, it’s that there are so many employees that have allegedly committed some form of misconduct multiple times: roughly 43 percent of the employees with a complaint had more than one, almost 5 percent had more than 5, and one ‘enterprising’ employee had 18 separate complaints during fiscal years 2013 to 2015.  Despite the long-recognized problems contributing to a culture prone to misconduct, there do not seem to be consequences for these TSA employees. As the report says “it appears as though minimal accountability is provided with certain employees engaged in ongoing misconduct.”

Number of Complaints among Employees with Filed Complaints, FY 2013-2015


Source: Homeland Security Committee.

This recent surge in complaints might be due to the perception that allegations of misconduct will not be thoroughly investigated, and this does not seem to be baseless: even as the number of complaints increased substantially, the number of investigations over this same period declined by 15 percent, while the number of investigations closed fell by 28 percent. Even within the shrinking pool of cases where the agency takes some action, fewer employees faced real consequences, as “TSA increased the use of non-disciplinary actions by almost 80 [percent], while it decreased the use of disciplinary and adverse actions by 14 [percent] and 23 [percent], respectively.” In most cases, TSA employees can think it is plausible that they can avoid being investigated should they have a complaint filed against them, and if there is ultimately a decision against them, the most likely reprimand will be non-disciplinary actions like counseling, guidance, or additional training.

Employees within the TSA who might have tried to bring attention to some of the agency’s problem may have faced some form of backlash, as almost a dozen individuals told staffers that  “certain senior leaders at TSA have reassigned employees to other locations around the country as retaliation for, in some cases, employees raising security concerns.” Far from moving towards more transparency and attempting to address the ongoing misconduct that seems to be so prevalent in the agency, some senior level employees could be undermining these efforts. Outside agencies and Congress have also lamented their limited ability to investigate these concerns because the agency has not been forthcoming with requested data.

Misconduct Allegations and Investigations, FY 2013-2015


Source: Homeland Security Committee.

Beyond these concerns about misconduct, other investigations have revealed the TSA to be ineffective and prone to security failures. My colleague Chris Edwards has an insightful policy analysis laying out the case for privatizing the TSA and following the lead of most airports in Europe and Canada that use private companies for screening procedures. As he explains, allowing competitive bidding to multiple companies could finally bring a degree of accountability to the sphere, something that is sorely lacking at the TSA. 

After Monday’s acquittal of Lt. Brian Rice in the ongoing Freddie Gray saga, lead prosecutor Marilyn Mosby is batting a perfect 0-4. The three previous defendants were similarly acquitted, with two (and perhaps three) more officers to take the stand in the future. 

It appears that Marilyn Mosby’s prosecutions have been politically motivated and without foundation. The big problem, however, is that Freddie Gray has taken the focus off of Baltimore’s long and painful economic plunge – a plunge that can be laid squarely at the feet of Charm City’s long embrace of anti-market economic policies.

My colleague, Prof. Stephen J.K. Walters, and I wrote about this in the Investor’s Business Daily on April 22, 2016: “One Year After: Freddie Gray and ‘Structural Statism’.”

Here is some of what we wrote about how the path of structural statism has contributed to Baltimore’s poverty and associated problems.

“When Freddie Gray was born in 1989, Baltimore hosted 787,000 residents and 445,000 jobs. By the time his fatal injuries in police custody provoked riots last April, the city’s population had fallen by one fifth, to 623,000, and its job base had shrunk by one quarter, to 334,000.

Little wonder that throughout his life, Mr. Gray had never been legally employed. Nevertheless, friends and family considered him “a good provider,” according to The Baltimore Sun.

This was because he worked in the drug trade, which filled his city’s economic vacuum. An average day on the corner can yield take-home pay ten times that available in the low-skill warehousing or service jobs sometimes available to high-school dropouts like Gray.

The catch, of course, is that such rewards carry two great risks. The lesser of these is regular involvement with the justice system. Gray was arrested 18 times and served three years behind bars in his tragically brief life.

Far more dangerous is how competition works in illegal markets. When selling contraband, one does not pursue market share by advertising high quality or low prices. Sales are increased by acquiring territory from rivals, often violently.

For Baltimore’s drug cartels, the post-riot disequilibrium provided an opportunity for market expansion. Inevitably, each strategic assassination produced reprisals and collateral damage.

As a result, 2015 saw the highest homicide rate in Baltimore’s history, at 55 per 100,000 residents — over 13 times New York’s rate. This horrific suffering was concentrated in the African-American community: 93% of victims were black, of which 95% were male and 65% aged 18 to 34.

In Freddie Gray’s demographic, then, the homicide rate was 450 per 100,000 — higher than the peak U.S. combat death rates recorded in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The prevailing narrative is that all this is a by-product of structural racism and exemplifies a society “built on plunder” (according to the celebrated black radical Ta-Nehisi Coates). This is a myth.

It is not that racism doesn’t exist but rather that it is relatively constant. When explaining variations in economic and social outcomes, constants have little power.

It’s the application of destructive public policies that explain why neighborhoods like Gray’s Sandtown-Winchester are deprived. If one had to put a label on this malignant force, it might be structural statism: an addiction to market-unfriendly governmental approaches to every problem.”

Stay tuned: with several trials still to come, we’re bound to hear more about the Freddie Gray Sideshow, even as Baltimore’s plunge into poverty – and its causes – goes unnoticed.

Refugees have few options to flee persecution both quickly and legally. Only a tiny fraction are granted access to formal refugee programs, and while other legal immigration avenues are available, they have quotas that can trap people attempting to escape violence in massive backlogs. But Congress could solve this problem by exempting immigrants from the quotas when they are otherwise eligible for a visa and meet the definition of a refugee.

Why are refugees with U.S. ties forced to wait?

With the exception of immediate family of American citizens, the U.S. government places strict limits on the number of immigrant visas issued each year. When more people apply than visas are made available, the process becomes backlogged. Some applicants from more populous countries must wait a decade or more for a visa number to become available. Nearly 4.6 million people were waiting for employer- or family-sponsored visas as of November 2015.

