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On the heels of a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report that found that Washington Metro “has failed to learn safety lessons” from previous accidents, Metro general manager Paul Wiedefeld will announce a plan today that promises to disrupt service for months in an effort to get the lines safely running again. While ordinary maintenance can take place during the few hours the system isn’t running every night, Wiedefeld says past officials have let the system decline so much that individual rail lines will have to be taken off line for days or weeks at a time to get them back into shape.

The Washington Post blames the problems on “generations of executives and government-appointed Metro board members, along with Washington-area politicians who ultimately dictated Metro’s spending.” That’s partially true, but there are really two problems with Metro, and different parties are to blame for each.

First is the problem with deferred maintenance. The Metro board recognized that maintenance costs would have to increase as long ago as 2002, when they developed a plan to spend $10 billion to $12 billion rehabilitating the system. This plan was ignored by the “Washington-area politicians who ultimately dictated Metro’s spending” and who decided to fund the Silver and Purple lines instead of repairing what they already had.

Second is the problem with the agency’s safety culture, or lack of one. According to the NTSB report, in violation of its own procedures, Metro used loaded passenger trains to search for the sources of smoke in the tunnels. Metro at first denied doing so, then said it wouldn’t do it any more. But Metro’s past actions sent a signal to employees that passenger safety isn’t important.

The safety problem can be blamed on the executives and board. So it’s no surprise that Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx has replaced three board members with people who, he hopes, will place a higher priority on safety than the board members he fired.

Transit unions, meanwhile, deny that they are responsible for any of the problems. Yet demands for high pay, sorting of employees into different categories that sometimes rival one another, and other union-led practices probably contributed to both the safety problems and the funding shortages. Four track workers were killed by trains in 2005 and another in 2009, suggesting that train operators were careless with the lives of fellow employees, which probably discouraged track workers from effectively doing their jobs.

Ultimately, both the safety and maintenance problems can be traced to the fundamental flaws of socialized transportation. Where systems funded out of user fees would build no more than people are willing to pay for, political decisions led Washington and other regions to build hundreds of miles of expensive rail lines they can’t afford to maintain.

Where managers of systems funded out of user fees tend to do a better job at maintenance, political decisions failed to provide Metro with the money it needed to keep trains operating. Where user-fee driven systems learn quickly to motivate their employees to work safely and efficiently, political decisions put people on the Metro board who were more in love with their transit fantasies than the reality of managing more than 10,000 employees.

General manager Wiedefeld may be able to correct some of the maintenance problems by disrupting service over the next year, but it is unlikely that he will have the funds to fix all of them. Even if he had all the money he needed, it will take more than money to create a system that is more responsive to user needs than to contractors, unions, and politicians.

Contrary to the judiciary’s reputation as the least dangerous branch, judges exercise almost every executive and legislative power other than going to war. This is why the battle over Antonin Scalia’s successor is so bitter.

That wasn’t the Constitution’s original plan. The courts were important but were not to supplant the other branches. Rather, judges were expected to constrain the executive and legislative branches.

Alexander Hamilton expected the judiciary to play a “peculiarly essential” role to safeguard liberties and act as an “excellent barrier to the encroachments and oppressions of the representative body.” Judges were to “guard the Constitution and the rights of individuals” from “the people themselves.”

James Madison, intimately involved in drafting the Constitution, explained that: “independent tribunals of justice will consider themselves in a peculiar manner the guardians of [Bill of Rights guarantees]; they will be an impenetrable bulwark against every assumption of power in the legislative or executive; they are will be naturally led to resist every encroachment upon rights expressly stipulated for in the constitution by the declaration of rights.”

The judges who assert these vast powers enjoy lifelong immunity from accountability. This means that whoever succeeds Scalia still could be writing opinions at mid-century.

Unfortunately, actuarial accident determines who serves. Scalia’s death gave President Barack Obama an opportunity to shift the Supreme Court leftward, unless the Senate stops him. The Constitution gives the Senate the power to advise and consent. That body is empowered to say no.

The most important qualification for judicial office is philosophical. Put simply: does the nominee believe the Constitution means anything apart from the jurists’ personal preferences? If not, then the Senate should reject the nomination.

Of course, Democrats are demanding Senate approval of Judge Merrick Garland, despite some disquiet among left-wing activists. Yet, as a senator, Barack Obama opposed (and backed a filibuster against) George W. Bush’s nominees. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) advocated refusal to accept any Bush II nominee.

Nevertheless, no one really benefits from politicizing judicial nominations and refusing to fill vacancies for partisan reasons. There is an obvious answer: appoint jurists for a set term in office, perhaps ten years. No longer would the state of American medicine typically determine which president gets to fill the high court.

Jurists still would be independent. And bad justices could be gone in ten years. Set terms also would ensure a steady stream of new justices. That likely would result in a more diverse membership in terms of career, background, and perspective.

Most important, there might be more philosophical variety. Unfortunately, “mainstream” justices generally back the steady expansion of the state, treating the Constitution as creating only small islands of liberty in the midst of a vast ocean of government power.

While term limits would not guarantee better jurisprudence, a larger number of appointees would increase the likelihood of at least a few advocates of an active court dedicated to enforcing the Constitution’s liberty guarantees.

Finally, fixed terms would moderate battles over Supreme Court appointments. Losing the fight over Scalia’s replacement would not mean the possibility of 30 or more years of hostile decisions.

Appointees also might improve. Today, presidents look for safe and confirmable choices with nondescript views or no paper trail. With limited tenure, presidents could take greater risks in who they nominate.

Judicial terms would require a constitutional amendment. However, the issue could unite right and left. As I argued on American Spectator: “Fixed terms for jurists is the best way to both preserve independence and impose accountability.”

Today the FDA issued new rules regarding the sale and production of e-cigarettes and e-cigarette “juice” (the nicotine solution that e-cigs vaporize). The regulations will severely hamper a thriving and highly competitive market, and “big tobacco” is jumping for joy.

It is often difficult to explain to non-free-market types how and why big business loves big government. The song is always the same: we need big government to stop and control big business. Today’s rule offers a great lesson in why that isn’t always the case.

Like most big companies, big tobacco is stuck in a rut–namely, traditional tobacco. When billions of dollars are invested in infrastructure to produce a single product, it is very difficult to shift that behemoth to a new line of production when the product becomes obsolete or unpopular. Thus, small businesses are often, if not usually, the first movers when it comes to innovation. Blockbuster Video, with a costly commitment to brick and mortar video stores, could hardly have been expected to change its entire business model to rental-by-mail or streaming. By the time the threat of  Netflix became existential, it was too late. Many times, when big businesses are in such a situation, one of their last ditch efforts will be to use government to prohibit or hamstring their competitors.

Big tobacco has had a similar problem for some time now. They’ve seen smoking rates fall precipitously, and all future projections show smoking rates continuing to fall. Imagine running a business where the demand to “grow, grow, grow” is belied by an inevitable and irresistible decline. So what do you do? Well, you try to expand into new products such as snus and e-cigarettes.

Yet big tobacco had the same problem that Blockbuster had with Netflix. They weren’t the first movers on e-cigarettes. As they continued to try to plow a field that had grown barren, small companies began to produce e-cigarettes, and people began to use them.

Full disclosure: I’m one of those e-cigarette smokers. What some have pejoratively called a “wild west” situation in desperate need of top-down regulation is actually a thriving market concerned with safety, innovation, and satisfying rapidly changing consumer preferences. There are sub-ohm vapes (huge clouds of smoke), vaporizers that look like lightsabers, vaporizers with variable voltages, and many others, not to mention the proliferation of juice flavors. My preferred vaporizer company, Halo Cigs, is constantly altering its products for better consumer satisfaction and safety.

There are more companies than I can even name. “Vapers” compare their gear, discuss battery life, trade flavors, mix flavors, and generally engage in a highly informed and oddly passionate consumer market.

With today’s rule, that will almost assuredly stop. We will be telling our kids stories about how people used to be “allowed” to just vaporize “anything.” They will look at us quizzically and laugh, unable to comprehend such a silly thing because the FDA–starting today–will begin building up an apparatus of control and prohibition that will make it nearly impossible for future generations to imagine what it was like. “Doctors used to make house calls,” my grandma once told me, and I didn’t believe her.

But big tobacco is jumping for joy. Like many big businesses, they were slow to see the wave of change that was coming. But once they saw it, they jumped on it. Altria (Philip Morris) only recently purchased a prominent e-cig manufacturer, and they’ve long supported the FDA’s regulation of “tobacco products” because “an increasing number of scientists and public health officials are advocating for more clear communications about the relative risks of tobacco products so adult tobacco consumers can make informed choices about them.”

Language like that is just an anti-competitive catechism. They say “consumer choice and confidence,” but it is really about putting competitors out of business through onerous regulations and requirements that only big tobacco has the resources to satisfy. According to the American Vaping Association, under the new rules “submitting an application to get a product approved would take more than 1,700 hours and cost more than $1 million.” With the stroke of a pen, the FDA will eventually put hundreds of e-cigarette producers out of business. 

What we’ve seen is a traditional bootleggers and Baptist coalition: anti-smoking crusaders team up with big tobacco to heavily regulate an emerging market. As Jonathan H. Adler, Roger E. Meiners, Andrew P. Morriss, and Bruce Yandle recently wrote in Regulation magazine:

A Bootleggers and Baptists coalition favors the regulation of e-cigs. The coalition is composed of the tobacco companies (Bootleggers) that see their market threatened by a new product, health advocates (Baptists) who oppose e-cigs and wish to see them strictly regulated or prohibited, and state governments (Bootleggers) that have sold bonds backed by tobacco tax revenue that are threatened by the decline in cigarette sales.

In addition, as Jacob Sullum at Reason writes, e-cigarettes are harm-reducers, and making them harder to get could likely result in more cigarette smokers. Personally, I’ve reduced my traditional smoking by about 90 percent with e-cigarettes. I’ve crafted a flavor and become fond of a vaporizer that meets my needs. Yet my preferred company, and hundreds others, are unlikely to weather this storm.

Welcome back, big tobacco.     

Two years ago Russia detached Crimea from Ukraine. Since then the Western allies have imposed economic sanctions, but to little effect. No one believes Crimea, Russian until six decades ago, is going back to Ukraine.

Yet the European Union called on other countries to join its ineffective boycott. However, most nations have avoided the controversy. They aren’t going to declare economic war on a faraway nation which has done nothing against them.

Although Washington, with less commerce at stake, remains among the most fervent advocates of sanctions, Europe is divided over the issue. Opposition has emerged to routine renewal in July of restrictions on Russia’s banking, energy, and military industries. Particularly skeptical of continued economic war are Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, and Italy.

Sanctions supporters insist that Russia more fully comply with the Minsk peace process and end support for the separatist campaign in Ukraine’s east. “Today Russia faces a choice between the continuation of economically damaging sanctions and fully meeting its obligations under Minsk,” contended Secretary of State John Kerry.

Yet the armed conflict has ebbed, political crisis fills Kiev and some Ukrainians aren’t sure they want the separatists back. Indeed, Oksana Syroyid, Deputy Speaker of Ukraine’s Rada, has blocked passage of a constitutional amendment providing autonomy for the Donbas region, explaining: “We need to stop thinking of how to counter Putin, or how to please all our partners.”

Brussels faces the unpleasant possibility of Russia fulfilling its responsibilities while Ukraine breaks the deal. “Both sides need to perform,” complained Germany Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

Targeted sanctions against named individuals and concerns have a certain appeal. However, there is little evidence that they are more effective than broader measures.

The latter have hurt the Russian public without turning many of them against their government. Moreover, Western penalties have discouraged, even reversed, liberalization of the Russian economy, as businesses have grown even more dependent on government support.

The belief that imposing sanctions a little longer will force Moscow to capitulate reflects the triumph of hope over experience. Rather than reflexively continue sanctions, the Western states should rethink their policy toward Russia.

Vladimir Putin isn’t a nice guy, but that hardly sets him apart from other authoritarians. Geopolitically Ukraine matters far more to Moscow than to Europe or America. Russia always will spend and risk more to protect its perceived security interests next door.