Under the Refugee Act of 1980, refugees admitted under the formal refugee program are exempted from the normal worldwide limits on immigration. They are also exempted from almost all of the non-criminal requirements for entry—health, income, etc. These exemptions make sense if the goal is to save victims of violence.

Yet as soon as refugees apply for other immigration programs, where they actually meet the qualitative requirements to enter the United States, the caps are enforced against them, and they are forced to wait just like anyone else. This makes no sense. People who otherwise meet all of the criteria for admission to the United States should not die due to an arbitrary and inflexible quota.

The government does not estimate how many people in the visa lines are refugees, but certain countries from which the United States has received a large number of refugees have thousands of people waiting for a visa. The United States, for example, has accepted 39,000 refugees from Iran since 2005, yet another 53,000 Iranians are currently waiting for a visa under the non-refugee programs. In Syria, we have accepted roughly 8,200 refugees since 2005 with another roughly 6,400 waiting in line for an immigrant visa as of fiscal year 2014.

Graph: Refugee Admissions, Immigrant Visa Issued, and Immigrant Visas Pending for Syria and Iran

Of course, the majority of these applicants are unlikely to be refugees, but those who are will get caught up in the backlog just the same—with possibly fatal consequences. (You can read here about the Syrian mother of Rep. Steve Russell’s friend who was killed waiting for a visa.) While Congress should increase the green card limits generally, a specific exemption could save thousands of refugees around the world from persecution, violence, and death.

Why can’t these refugees access the U.S. refugee program?

Under the Refugee Act, the president does have the authority to admit as many refugees of “special humanitarian concern to the United States” as he decides, so the president could simply increase the number of slots and allow refugees who are waiting for visas to apply directly to the program. Indeed, President Obama took both of these actions on behalf of Syrian refugees this fiscal year.

But this fails to solve the problem for several reasons. First, the refugee program is so slow, often taking more than two years to process a single person, that these refugees are just being pushed from one wait list to another. The regular immigration process is faster based on the reasonable rationale that people with proven U.S. ties present a lower potential security threat than others.

Here’s the much bigger problem: because refugees are entitled to so many federal benefits, the program has a de facto cap. The president can only admit as many refugees as Congress appropriates money to fund. Unless Congress increases funding, something it is unlikely to do, green card applicants only take away slots for refugees without any other option to immigrate to the United States.

The president could allow—as I have suggested elsewhere—some refugees to be admitted under the refugee program without benefits or with sponsors who reimburse the government. But admitting refugees who are already eligible under other family- or employer-based programs, which bar their access to benefits, would obtain essentially the same result, allowing the United States to invite in more refugees per dollar spent than under the formal U.S. refugee program.

Even if Congress did fund an increase in refugee expenditures, it would still not make sense to push people with other legal immigration options into the refugee system. The United States can help more people if it simply numerically exempts refugees with pending green cards—who have U.S. sponsors to support them if necessary—instead of sending them to the slower and more expensive refugee program.

How can Congress reform the law?

Congress could fix this issue with a simple change to the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA)—subsections (c) and (d) of section 201—to state that immigrants who are designated as refugees by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees or present proof that they meet the definition of a refugee (under section 101) shall not be included in the quota calculation for employer- or family-sponsored green card limits.

Typical complaints about refugees—that “we don’t know who they are”—shouldn’t apply here. By virtue of their connection to the United States, we do know who they are: they are a close relative of a U.S. resident or an employee of a U.S. company, and it makes little sense to force these people to suffer for an extra few years. After all, they are coming either way—let’s just make sure that it’s not in a body bag.

In search of some upbeat news this morning? Here you go:

“Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey issued an executive order [last month] that effectively ended all government contracts with lobbyists in Arizona. The order terminated contracts with professional lobbyists at all state agencies, boards and commissions.” In future, state agencies other than the judiciary and independently elected officials will need permission from the governor to hire lobbyists, and Ducey’s office said requests would be “heavily scrutinized” and require documentation that the hiring would be important for the “public health, safety and welfare of the state and the taxpayers.” A gubernatorial spokesman says outside lobbyists hired by professional licensing and other boards have often “pushed for burdensome regulations, and that these agencies lack sufficient reporting practices.” The move “comes nearly a decade after the Goldwater Institute — a conservative think-tank — recommended it.”

Reports the Arizona Republic: “Use of contract lobbyists varies state by state. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Utah bans agencies from using public money to pay contract lobbyists. Louisiana prohibits a state government entity or an employee from using state funds to lobby ‘any matter being considered by the legislature.’…In Virginia, officers, boards, institutions or agencies are prohibited from ‘employing lobbying for compensation,’ the NCSL website said.” And no less should be expected. Why should taxpayers be forced to pay so that those on the inside can persuade legislators to increase their powers and prerogatives yet further? [cross-posted and expanded from Overlawyered]

Earlier this month, the California-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld the First Amendment rights of Darren Chaker, siding with a position Cato took in the case. A lower-court judge revoked Chaker’s supervised release for violating a condition that he not “disparage or defame others on the internet.” Judge Alex Kozinski wrote for the court in a terse two-page opinion that reversed that nonsense.

Chaker’s wrote a blogpost that neither “qualif[ied] as harassment” nor as defamation. In that writing that caused all of the hullabaloo, he merely stated that former police investigator Leesa Fazal “was forced out of the Las Vegas Metro Police Department.” Chaker lacked the actual malice required to defame a public official, and a further restriction on his speech would be unconstitutional.

Cato—joined by the ACLU, the Marion B. Brechner First Amendment Project, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and First Amendment Coalition—filed an amicus brief in the case. Whether or not what Chaker said was true, the First Amendment requires that restrictions on political speech, particularly that disparaging public officials, be subjected to the “highest levels of scrutiny.” An attack on a public official is, on its face, political speech. That it comes from a person being supervised by the Justice system should make no difference to the First Amendment—and for good reasons too.