And the West did much to challenge Moscow, including encourage a street revolt against a democratically elected president. That still didn’t justify Russia’s brutal actions to dismember its neighbor, but Putin acted predictably and rationally. He is neither Hitler nor Stalin reincarnated, but a traditional Tsar. Putin has never demonstrated a desire to swallow non-Russian peoples.

Thus, I argued in Forbes, “the allies should negotiate their way out of the sanctions box in which they are stuck. They could drop economic war, promise to stop expanding NATO along Russia’s border (most importantly, to Ukraine), reduce military support for Kiev, and encourage Ukraine to look both ways economically. Moscow could drop support for Ukrainian separatists, cooperate with restructuring Kiev’s unsustainable debts, accept Ukrainian economic ties with the EU, hold an internationally monitored status referendum in Crimea, and accept whatever outcomes emerge from the messy Ukrainian political system.”

Of course, Kiev is independent and free to decide its own future. But Ukrainians should choose their own course while fully aware that no one in the West is prepared to initiate all-out economic war, let along military conflict, with nuclear-armed Russia over Kiev’s status.

The U.S. and Europe shouldn’t allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good in policy toward Russia. At most economic sanctions act as a moral statement, but one better made through other means.

At the same time, there are many important issues in which the West would benefit from Russian assistance. After two years, it’s time to make a deal with Moscow.

 

In 2014, a militant group calling itself the Islamic State, or ISIL, but more generally known as ISIS, burst into official and public attention with some military victories in Iraq and Syria in the middle of the year—particularly by taking over Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul.

Cries of alarm escalated substantially when ISIS performed and webcast several beheadings of defenseless Western hostages. Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein was soon insisting that “The threat ISIS poses cannot be overstated”—effectively proclaiming, as columnist Dan Froomkin suggests, hyperbole on the subject to be impossible. Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham de­emed the group to present an existential threat to the United States, and the media quickly became canny about weaving audience-grabbing references to the arrestingly diabolical ISIS into any story about terrorism.

The challenge presented by ISIS has become perhaps the most important and consequential foreign policy issue for the United States today. And a poll conducted a few weeks ago asked the 83 percent of its respondents who said it closely followed news stories about ISIS whether the group presented “a serious threat to the existence or survival of the US.” Fully 77 percent agreed, more than two-thirds of them strongly.

Unlike other groups designated as terrorist organizations, ISIS actually seeks to hold and govern—and then expand its control over—territory. ISIS obtains finances by selling oil and antiquities and by extorting, or taxing, people under its control. Key to its success or failure is whether it will be able to fund itself through such activities and whether its social and economic viability can be undermined.

It is this issue that will be central to a discussion by two experts at 4pm on May 18, 2016, hosted by Cato (a reception will follow). Howard Shatz is a senior economist at the RAND Corporation, and Jacob Shapiro is Associate Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University and the author of the prize-winning The Terrorist’s Dilemma: Managing Violent Covert Organizations. I will be moderating the discussion.

There seems little doubt that since its advances of 2014, the vicious group’s momentum has been substantially halted, and its empire is currently under a form of siege. And, by holding territory, it presents an obvious and clear target for airstrikes and other methods by military opponents.

Even by late 2014, it was finding that its supply lines were overstretched and its ranks of experienced fighters were being thinned. Over the course of the next year, it lost some 40 percent of the territory in Iraq that it had held at its peak in 2014. In late 2015, it tried to push back by launching three offensives in northern Iraq using, among other things, “armored bulldozers.” The offensives were readily beaten back.

By 2016, ISIS was in retreat in many areas, and frontline commanders were observing that “They don’t fight. They just send car bombs and then run away. And when we surround them they either surrender or infiltrate themselves among the civilians….Their leaders are begging them to fight, but they answer that it is a lost cause. They refuse to obey and run away.”

ISIS is finding that actually controlling and effectively gov­erning wide territories is a major strain. And it has to work hard to keep people from fleeing its brutal lumpen Caliphate.On close examination in fact, its once highly-vaunted economic capacity—selling a lot of oil and antiquities, for example—may be proving to be illusory.

Even in late 2014, there were reports indicating that ISIS was experiencing major problems with providing services and medical care, keeping prices from soaring, getting schools to function, keeping the water drinkable. And by the end of 2015, in part because the territory it controlled had diminished so much—thereby reducing the number of people it could tax (or extort)—ISIS was forced to reduce the salaries of its fighters by half. Those salaries, it appears, constitute two-thirds of the group’s operating budget.

By 2016, there were increasing reports of financial strain and clashes among senior commanders over allegations of corruption, mismanagement, and theft. Not only was the tax, or extortion, base much reduced and oil sales disrupted, but the huge cash windfall from the seizure of banks during the group’s season of expansion in 2014 was now reportedly mostly gone.

Does this indicate that ISIS is being fatally degraded as a threat? Can it maintain itself despite these setbacks? What might be required to break its still-substantial control over wide areas and large cities in Iraq and Syria? What are the best options for the United States and its allies to pursue? These questions will be very much on the agenda on May 18.

Yesterday my colleague Alex Nowrasteh wrote an extensive list of reasons why Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican Party presidential nominee, is the nativist dream candidate. The list leaves little doubt that if Trump makes it to the White House he will seek to violate the Constitution, create a police state, put citizens’ privacy at risk, and build a border wall (despite its estimated $25 billion price tag) all in the name of reducing legal and illegal immigration to the United States.

Trump’s immigration plan ought to worry civil libertarians because, as Alex points out, he supports mandatory E-Verify, the ineffective employment eligibility verification program that puts privacy at risk. Trump’s disregard for effective policy and privacy rights can be seen not only in his views on E-Verify but also his support for 24/7 border drones.

Last month Trump told Syracuse.com that he would order the 24/7 surveillance of the U.S. borders, adding, “I want surveillance for our borders, and the drone has great capabilities for surveillance.”

What Trump might not know is that drones on the U.S. border don’t have a great track record. At the end of 2014 the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General released an audit of the Custom and Border Protection’s Unmanned Aircraft System Program. The program includes MQ -9 Predator B drones (also called “Reapers”), perhaps best known for its combat missions abroad, as well as the Guardian, the Predator B’s maritime variant. The program’s audit was unambiguous:

The program has also not achieved the expected results. Specifically, the unmanned aircraft are not meeting flight hour goals. Although CBP anticipated increased apprehensions of illegal border crossers, a reduction in border surveillance costs, and improvement in the U.S. Border Patrol’s efficiency, we found little or no evidence that CBP met those program expectations.

Unsurprisingly, cartels at the southern border are taking part in an arms race with CBP, using jamming devices on patrol drones. Almost a year after the inspector general’s audit Timothy Bennett, a science-and-technology program manager at the Department of Homeland Security, explained how the cartels hinder CBP operations:

DHS was unable to say just how often smugglers tried to jam or spoof border-watching UAVs. But Bennett said the attacks are hindering law enforcement abilities to map drug routes. “You’re out there looking, trying to find out this path [they’re] going through with drugs, and we can’t get good coordinate systems on it because we’re getting spoofed. That screws up the whole thing. We got to fix that problem,” he said.

The ineffectiveness of drones on the border is not the only concern. CBP drones also pose privacy concerns. Predator B drones carrying out combat missions abroad have been outfitted with Gorgon Stare, a wide-area surveillance technology that allows users to track objects within an area at least 10 square kilometers in size. Almost two years ago it was reported that once incorporated with Autonomous Real-Time Ground Ubiquitous Surveillance Imaging System (ARGUS-IS), another wide-area surveillance tool, Gorgon Stare can monitor 100 square kilometers. A video outlining ARGUS-IS’ capabilities is below.

I’m not aware of any reports of CBP drones equipped with ARGUS-IS, but given American law enforcement’s history of using equipment originally designed for the battlefield, such as Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles (MRAPs) and Stingrays, it is reasonable to be concerned about military wide area surveillance equipment making its way to domestic patrol drones.

Not that Trump would find that at all concerning. For Trump  it seems like any policy, no matter how ineffective or damaging to our civil liberties, is worth trying as long as it seeks to reduce immigration.  

It’s increasingly clear that attacks on academic freedom from within the academy are only growing. I was recently invited to give two major speeches on the subject, one on academic freedom as such, the other more broadly on tolerance in a free society. And just a week ago I blogged here on the breaking news about the uproar at George Mason University over the GMU administration’s decision to rename its law school after the late Justice Antonin Scalia.

Just yesterday the Manhattan Institute and Wall Street Journal’s Jason Riley recounted in the Journal his recent “disinvitation” to speak at Virginia Tech. It seems that faculty members were “concerned” that Riley’s writings on race in the Journal “would spark protests.” On today’s campus, we can’t have those—unless, of course, they’re politically correct protests, as at GMU. There, the protest only grows, with a lengthy report about it in today’s Washington Post and a sharp op-ed against the uproar in today’s Journal by GMU law professor Lloyd Cohen.

As Prof. Cohen outlines developments there, they arose from the university’s announcement in late March of a $10 million gift from the Charles Koch Foundation to expand law-school scholarships and $20 million from an anonymous donor to rename the law school in honor of Justice Scalia. In response, “a vocal group of professors, none of whom teaches at the law school itself, is now attempting to convince the university administration and the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia to reject the grant and abandon the school’s new name.” In late April the faculty senate passed a condemnation resolution. And just yesterday it voted in favor of a nonbinding resolution to delay any changes in the law school’s name.

In opposing the resolution, Prof. Cohen took the gloves off at the meeting—where, he reports, “several of my faculty colleagues interrupted me by calling for me to be prevented from speaking, a sad commentary on their tolerance for open debate and intellectual inquiry.” It’s worth citing in full the portion of his remarks that the Post highlights:

Consider the irony of this body’s proposed resolution: In purporting to take a stand in favor of academic freedom this body would adopt a statement that constitutes one of the most egregious attacks on academic freedom not only in the history of this university but in higher education in this country.

This body is prepared to accuse the faculty and administration of the school of law of selling out its integrity, independence, and academic values for a pottage — all while hiding under the gutless guise of expressing “concerns” about public perceptions and other weasel words designed to disguise what this really is — an unprecedented assault on the academic freedom of one unit of this university by a mob of faculty from the rest of the university.

And let’s not kid ourselves — the whole world knows what is going on here. If this were a gift from George Soros to create the Harry Blackman Law School we would not be here today.

The political agenda of this body is transparent.

And it is the transparency of this political agenda to attack academic freedom cloaked in the garb of a purported defense of academic freedom that leads me to call on every Senator to think about the principle that you would be voting for today if you go along with this statement.

Indeed, if this assault is in the name of defending academic freedom, then that concept has lost all meaning.

ERBIL, IRAQ—Kurdistan in the north of Iraq has become a refuge for Christians and other religious minorities in the midst of the Islamic State’s murderous rampage. The abundant crimes of Daesh, as it also is known, constitute an unprecedented religious war against members of minority faiths who until recently largely lived in peace with their Muslim neighbors.

As ISIS expanded it attacked most everyone, especially Christians, Yazidis, and other religious minorities. Hence the brutal campaign detailed in the nearly 300-page report, “Genocide against Christians in the Middle East,” issued by the Knights of Columbus and In Defense of Christians, a group which focuses on the Mideast.

The report argued simply: “ISIS is committing genocide” against Christians in Iraq, Libya, and Syria. The words of Daesh are clear.

The organization publishes a magazine named Dabiq, the place where the movement expects to destroy the “Crusader army,” meaning Christians. Explained the Islamic State: “We will conquer your Rome, break your crosses, and enslave your women, by the permission of Allah, the Exalted.”

To describe the Islamic State’s crimes in generalities does not adequately communicate the truly horrific nature of its campaign. The NGO Shlomo recorded 1131 Christians murdered between 2003 and 2014 in Iraq’s Nineveh Plain, with more than 100 more since then.

Patriarch Ignatius Youssef III Younan of Antioch, Syria believed more than 500 Christians in Iraq and more than 1000 in Syria were killed. The Archbishop of Aleppo, Syria, Jean-Clement Jeanbart, said that hundreds of Christians have been executed or kidnapped in his city and perhaps thousands in Syria as a whole. Others have been slaughtered in Libya and elsewhere.