As we noted in our previous write-up of the case, if the lower court’s decision were allowed to stand, it would have led to diabolical speech restrictions:

If the anti-disparagement provision of Chaker’s supervised release becomes widespread, it could easily stifle valuable speech by activists and others. For instance, in his Letter from the Birmingham Jail, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. remarked that “[w]e are sadly mistaken if we feel that the election of Albert Boutwell as mayor will bring the millennium to Birmingham. While Mr. Boutwell is a much more gentle person than Mr. Connor, they are both segregationists, dedicated to maintenance of the status quo.” Had King been subject to the same conditions as Chaker, he might have been resentenced for some of his most powerful writings. Worse still, he might never have published at all. Imposing vague and broad restraints on speech leaves people like Darren Chaker guessing as to the limit of their rights and as to which leaders are “touchable” by the spoken and written word.

Chaker notes on his personal blog that he is “only one of 4,708,100 people are on probation or parole.” Millions of individuals’ political speech could have been swept up under the precedent set by the lower court’s outrageous decision.

The decision in Chaker v. United States is thus a victory for First Amendment advocates and political activists everywhere. It protects the rights of even the most downtrodden and implicitly applies the correct defamation standard to political speech aimed at public officials.

The Office of Management and Budget has released new data on the amount of time Americans spend complying with the federal tax code. Tax Foundation summarizes the data here.

Individuals and businesses spend 8.9 billion hours a year on federal tax paperwork, which is equivalent to 4.3 million people working full-time and year-round on this unproductive activity. That “tax army” is three times larger than our uniformed military of 1.4 million active duty service members.

The burden of tax paperwork can be expressed in dollars. Based on the average earnings of U.S. workers, Tax Foundation finds that federal tax paperwork imposes a $409 billion annual cost on the economy.

The main reason to overhaul the tax code is to increase incentives for working, investing, and other productive activities. But you can appreciate how wasteful the tax code is by considering the paperwork burden of particular provisions. For example, the federal estate tax imposes $20 billion a year in paperwork costs, but the tax only raises $21 billion a year for the government. It clearly makes no sense to impose a tax if it costs as much to collect as the money raised.

The largest paperwork costs stem from the income tax. Tax Foundation has found that replacing the federal income tax with a simple flat tax would reduce the paperwork burden by about 90 percent. With that reform, Americans would be at peace with the tax code, and we could demobilize the tax army.

The Brexit vote last month came as a surprise to many people (including me), and there is still a lot of uncertainty – both legal and political – as to how the United Kingdom (UK) will proceed.  In order for Brexit to go forward, the UK will have to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, and then enter into a complex negotiation with the European Union to establish a new UK-EU economic relationship.

As things move ahead, I will have more to say on the UK-EU negotiations, but for now I wanted to weigh in on the UK’s trading relationship with the rest of the world.  There are questions about when the UK can actually begin any such trade negotiations, but putting that aside, I wanted to address two points:  (1) With whom should the UK negotiate? And (2) what should the UK negotiate about in these trade agreements?

My long answer is here, in a new Free Trade Bulletin (a shorter, op-ed version is here), but here’s a quick summary.

In terms of negotiating partners, I would ask these questions: (1) Which countries have the most to offer in terms of a substantial economic relationship; (2) with which countries would the negotiations be the smoothest; and (3) which countries would involve the least external controversy in a trade negotiation.  Weighing and balancing all of these factors, it seems to me that the best candidates for the initial set of trade negotiations would be Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States; and perhaps developed countries such as South Korea and Japan.  

As to the substance of the negotiations (that is, what to negotiate about), I suggest the following:

– Push for zero tariffs on all products, with limited or no phase-out periods.

– With services liberalization, pick a couple substantial and uncontroversial sectors and focus on liberalizing those.

– Open up government procurement markets as much as possible.

– Rely on existing WTO trade rules for issues such as intellectual property and product standards, so as to avoid getting bogged down negotiating on complex regulatory issues.

– With some trading partners, exclusion of trade remedies – e.g., anti-dumping – may be possible.  This may sound politically challenging, but it has happened before. For example, Australia and New Zealand have agreed not to take anti-dumping measures against each other, and perhaps these countries would consider doing the same for their trade with the UK.

Some people in a few of these potential trading partners are already pushing for trade deals, so there is a good chance something will go forward in the near future, although it looks as though the UK leaders may need to settle in and make some key decisions – such as when to invoke Article 50 – first.

A recent op-ed in the Times Herald took aim at a study by our dearly departed colleague, Andrew J. Coulson. In short, the author claimed that the study’s “flaw” was supposedly failing to take into account something that Andrew actually did take into account, as he explained in his study. Since Andrew is no longer available to address specious attacks on his research, it falls to his colleagues to do so. What follows is the letter that Rachel Reese, a research associate at the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom, and I submitted to the Times Herald:

In an op-ed urging support for a bond proposal for the Port Huron school district, Professor James Clatworthy took issue with a Cato Institute study by the late Andrew J. Coulson that found no correlation between spending and achievement. We take no position on the bond, but stand by our colleague’s research.

Despite a near tripling of the inflation-adjusted cost per pupil in public schools nationwide between 1972 and 2012, the performance of high school students on the SAT and National Assessment of Educational Progress has been flat. Coulson’s study compared state-level SAT scores, controlling for changing participation rates and student demographics, to the total, inflation-adjusted cost of a K-12 education, finding no discernable link between spending and performance.

Clatworthy erroneously claimed that Coulson’s findings did not account for SAT scores being periodically “mean centered,” meaning that the average scores were reset. In fact, contrary to Clatworth’s assertion that the test was recentered “multiple times” over the period of the study, the Educational Testing Service (ETS) only recentered the SAT once between 1972 and 2012 and Coulson used ETS’s own formula to compare the pre- and post-recentering data.