While widespread murder is the Islamic State’s most odious crime, the group inflicts grievous harm on those it does not kill. Those interviewed for the report cited all manner of bodily harm: “Choking, beatings with guns and electrical cords, mock executions, and withholding of food and water in the extreme heat are commonplace.”

Rape also is widespread, with more than “1500 Yazidi and Christian girls” taken as sex slaves. As in ancient times, they are sold and shared like chattel.

Moreover, the Islamic State coerced religious conversion. This process might seem unimportant to nonbelievers but, reported the authors, “the violation of conscience—the spiritual rape—involved in a conversion through force works a state of mental and spiritual unrest that is difficult to put into words.”

Finally, there is religious cleansing. For instance, “Christians were rounded up into busses and driven out to a remote place to fend for themselves.” Left without food and water, many had to walk for hours to reach safety.

What to do about widespread genocidal persecution of religious minorities?

Many who pushed for the designation of “genocide” hoped to force a response from Washington. But there is little military option. After all, foolish U.S. intervention triggered the crises in Iraq and Libya and exacerbated the conflict in Syria.

Indictments under the International Criminal Court would provide moral satisfaction, but the Islamic State must be defeated for any prosecutions to occur. Indeed, defeat itself is the most important way to stop ISIS, and is primarily the responsibility of the Middle Eastern nations under attack from Daesh.

Americans can help religious minorities directly. The group HardWired brought me to Kurdistan, where it was working with people of all faiths to promote religious liberty and tolerance.

As I pointed out in Forbes: “The U.S. also should accept additional refugees. Despite security fears, the Islamic State is unlikely to attempt to use refugees, who typically wait years for resettlement, to attack America. In particular need are Christians, Yazidis, and other religious minorities. Only Lebanon is hospitable to non-Muslims, and it is overwhelmed with refugees of all faiths.”

The slaughter of Middle Eastern Christians and other persecuted faiths is one of the great tragedies of our age. Americans should act even when their government does not.

Over at Cato’s Police Misconduct web site, we have selected the worst case for the month of April.  It was the case involving a Michigan man by the name of James King.

 

 

King was minding his own business when he was confronted by two menacing men.   King didn’t know these men and he wanted to get away from them, but they chased him down and beat him up.

Turns out the men were police officers working on a fugitive task force.  They thought King was one of their fugitives, but they were mistaken about that.  They were out of uniform when they confronted King and, according to King’s lawsuit, they did not identify themselves as police officers.  Worried about his own safety, King ran away from them.

One of the officers put King in a chokehold till he lost consciousness.  When King came to, he again feared for his own safety, thinking that these men were criminal attackers, so he bit the arm of one of the officers in a gambit to get away from them.  The bite infuriated the officer, who then unleashed a torrent of punches on King’s face and head.

Bystanders were alarmed by what they were witnessing and they called 911.  The responding officer, for his part, told the witnesses to delete their cell phone videos of the incident.  He was worried about the safety of the officers, who had undercover jobs.  He said they shouldn’t be recorded.

When things settled down, and the police realized their mistake, they decided to arrest King anyway.  He fought back during his arrest–that’s a crime.

Prosecutors evidently agreed that King needed to be punished–so they charged him with three felonies.

King declined to plea bargain and insisted on a jury trial.  After hearing all the arguments and evidence, the jury acquitted him of all charges.

A civil lawsuit is now pending.  There’s no indication of any discipline for the officers involved.  They’re apparently still out there policing.

Writing as background for their work, the six-member research team of Koweek et al. (2015) cite several concerns about the future of Earth’s corals that have been projected to result from the so-called twin evils of global warming and ocean acidification, including “coral bleaching (Glynn, 1993; Hughes et al., 2003; van Hooidonk et al., 2013), increased dissolution and bioerosion (Andersson and Gledhill, 2013; Dove et al., 2013; Reyes-Nivia et al., 2013), decreased biodiversity (Fabricius et al., 2011), and shifts toward algal-dominated reefs (Hoegh-Guldberg et al., 2007; Kroeker et al., 2010; 2013).” However, despite these concerns, which have captured the attention of scientists and policy makers for more than two decades now, such worries may well be overestimated and overplayed.

The reason for such growing optimism has to do with the corals themselves, which along with other marine organisms appear to have an inherent ability “of controlling their own biogeochemical environments.” Such biologically-mediated controls, if they are of sufficient magnitude, could potentially offset future changes in the marine environment brought about by rising atmospheric CO2 (projected ocean warming and pH decline). It is therefore of considerable importance for scientists to continue investigating these biological feedbacks in order to better ascertain the future of these precious marine species, for as noted by Koweek et al., “the paradigm of coral reefs as passive responders to their biogeochemical environments is rapidly changing.”

In further expanding the scientific knowledge on this important topic, the six American researchers set out to conduct a “short, high-resolution physical and biogeochemical pilot field study” on the back reefs of Ofu, American Samoa, where they measured a number of hydrodynamic and biogeochemical parameters there over a seven-day period in November, 2011. The specific study location was Pool 100 (14.185°S, 169.666°W), a shallow lagoon containing 85 coral species and various kinds of crustose coralline algae and non-calcifying algae. Koweek et al. selected Pool 100 because, as they state, shallow back reefs “commonly experience greater thermal and biogeochemical variability owing to a combination of coral community metabolism, environmental forcing, flow regime, and water depth.”

Results of their data collection and analysis revealed that temperatures within the shallow back reef environment were consistently 2-3°C warmer during the day than that observed in the offshore environment. In addition, and as expected, the ranges of the physical and biogeochemical parameters studied in Pool 100 greatly exceeded the variability observed in the open ocean. Inside Pool 100, the pH values fluctuated between a low of 7.80 and a high of 8.39 across the seven days of study, with daily ranges spanning between 0.5 and 0.6 of a unit (Figure 1). What is more, Koweek et al. report that the reef community in Pool 100 spent far more time outside of the offshore pH range than within it (pH values were between 8.0 and 8.2 during only 30 percent of the observational period, less than 8.0 for 34 percent of the time and greater than 8.2 for the remaining 36 percent of the observations). Additional measurements and calculations indicated that these fluctuations in pH were largely the product of community primary production and respiration, as well as tidal modulation and wave-driven flow.

Figure 1. Time series of pHT (top panel) and pCO2 (bottom panel) in Pool 100, Ofu, American Samoa from November 16-20, 2011. Vertical blue and orange lines show the occurrence of high and low tides, respectively. Gray vertical shading shows the period from sundown to sunrise. The different colored circles represent data that were collected from different locations in Pool 100 and the dashed horizontal black lines represent the mean value of each parameter in the offshore ocean. Adapted from Koweek et al. (2015).

Commenting on these and other of their findings, Koweek et al. write that “our measurements have provided insight into the physical–biogeochemical coupling on Ofu.” And that insight, they add, “suggests a significantly more nuanced view of the fate of coral reefs” than the demise of global reef systems that is traditionally forecast under the combined stresses of climate change and ocean acidification.

Indeed, if these ecosystems presently thrive under such variable (and more severe) environmental conditions than those predicted for the future—which conditions are largely derived and modulated by themselves—why wouldn’t they persist?

 

References

Andersson, A.J. and Gledhill, D. 2013. Ocean acidification and coral reefs: effects on breakdown, dissolution, and net ecosystem calcification. Annual Review of Marine Science 5: 321-348.

Dove, S.G., Kline, D.I., Pantos, O., Angly, F.E., Tyson, G.W. and Hoegh-Guldberg, O. 2013. Future reef decalcification under a business-as-usual CO2 emission scenario. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA 110: 15342-15347.

Fabricius, K.E., Langdon, C., Uthicke, S., Humphrey, C., Noonan, S.H.C., De’ath, G., Okazaki, R., Muehllehner, N., Glas, M.S. and Lough, J.M. 2011. Losers and winners in coral reefs acclimatized to elevated carbon dioxide concentrations. Nature Climate Change 1: 165-169.

Glynn, P.W. 1993. Coral reef bleaching: ecological perspectives. Coral Reefs 12: 1-17.

Hoegh-Guldberg, O., Mumby, P.J., Hooten, A.J., Steneck, R.S., Greenfield, P., Gomez, E., Harvell, C.D., Sale, P.F., Edwards, A.J., Caldeira, K., Knowlton, N., Eakin, C.M., Iglesias-Prieto, R., Muthiga, N., Bradbury, R.H., Dubi, A. and Hatziolos, M.E. 2007. Coral reefs under rapid climate change and ocean acidification. Science 318: 1737-1742.

Hughes, T.P., Baird, A.H., Bellwood, D.R., Card, M., Connolly, S.R., Folke, C., Grosberg, R., Hoegh-Guldberg, O., Jackson, J.B.C., Kleypas, J.A., Lough, J.M., Marshall, P., Nystrom, M., Palumbi, S.R., Pandolfi, J.M., Rosen, B. and Roughgarden, J. 2003. Climate change, human impacts, and the resilience of coral reefs. Science 301: 929-933.

Koweek, D.A., Dunbar, R.B., Monismith, S.G., Mucciarone, D.A., Woodson, C.B. and Samuel, L. 2015. High-resolution physical and biogeochemical variability from a shallow back reef on Ofu, American Samoa: an end-member perspective. Coral Reefs 34: 979-991.

Kroeker, K.J., Kordas, R.L., Crim, R.N. and Singh, G.G. 2010. Meta-analysis reveals negative yet variable effects of ocean acidification on marine organisms. Ecology Letters 13: 1419-1434.

Kroeker, K.J., Kordas, R.L., Crim, R.N., Hendriks, I.E., Ramajo, L., Singh, G.S., Duarte, C.M. and Gattuso, J.-P. 2013. Impacts of ocean acidification on marine organisms: quantifying sensitivities and interaction with warming. Global Change Biology 19: 1884-1896.

Reyes-Nivia, C., Diaz-Pulido, G., Kline, D.I., Hoegh-Guldberg, O. and Dove, S.G. 2013. Ocean acidification and warming scenarios increase microbioerosion of coral skeletons. Global Change Biology 19: 1919-1929.

van Hooidonk, R., Maynard, J.A. and Planes, S. 2013. Temporary refugia for coral reefs in a warming world. Nature Climate Change 3: 508-511.

Donald Trump’s win in Indiana has practically clinched the Republican nomination.  Since July 2015, Trump has led in most polls of GOP candidates.  Immigration restrictionism is his most popular policy position.  That position and the way he’s talked about it have defined his candidacy and set him apart from the get go.  Trump is the nativist dream candidate – virtually whatever happens now can be blamed on his anti-immigration position. 

Here’s a list of Trump’s anti-immigration credentials:

You can read more about Trump’s immigration policies in his plan – which Ann Coulter called “the greatest political document since the Magna Carta.”

Trump is the real anti-immigration candidate that nativists have been praying for.  He owns the anti-immigration label no matter what he does or says to distance himself from it in the general election.  He spouts their ideas and appeals to their biases on a national stage.  He is the perfect spokesman in tone and style for such a policy position.  The political failure of immigration restrictionists in the past was always blamed on their moderation.  Now they have a real anti-immigration radical to test their theory – so we should give them appropriate credit for Trump’s failure in November.

Donald Trump keeps winning Republican Party primaries. He could be America’s next president. It’s a sobering thought.

But Trump is not alone. Europe is filled with populist parties, old and new.

It’s too simple to decry a proto-fascist wave, as feared by some alarmists. In fact, most of his Republican competitors were far more aggressive and irresponsible on foreign policy than Trump. Normal folks simply are tired of being viewed as problems to be solved rather than citizens to be engaged.

In the U.S. it doesn’t much matter who people vote for. Government will expand. New regulations will be issued. More tax dollars will be spent. Additional wars will be started. The only certainty is that the views of those who vote will be ignored. Much the same governing consensus dominates Europe.

At the same time, the governing class protects itself. The response of this ruling class to public challenge only increases popular anger and frustration.

This doesn’t mean the principles under attack in America and Europe are illegitimate. I rather like advanced industrial capitalism, globalization, diversity, immigration, and much (though certainly not all) of the modern liberal catechism. At issue is the ruthless campaign to not just defeat political opponents but delegitimize contending viewpoints.