Ironically, Clatworthy also criticized Coulson for supporting policies empowering parents to choose schools, claiming that choice would “return us to the status of the 1700s.” But choice is clearly the right model for the 21st century, in which a quickly changing world will need a nimbly adapting education system. That requires choice and decentralized control, not a bureaucratic system that demands evermore money without measurably improving results.

Paul Romer becoming chief economist at the World Bank looks quite promising for economic development. 

In a 1990 explanation of new growth economics, Paul Romer and Robert Barro wrote, “If government taxes or distortions discourage the activity that generates growth, growth will be slower.” 

Speaking about the “Mauritian Miracle” at a 1992 World Bank conference, Romer emphasized that  “income and corporate tax rates were halved in 1983 (from about 70 to about 35 percent).” He also noted that free-trade zones allowed “unrestricted, tariff-free imports of machinery and materials, no restriction on ownership or repatriation of profits, [and] a ten-year income tax holiday for foreign investors.”  

Romer’s new growth economics should prove quite compatible with a timely rediscovery of the many global success stories with supply-side reductions in marginal tax rates and tariffs in the 1980s and 1990s in countries as diverse as Botswana, India, Chile, New Zealand, China, Ireland, Singapore, Mexico and more recently Turkey and Eastern Europe.  

As expected, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled against China’s expansive territorial claims in the South China Sea. The Philippines was exultant. Beijing responded angrily.

Territorial disputes pose a perennial international problem. Great powers, including the U.S., typically refuse to be bound by the decisions of others when they believe important interests to be at stake.

The existing order in the Asia-Pacific was established at a time when China was unable to effectively assert its claims or defend its territory. Understandably, Beijing is dissatisfied with the status quo.

Nor is Beijing the first rising power to challenge a system seemingly biased against it. The young American republic responded truculently in border disputes with both Great Britain and Mexico, even invading the latter and seizing half of that country.

In recent years the PRC has challenged territorial claims of Japan, the Philippines, and Vietnam. Manila lacks an effective military and turned to the arbitration panel for support. The decision reaffirmed the position of the Philippines and nearby states, which will embolden them to take a tougher position against China.

Unsurprisingly, Beijing rejected the ruling and promised “to protect its territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests.” The PRC also won’t be inclined to step back.

The U.S. insists it takes no position in the ongoing disputes, but Washington has clashed with China over the former’s right to collect intelligence. If war erupted in the region, America’s alliance with Japan and ambiguous commitment to Manila could drag the United States into combat with nuclear-armed China.

All parties have an obligation to dampen tensions. They should start by recognizing that none of the disputed claims are worth war.

The resources in surrounding waters could be substantial but still would pale compared to the cost of conflict. In peacetime navigation would continue largely unimpeded. Wartime navigation would depend upon on the capabilities of the respective navies.

Calls on the U.S. to confront China are misguided. The PRC’s stake in securing its coast is vital and the waters beyond substantial.

America’s interests are more diffuse and distant. Dominating China’s borders might be theoretically desirable but isn’t necessary to protect American security. Navigational freedom is important but not directly threatened. Peaceful dispute resolution by others is welcome but not a matter for the U.S. military.

Of course, many in Washington believe that the sight of a few American ships would deter aggressive action by China. Alas, the PRC is not likely to respond by abandoning interests viewed as essential. Rather, it would do what the U.S. almost certainly would do if similarly provoked: increase military outlays.

Although the U.S. will remain wealthier and more powerful than China for years to come, the former cannot forever afford to maintain military forces strong enough to have a reasonable certainty of defeating the PRC in the latter’s home waters. Once the entitlement tsunami begins to overwhelm the federal budget, Americans will sacrifice Scarborough Reef and the Senkakus to protect Social Security. In contrast, Chinese citizens likely would spend and risk whatever is necessary to ensure the disputed territories remain Chinese.

As I point out in National Interest: “the best outcome for Washington would be for events to take their natural course, that is, the PRC’s neighbors rearm and coordinate to counter Beijing’s aggressiveness. The participation of both India and Japan would make a serious regional coalition possible.”

Only mutually agreed solutions, not disputed legal rulings, can settle the region’s territorial disputes. In fact, the PRC peacefully resolved 17 of 23 previous border disputes.

Overall the parties should to “seek common ground while reserving differences,” as Wu Shicun of the National Institute for South China Sea Studies put it. The U.S. and its friends should demonstrate that China’s interests would be respected by adapting to changed circumstances.

The tribunal decision may prove to be a Pyrrhic victory for America’s allies. Despite the court ruling, they still will have to negotiate to settle the issue. 

Should big-city governments be giving valuable city property to its wealthy residents for a pittance? The answer to that is not dependent upon political party or ideology, it would seem, yet it remains the standard practice nearly everywhere.

The property in question consists of the parking lanes in neighborhoods and main thoroughfares, and the cost of this giveaway is immense: Besides the loss in foregone revenue adds greatly to traffic congestion, depresses demand for businesses in those areas, and contributes to pollution.

None of these are apparently sufficient to convince the supporters of these types of regulations who tend to be in charge of big cities like Washington, DC, where I live, to change this policy, so let me add another reason to do away with this: Giving away street parking is incredibly regressive. (for context, DC charged $25 a year for a neighborhood parking permit when off-street parking spaces go for $3,000 a year)

As I discussed in my recent Regulation Magazine piece and Cato Podcast, supporters of these types of regulations often justify nearly free street parking in these places as a necessary giveaway to help poor people who live in the neighborhood. The problem is that few poor people live in these neighborhoods and those who do usually do without an automobile. For instance, of the dozen cars parked on my street last night were three Mercedes, two BMWs, three Lexuses, and a Jaguar. Not the typical cars of the underprivileged trying to eke out a living.

This collection of pricey autos are not a random snapshot, either: the dirty little secret is that most cars are stored on the street and not parked. A majority of cars parked in my neighborhood don’t move in a typical week: they are baubles for their wealthy owners to be used on the occasional road trip or a weekly grocery run. There are also a number of vans in our neighborhood being used to store property of their owner. It’s certainly cost-efficient: the cheapest storage space nearby is $90 a month, and $1,000 buys a late model van that can be coaxed into running on occasion. Putting one’s winter clothes or surplus books or other paraphernalia in a nondescript van permanently parked in front of one’s apartment is cheaper and more convenient.