Real tolerance requires hearing and debating ideas despite disagreeing with them. While there are some beliefs which appropriately fall beyond the bounds of normal discourse, the number in that category must be kept extraordinarily small. Fear of economic and cultural change does not qualify.

If opinions are barred from civil debate, they will emerge in uncivil action. If it proves impossible to debate issues in the usual political channels, advocates will push their views more loudly and offensively in other ways. The result is Donald Trump in America and a gaggle of dubious, sometimes creepy politicians across Europe.

What to do now, after the forces of populism, nationalism, and more have been unleashed?

First, popular concerns need to be acknowledged and addressed. While globalization, immigration, and trade are economically beneficial, the advantages are not shared equally. All have a stake in what their nation is and what it becomes.

Second, the political process needs to be made more responsive to popular concerns. While populism tends to be undemocratic in its expectation of overriding all competing interests, it arises at least in part in response to the normal political system’s refusal to consider disfavored interests. That doesn’t mean turning republicanism into majoritarianism, but protecting republicanism from elitism.

Third, parties within the legitimate realm of debate—say populist, not fascist—should be brought into government when appropriate. Matthew Goodwin of the University of Nottingham explained that stigmatizing disfavored parties discouraged moderation and compromise. In contrast, “parties that were not excluded but were allowed to participate in the wider party system tended, over time, to move away from more extreme positions.”

Fourth, policies should be adapted to assuage strong public pressures without abandoning fundamental principles. For instance, to encourage public acceptance of immigration “reform” compromise is necessary, such as legalizing work by undocumented aliens while setting aside citizenship as an option.

Fifth, issues should be depoliticized and withdrawn from the electoral process. People should be left alone whenever possible. Government should not be used as a tool to remake a recalcitrant public.

Sixth, expanded economic opportunity is essential. As I point out on Forbes, “Lesser educated and skilled people are suffering. American policymakers must confront public schools which don’t teach, revamp federal taxes which cut U.S. competitiveness, and eliminate business subsidies which reward political rather than economic entrepreneurship.”

Seventh, people need to find new venues for dialogue. As the center disappears from politics and contending parties grow more estranged, people need other forums to be reminded of their common humanity and interests.

No one knows when the latest populist political wave will break. It is essential to respond to the concerns animating the angry middle.

Baton Rouge IT consultant Michael Hale is right to be concerned about the unfunded mandates in the REAL ID Act. The U.S. national ID law requires states to issue driver’s licenses and share driver data according to federal standards. States complying with REAL ID will find that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) dictates their driver licensing policies and the expenditure of state funds in this area forevermore. But he raises that concern at the tail end of a letter to the editor of The New Orleans Advocate that broadly endorses the national ID law based on incorrect information. Here’s some information that Mr. Hale and every American concernced with our liberty and security should know.

Mr. Hale believes that state driver data “will continue to be maintained by each individual state, and each state will decide who gets access to this information.” This is not the case. The REAL ID Act requires states to share driver data across a nationwide network of databases. The DHS and other national ID advocates downplay and deny this, but they are not persuasive because the requirement is right there in the statute:

To meet the requirements of this section, a State shall adopt the following practices in the issuance of drivers’ licenses and identification cards: …
(12) Provide electronic access to all other States to information contained in the motor vehicle database of the State.
(13) Maintain a State motor vehicle database that contains, at a minimum–
(A) all data fields printed on drivers’ licenses and identification cards issued by the State; and
(B) motor vehicle drivers’ histories, including motor vehicle violations, suspensions, and points on licenses.

Mr. Hale says, “The Real ID Act allows states to either adopt the Real ID or to come up with their own version of secure ID that Homeland Security can approve.” This is not true. The option of issuing a non-federal license or ID does not waive the obligation to share driver data nationwide.

Unlike the Department of Homeland Security and its pro-national ID allies, Mr. Hale gamely tries to argue the security merits of having a national ID. “The purpose of all this is to create a trustworthy form of ID that can be used to ensure air travel security,” he says. “The first step in securing a flight is to make sure everyone on board is who they claim to be.”

That argument is intuitive. In daily life, knowing who people are permits you to find them and punish any bad behavior. But U.S. federal public policy with national security implications and billions of taxpayer dollars at stake requires more articulate calculation.

The costs or impediments a national ID system would impose on dedicated terrorists, criminal organizations, and people lacking impulse control is minimal. For billions of dollars in taxpayer dollars expended, millions of hours standing in DMV lines, and placement of all law-abiding Americans into a national tracking system, REAL ID might mildly inconvenience the bad guys. They can, for example, bribe a DMV employee, spend a few thousand dollars to manufacture a false identity, or acquire the license of someone looking similar enough to themselves to fool lazy TSA agents. I analyzed all dimensions of identification and identity systems in my book, Identity Crisis: How Identification is Overused and Misunderstood.

There are other security measures where dollars and effort deliver more benefit. Or people might be left in control of their dollars and time to live as free Americans.

The Department of Homeland Security consistently downplays and obscures the true nature of the REAL ID Act’s national ID policy, and it never even tries to defend its security merits in any serious way. In the information technology community, the security demerits of having a national ID system backed by a web of databases as required by the law seems relatively clear.  People familiar with information technology tend to be more concerned, not less, with the power and peril of a national ID system.

The quest continues to make active citizens like Mr. Hale more aware of all dimensions of this issue.

Donald Trump has offered his foreign policy vision. It was a bit of a mishmash, but he is no Neoconservative and broke with pro-war Republican orthodoxy in important ways.

The speech, delivered last week in downtown Washington, was standard campaign fare, intended to demonstrate that the candidate was serious, and included some of the usual bland generalities.

Still, there was considerable good in the talk.

After the Cold War, he noted, “Logic was replaced with foolishness and arrogance, which led to one foreign policy disaster after another.” Hard to argue with that. Moreover, said Trump, it was a mistake to believe that the U.S. could impose Western-style democracy on countries “that had no experience or interests” in the process.