On-street parking is so cheap that there are area hotels without a garage that offer valet parking. They merely park the guests’ cars on the street for it and pay the parking tickets, which are still below what they charge their guests.

Giving away on-street parking engenders a fierce competition for every spot. It also creates a critical mass of people fearful of even more competition for their on-street parking spots, which results in stiff opposition of every new housing development proposed. The free parking lobby occasionally succeeds in stopping certain developments but at a minimum it can slow new construction and increase the legal costs of proceeding. Invariably this opposition results in developers being forced to construct smaller buildings with less housing, which is one reason that housing prices here remain so high in major metropolitan areas. That’s doubly good for the car owners, since they benefit from the parking access and higher real estate prices, but it’s bad for the middle and lower-income who can’t afford to buy.

In Washington DC this banal parking policy also hurts the poor by screwing up mass transit as well. The parking shortage created by this artificially low price pressures the city to allow parking in every conceivable spot. As a result, buses that go through this heavily-traveled route find it difficult to traverse this corridor. Parked cars abut most bus stops, making it difficult for buses to get in and out of the space. In other places the plethora of parked cars slows traffic to a crawl during rush hours. In essence, the city lengthens the commute of low-income minorities in order to help a paucity of wealthy car-owners.

Urbanists have decried the impact of “free” parking for some time–Donald Shoup’s The High Cost of Free Parking made a quiet sensation amongst this crowd when it appeared a decade ago. But there’s one aspect of it that the good-government types tend to overlook: It’s that it benefits the rich at the expense of the poor.

There are many reasons the government should reduce how much parking is available in urban areas and charge a market price for the parking it does allow, but the fact that it would lead to an incredibly progressive outcome ought to be acknowledged–and used to confront those who have made reducing inequality their cri de coeur yet advocate for the status quo.

Turkey was convulsed by an attempted coup last week. Nominally democratic but in practice increasingly authoritarian, the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has initiated a broad crackdown that goes well beyond the military. He has the makings of becoming another Vladimir Putin—except supposedly on America’s side, but even that no longer is so sure.

Turkey’s dubious evolution should remind Americans how hard it is for U.S. officials to play social engineers to the world. Instead of constantly meddling in hopes of “fixing” other nations, Washington should step back when its interests are not vitally affected, which is most of the time. The physicians’ injunction, “First do no harm,” would be a good principle for American foreign policy.

Ankara joined NATO during the Cold War. Containment of the Evil Empire was the principal objective. That policy should have expired with the collapse of the Soviet Union and dissolution of the Warsaw Pact. Friendship rather than alliance should have become America’s objective.

Unfortunately, Washington decided to use its new “unipower” status to attempt to micro-manage the Middle East. Successive administrations launched a succession of ill-considered interventions.

Washington oft relied on bases in Turkey. The one time Ankara said no, in 2003, America’s deputy defense secretary suggested that the military straighten out the civilian government.

However, Erdogan transformed Turkish politics. He started as a reformer and won support in the U.S. and Europe. They looked at Turkey as the model of a moderate, democratic Islamic state.

But around 2010 the Turkish experiment began to go sour. Erdogan dropped his liberal veneer. He seemed to mutate into a corrupt and authoritarian throwback to Turkey’s seamy past. He also pushed a more fundamentalist Islam into the public sphere.

Erdogan went AWOL on foreign policy as well. He decided he wanted to overthrow his former ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and sought to drag the U.S. into that conflict. But until recently Erdogan turned a blind eye to the Islamic State’s use of Turkey as a base and transit route to Syria.

Then last fall Ankara risked a confrontation with Russia, shooting down one of the latter’s warplanes for briefly violating Turkish airspace. Erdogan recently decided to repair that relationship. Washington found itself uncomfortably tied to his increasingly erratic and repressive role.

Although last week the U.S. backed Erdogan as the legitimately elected president, conspiracy theories involving Washington were rife in Turkey. Some Turks couldn’t believe it wasn’t intervening again.

The U.S.-Turkey relationship shows how hard it is to stop meddling once you start. Washington is constantly (and usually futilely) involved, attempting to reshape the Mideast. That requires Turkish assistance. Which in turn requires friendship with whatever government is in power, no matter how antithetical to U.S. values.

As I pointed out in Forbes: “Washington is never going to be isolated from the world. But it should stop attempting to forcibly transform the world. In Turkey the U.S. has found itself forced to embrace a man who cannot be trusted to support people’s liberty at home or fight Islamic radicalism abroad. So why is America still supporting him?”

The failed coup attempt in Turkey – and President Erdogan’s harsh crackdown in response – has provoked reassessment of Turkey from a number of perspectives. Most obviously, the episode indicates that Turkey is both less stable and even less democratic than most people imagined not long ago. Though the United States has long criticized Erdogan’s authoritarian proclivities, it is rapidly becoming clearer that Erdogan’s vision is the remaking of Turkey’s secular democracy into an Islamic republic. For Europe, Turkey’s instability will aggravate concerns about Syrian refugees (over two million of whom are living in Turkey) and reignite debate about the wisdom of welcoming Turkey into the European Union.

But Turkey’s domestic politics also have important implications for American foreign policy. In the short run, instability in Turkey will cause discomfort for its NATO allies and likely cause problems in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS). More fundamentally, however, Turkey provides a cautionary tale about the dangers of relying on authoritarian regimes to help conduct foreign policy.

One immediate concern is the physical security of several dozen American B61 tactical nuclear weapons “purportedly” housed at Incirlik air base in southern Turkey. Turkey has long played host to the weapons as part of the American effort to extend nuclear deterrence to its NATO allies. During the coup activists flew sorties from Incirlik, prompting the Turkish government to cut off power to the base. Eventually, Turkey also arrested the head of the base. Regardless of whatever electronic safeguards might exist to keep the weapons from misuse, this experience should serve as a wake-up call. As Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists noted, “You only get so many warnings before something goes terribly wrong. It’s time to withdraw the weapons.”

Another worry is that the turmoil in Turkey will hamper its contribution to the fight against ISIS. Given its location, Turkey plays an important role in the American response to ISIS. The United States relies on the air bases in Incirlik and Diyarbakir to fly bombing missions in Syria. The coup forced only day’s interruption in the Incirlik-based air campaign, but the episode raises concerns about what might happen should more unrest follow.

More generally, the coup raises further doubts about Turkey’s interest in engaging ISIS. Despite sharing a border with Syria and Iraq, Turkey has always seemed to be a bit conflicted when it comes to its priorities. Turkey, for example, has failed to secure its border with Syria, enabling ISIS to move stolen goods into Turkey and thereby fueling its rise. In addition, Turkey won’t support the Syrian Kurds who are fighting ISIS (and who are U.S. allies) because Turkey’s longstanding “Kurdish problem” means that Erdogan is just as concerned about making sure the Kurds do not carve out an independent territory on the border as he is about ISIS.  Thus, at the best of times, the United States has been frustrated with Turkey’s performance.

The wake of a failed military coup, of course, represents something far from the best of times. Observers like former NATO supreme allied commander Admiral James Stavridis have argued that the loss of civilian confidence in the Turkish military and the fallout from the purges will have “a chilling effect on military readiness and performance.”

It is important to realize, however, that none of these short-run problems are Turkey’s fault. Instead, they are the result of flawed American grand strategy. Since the end of the Cold War, and especially after 9/11, the United States has adopted a strategy of liberal hegemony that places a heavy emphasis on military intervention and the role of the United States in managing regional security regimes. This strategy, in turn, makes it necessary to rely on “partners” and “allies” that can enable American military power projection.

The only reason the United States has to worry about the security of nuclear weapons in Turkey is the mistaken belief that NATO still needs American help to provide for its members’ security. In reality, however, Europe enjoys a much larger population and economy than Russia, and NATO forces – even without the United States – are far better trained and equipped than Russian forces. The fact is that the United States no longer needs to belong to NATO, much less deploy nuclear weapons on European soil.

The question is somewhat more complicated when it comes to fighting ISIS, but the same lesson applies. The only reason Turkish air bases matter to the United States is their utility for conducting air campaigns in the Middle East. Though there are certainly some situations where such campaigns might be necessary, the American experience in the Middle East since 9/11 has made it clear that traditional military means are a poor (and probably counterproductive) strategy for fighting terrorism. If the United States were not so devoted to military intervention, the need for Incirlik and other bases in the Middle East would disappear.

International politics is a full contact sport. Difficult trade-offs are often required and sometimes cooperating with authoritarian regimes is necessary. But the need to do so will be greatly reduced if the United States can succeed in adopting a more restrained approach to foreign policy. If the United States can wean itself from the need to try to solve every problem through the use of military force, there will be no reason to soft-pedal human rights and other violations in Turkey. Cutting fewer deals with authoritarian regimes will also help limit their legitimacy while strengthening American calls for greater liberty and democracy. Most importantly, the United States will be free to align its foreign policy more closely with its own democratic values.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan has ruled Turkey for more than a decade. He should be enjoying his time of triumph.

Yet his country almost crashed and burned last week. Elements of the army and air force attempted a coup d’etat, leading to street battles and air attacks.

Erdogan promised revenge against those involved, who will “pay a heavy price for their treason.” No doubt they will, since the thin-skinned Erdogan long has been making even mild critics suffer for their alleged sins. To tame the military, his government previously tried hundreds of military officers and others in mass trials involving improbably fantastic conspiracies.

Turkey is one of the least friendly nations for independent journalists. Around 2000 people, including students and even a beauty queen, have been prosecuted for criticizing Erdogan. His government periodically targets Internet freedom.

The briefly constituted junta announced that it had seized power “to reinstall the constitutional order, democracy, human rights and freedoms, to ensure that the rule of law once again reigns in the country, for last and order to be reinstated.” Worthy objectives for an increasingly desperate Turkey today.

Unfortunately, a coup may be the least likely vehicle for moving Turkey into a genuine liberal, democratic future. Those who look back nostalgically on earlier military seizures of power ignore the ugly reality. For instance, the 1960 coup led to the execution of the popularly elected prime minister and other officials and imprisonment of thousands.

Moreover, the public today is well-organized and committed to democracy. Having provided Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) with a half dozen election victories since 2002, the Turkish people were never likely to quietly accept his ouster and the imposition of a hostile military regime.

Unfortunately, as I wrote for Forbes, “the botched coup is likely to act like the infamous Reichstag fire under the Nazis and accelerate the Erdogan government’s race to the dictatorial bottom. He is likely to become more vindictive and paranoid—because he does have enemies everywhere. Never mind that he bears responsibility for the authoritarian policies and corrupt practices which have energized his most fervent opponents.”

Politics almost certainly will grow more polarized. Anger against those who struck at his rule may intensify Erdogan’s extra-legal campaigns against other political parties. His supporters could practice private revenge and vigilante justice.

In fact, Erdogan might reap political advantage from the coup. Other parties might feel greater pressure to work with him to deliver the super-majority which he needs to change the Constitution to expand his presidential powers. He also could call a snap election in hopes of winning that majority on his own.

Turkey’s security is likely to suffer in the coup’s aftermath. The Erdogan government originally played footsie with the Islamic State, but several terrorist attacks in Turkey forced a crackdown. Moreover, he reignited the long fight against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and targeted Syrian Kurds to enlist nationalism as his electoral ally. Now, however, the military is badly damaged and faces internal disarray for an extended period of time.

Ankara is a difficult ally for America, but the Obama administration took the right approach, immediately backing Turkey’s elected government. Democracy is yielding ever more illiberal outcomes, with Erdogan seemingly determined to accrue Putinesque powers.

Yet military rule could succeed only by killing and imprisoning on a large scale. And a successful junta was likely to produce a society with even less liberty and respect for human rights.

Erdogan is an increasingly undemocratic president elected democratically. He should use the failed coup to address the substantial portion of the population which has come to loathe and even fear him. If he doesn’t, he should be removed and his government should be ousted—but by Turkey’s voters, not its soldiers.

Someday, Turkey may be truly free. Hopefully, a military coup will not be necessary to make it so.

James G. Gimpel’s new report for the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) has a good summary of voter opinion on immigration and how the issue influenced the rise of Donald Trump.  Undoubtedly, that issue key to his success in the GOP primary, although it’s unclear why equally nativist but more polite candidates like Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, and Scott Walker failed to gain traction.        

My only problem with this report is its selective display of Gallup’s immigration polling data.  The CIS starts reporting the results in 1999 and omits whether Americans support more immigration (Figure 1).  By starting the data in 1999, the report is able to argue that opposition to legal immigration and those supporting the same number of immigrants have been roughly constant since 1999. 

Figure 1

CIS Graph   


Source: Immigration Opinion and the Rise of Donald Trump.

If the CIS report had included the “Increased” immigration option in the poll and the years going back to 1965, you would have seen this (Figure 2).  I highlighted the years 1993 and 2015 to show how far public opinion has shifted toward the pro-immigration side over the last 22 years. 

Figure 2

Gallup Opinion on Immigration


Source: Gallup.

A mere six percent of the public supported increased immigration in 1993, but that increased to 25 percent in 2015 – a more than four-fold jump.  Those satisfied with present immigration levels increased by 13 percentage points.  Those who supported less immigration, CIS’ stated policy goal, decreased from 65 percent of the U.S. population to 34 percent.  Since nativism’s high-water mark in 1993, a greater percentage of Americans support the same level of immigration and more legal immigration than ever before.  The last time the less immigration position was this unpopular, Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1965 - that’s a good omen.

Gallup’s findings are not an aberration.  Other polls conducted by the General Social Survey, the American National Election Survey, and New York Times-CBS all find similar results.  Trump has done well with the segment of the population that wants to shrink immigration, but that segment has imploded over the last 22 years.  Americans are not anti-immigration and those who do hold such beliefs are shrinking as a percentage of the population.     

Coccolithophores are calcifying phytoplankton that comprise the base of marine food webs all across the world ocean. They play an important role in the cycling of carbon into the deep ocean and act as a feedback to climate change. Anything that alters their function or abundance, therefore, could have significant impacts on marine ecosystems and global climate. Thus, it is no surprise that scientists are interested in how coccolithophores will respond to future changes in atmospheric CO2 and climate. And in this regard, Krumhardt et al. (2016) say there has been “much speculation [that has] inspired numerous laboratory and mesocosm experiments, but how they are currently responding in situ is less well documented.” Working to provide just such an in situ analysis, the team of four researchers thus set out to analyze coccolithophore abundance in the subtropical North Atlantic over the period 1990 to 2014.

To accomplish their objective, Krumhardt et al. used coccolithophore pigment data collected at the Bermuda Atlantic Time-series Study (BATS) site (located at 31.7°N, 64.2°W in the Sargasso Sea) in conjunction with satellite estimates of surface chlorophyll and particulate inorganic carbon as a proxy measure of coccolithophore abundance. Results of their analysis revealed that “coccolithophore populations in the North Atlantic subtropical gyre have been increasing significantly over the past two decades. More specifically, they note there was a 37 percent increase in euphotic zone-integrated (integrated from 140 m depth) in coccolithophore pigment abundance at BATS and a larger 68 percent increase in the upper 30 m of the water column (see figure below). Such findings, in the words of the authors, add to those of a growing number of studies showing that coccolithophores in the North Atlantic “are increasing in abundance and are likely stimulated by additional carbon from anthropogenic sources.”

The significance of Krumhardt et al.’s work is two-fold.  First, they note that the increased coccolithophore abundance they found “is contrary to what numerous laboratory studies have predicted, highlighting the importance of in situ observations,” as observations clearly suggest that coccolithophores benefit from higher levels of atmospheric CO2. Second, for those who are concerned about the potential climatic impacts of CO2-induced global warming, the increase in coccolithophore abundance is providing a natural brake on increasing levels of atmospheric CO2, as more carbon is exported to the deep ocean with their increased abundance. What is more, Krumhardt et al. note that in addition to transporting more carbon into the deep ocean, coccolithophores produce dimethyl sulfide, a marine trace gas that affects cloud formation and acts as a negative feedback to climate warming (see Dimethyl Sulfide for background on this topic). Thus, it is that the four researchers conclude that overall increases in coccolithophore abundance will likely induce “a multitude of effects on marine ecosystems in the North Atlantic, as well as global carbon cycling and climate,” all of which, we note, appear to be for the better.

Figure 1. Chlorophyll a (Chlahapto) from haptophytes (planktonic group to which coccolithophores belong) measured at BATS integrated from 30m (panel a) and 140m depth (panel b). Adapted from Krumhardt et al. (2016).



Krumhardt, K.M., Lovenduski, N.S., Freeman, N.M. and Bates, N.R. 2016. Apparent increase in coccolithophore abundance in the subtropical North Atlantic from 1990 to 2014. Biogeosciences 13: 1163-1177.

Tuesday’s long-anticipated ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) regarding the territorial disputes in the South China Sea (SCS) between the Philippines and China was a big win for the Philippines. China’s sweeping claim to sovereignty over the SCS embodied by the infamous “nine-dash line” was invalidated. The court also admonished China for causing ecological damage with island building activities, and generally aggravating the SCS dispute.

As policymakers in Washington and Beijing think about what to do next they should consider the ruling as an opportunity to counteract the dangerous escalation of tensions in the SCS. Both sides can take relatively low-cost actions that could keep a lid on tensions and help manage the dispute.

It will be more difficult for China to de-escalate than the United States given the fiery official rhetoric surrounding the PCA ruling. Beijing also took provocative actions before the PCA ruling was issued, most notably conducting military exercises in the SCS and declaring a “no-sail zone” in the area of the exercises. However, despite the (expected) bombastic rhetoric, China has shown considerable restraint in its actions or, more accurately, its lack of action. Ankit Panda at The Diplomat notes, “Beijing has not declared an air defense identification zone in the SCS, moved to begin reclamation at Scarborough Shoal, sanctioned the Philippines, or announced an intent to withdraw from the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.” The gap between official rhetoric and restrained behavior in the wake of the PCA ruling means that China’s long-term intentions are unclear, but restraint from Beijing is a positive development.

Policymakers in Washington will likely feel compelled to enforce the PCA ruling, but they should formulate U.S. policy very carefully. While the PCA’s ruling is legally binding on the Philippines and China, the court lacks an enforcement mechanism. Protecting the “rules-based international order” is an important U.S. foreign policy interest, which means that it will likely take on enforcement responsibilities. Any freedom of navigation operations conducted in support of the PCA ruling should be done without the media fanfare that has accompanied past operations. Additionally, the United States should try to influence other states that want to conduct their own freedom of navigation operations. For example, given the historical animosity and ongoing territorial dispute in the East China Sea between China and Japan, Washington should discourage Tokyo from conducting its own freedom of navigation operations in the SCS.

There are other examples of low-cost actions that the United States and China could take to reduce tensions in the SCS. First, the United States should support dialogue among the other claimants and China. Two days after the PCA ruling, the new president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, asked a former president of the Philippines to help start talks with China. Second, China could play a more active role in environmental protection in the SCS through the creation of a “marine peace park” in the Spratleys. Claimants would suspend territorial claims to allow the replenishment of depleted fisheries and the recovery of damaged coral reefs. This would be a low-cost policy for Beijing because it would not have to permanently abandon its territorial claims.

The SCS has become a more dangerous place over the last year. The PCA ruling is a prime opportunity for China, the United States, and the Philippines, as well as other claimants, to put a lid on tensions and work with one another to resolve disputes peacefully. It would be impractical to force either side to back down from their core policy positions. But small adjustments in areas such as freedom of navigation operations and environmental cooperation would be a step in the right direction. 

It looks like Indiana Governor Mike Pence may be chosen as Donald Trump’s running mate. On tax and budget matters, that would be a good choice. While Trump has followed an erratic approach to economic policy issues, Pence has been a solid fiscal conservative.

Cato scored Pence on the 2014 edition of the Fiscal Policy Report Card on America’s Governors. He was only one of four governors who received a grade of “A.” The report noted:

Mike Pence of Indiana has been a champion tax cutter, and he has held the line on spending. He signed into law a 2013 tax package that cut the individual income tax rate from 3.4 to 3.23 percent and repealed the state’s inheritance tax. In 2014 he approved cuts to the corporate income tax rate and to business property taxes, both of which will be phased in over time.

When Pence came to office in fiscal 2013, Indiana’s general fund spending was $14.25 billion. In fiscal 2017, it’s going to be about $15.56 billion. That translates into annual average growth of 2.2 percent, which is substantially less than the 50-state average over those years of 4.2 percent.

Look for a new Cato fiscal report card in October.

A while back, the Cato Institute’s vice president for defense and foreign policy studies and director of health policy studies took to the pages of the New York Times to explain why privatizing the Veterans Health Administration would lead to less war and better health care for veterans. 

Today in The Hill, I discuss why this proposal has enduring relevance:

As Britain Tries to Learn from Iraq Mistakes, So Should the U.S. — by Privatizing the VA


Many Democrats remain angry with their presumptive presidential nominee Hillary Clinton for voting as a U.S. senator from New York to authorize the Iraq invasion in 2002. Clinton later wrote, “I had acted in good faith and made the best decision I could with the information I had … But I still got it wrong.”

There is a reform that could have given Clinton and other policymakers better information about the costs of invading Iraq – information that could conceivably have prevented the invasion altogether or at least shortened the U.S. occupation.

Read the whole thing.

The civil unrest following last week’s police shootings of black men in Louisiana and Minnesota, followed by the sniper attack on police officers in Dallas, has sparked a new bout of public concern over the hardships of Black America. Those hardships include significantly higher violent crime victimizationhigher joblessness, higher poverty, and lower income than the general U.S. population.

Previous moments of such concern have prompted politicians to respond with the standard, tired slate of policies that supposedly would “empower” and “lift” African Americans. All too often, those policies mainly empowered government employees and vendors, while the gap between Black America and the rest of the country remains. By the time the policy failures became obvious, public and political interest had waned, and little else happened until new headlines brought new concern.

Perhaps this time will be different, and policymakers will try some different ideas that might actually help. Cato offers many recommendations for reforming education, criminal justice, and the social safety net that would especially help black Americans.

To those, add this simple, seemingly counterintuitive recommendation: repeal the minimum wage.

Though some politicians deny it, the link between the minimum wage and unemployment is well established; denying that empirical research is akin to denying the research on climate change. Among the findings is that the minimum wage’s detrimental effects fall hardest on young black males: the same group that suffers some of the worst hardships of Black America. Perhaps if they had greater opportunities to take starter jobs that would give them both income and the work experience that leads to better-paying jobs, they’d have a better chance to escape violence and poverty. (Meanwhile, far too many young African American males are pushed into the black market, where they earn sub-minimum wages for dangerous work.) Indeed, the empirical work suggests that there’s a direct causal relationship between the minimum wage and crime.

Repealing the minimum wage for the sake of black youth would be a great piece of historical closure. The minimum wage was established, in part, to push blacks and women out of jobs that progressives believed should go to white family men. The economic struggles of African Americans today reflect, in part, how well the progressives’ plan worked.