Indeed, he noted that “the legacy of the Obama-Clinton interventions will be weakness, confusion and disarray, a mess.” It actually is the Bush-Obama-Clinton interventions, but point taken. “Our actions in Iraq, Libya and Syria have helped unleash ISIS,” Trump added.

Added Trump: “unlike other candidates for the presidency, war and aggression will not be my first instinct.” Those are words not often spoken by Republicans. He also criticized the Iraq debacle, whose “biggest beneficiary has been Iran.”

Further, complained Trump, “our allies are not paying their fair share.” He promised to get out “of the nation-building business.” He argued that Washington should cooperate with Russia.

But there was the bad in the talk as well.

In complaining about the cost of defending allies, Trump drew the wrong conclusion: “The countries we are defending must pay for the cost of this defense, and if not, the U.S. must be prepared to let these countries defend themselves.” Washington should not hire out its military. Rather, foreign peoples should defend their own nations.

In a speech intended to highlight his unconventional thinking, he made the standard Republican claim that “our friends are beginning to think they can’t depend on us.” Like those nations in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East that Washington continues to defend at such high cost?

He complained about the “disastrous deal with Iran” without offering an alternative. Yet the agreement has pushed back Tehran’s ability to create nuclear weapons and intensified the internal struggle over Iran’s future.

 “Our rivals no longer respect us,” complained Trump. “President Obama watches helplessly as North Korea” continues its nuclear developments. As did Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. President Trump likely would find himself in the same situation.

Finally, there was more than a little ugly.

Trump overestimated Washington’s ability to force other nations to do its will: with America’s “economic power, we can rein in and we can get [the Chinese] to do what they have to do with North Korea.” It would make more sense to use diplomacy, which Trump elsewhere lauds, to address China’s concerns over a possible North Korean collapse than to threaten to wreck the relationship between the world’s two most important states. As I point out in Forbes, “Trump should recognize the likely reaction of a proud, nationalistic people whose country only recently escaped centuries of humiliation to an attempt by arrogant foreigners to dictate policy.”

Trump announced: “ISIS will be gone if I’m elected president. And they’ll be gone quickly. They will be gone very, very quickly.” Ironically, this is another instance of Washington doing someone else’s job: America’s allies and friends are the countries threatened by ISIS, so they should do the heavy lifting.

Moreover, Trump insisted that “we have to rebuild our military.” In fact, even after adjusting for inflation Obama’s cumulative military expenditures will exceed those of his predecessor. America accounts for roughly 40 percent of the globe’s military outlays because it needlessly defends Washington’s Asian, European, and Middle Eastern friends.

Donald Trump’s foreign policy sounds a lot like his domestic policy: inconsistent, ill-formed, incomplete. But still better than those of his main rivals. If he wins the GOP nomination, the presidential race might yield a genuine debate over foreign policy.

Last week’s resignation of Michael Melaniphy as CEO of the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) is a sign that more people are seeing that America’s transit-industrial complex has no clothes. Melaniphy’s departure comes on the heels of the withdrawal of the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) from APTA membership.

MTA’s complaint is that APTA has failed to help the seven “legacy” transit systems, that is, rail systems that are more than 40 years old, that are suffering from severe maintenance backlogs. These transit systems, which are in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Boston, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland, carry nearly two-third of the nation’s transit riders yet–thanks in part to APTA lobbying–a disproportionate share of federal transit dollars go to smaller cities that are building new rail systems that they won’t be able to afford to maintain.

In 2010, the Federal Transit Administration estimated that the legacy rail systems (plus Washington and Atlanta) needed nearly $60 billion to restore them to a state of good repair. Yet little was done, and the latest estimate is that the maintenance backlog has grown to more than $93 billion. Meanwhile, with APTA’s encouragement, Congress has spent something like $15 billion supporting the construction of new rail systems in places like Los Angeles, Seattle, and Portland.

Even the transit systems that suffer from maintenance backlogs are spending precious resources building new rail lines because that is what Congress will fund, not maintenance. Thus, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority is spending $3 billion on a light-rail line to Medford even as it let its maintenance backlog grow to $7.3 billion. The Chicago Transit Authority is spending $2.3 billion extending its Red Line even as its maintenance backlog exceeds $22 billion. The San Francisco BART system is suffering frequent breakdowns and has a $9.7 billion maintenance backlog, yet is spending $6.3 billion on a line to San Jose that partly duplicates existing commuter rail service.

Meanwhile, other cities seem to be racing to see who can spend the most on their own rail transit expansions. Having just finished spending $1.5 billion on a seven-mile light-rail line, Portland wants to spend $2 billion on a new 12-mile line. Seattle just spend $1.9 billion on a three-mile light-rail line and is now spending $3.7 billion on a fourteen-mile line to Bellevue. The Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority wants to spend $120 billion on new transit lines, including the construction of a nine-mile light-rail tunnel to the San Fernando Valley that will cost nearly $1 billion per mile. 

Despite their expense, none of these light-rail lines are anything like the Washington or other subway systems. The “light” in light rail refers to capacity, not weight: light rail is, by definition, low-capacity transit, capable of carrying only about a quarter as many people per hour as a subway or elevated line. In 1981, San Diego opened the nation’s first modern light-rail line at a cost of $5.6 million per mile (about $12.5 million in today’s money); the cost of the average line being built today is $163 million per mile, yet those new lines won’t be able to carry any more people than the San Diego line.

These new rail lines do little good for transit riders, mainly because their high cost eventually forces most transit agencies that build them to cannibalize their bus systems. For example, construction of new light-rail lines forced San Jose’s Valley Transportation Authority to reduce bus service by 22 percent since 2001, leading to a 32 percent decline in ridership

It’s no surprise that APTA sheepishly reported last month that the nation’s overall transit ridership declined in 2015. While APTA blamed the decline on low gas prices, the truth is (as noted here last year), if you don’t count the New York subway system (whose ridership has been growing in response to rising Manhattan employment), nationwide ridership has declined for the past several years. 

Why are we spending so much money building new rail lines when it doesn’t help, and often hurts, transit riders? Part of the answer is Congress likes shiny new projects more than maintenance. But part of the answer is that APTA’s membership is stacked with manufacturers and suppliersconsultantscontractors, and land developers who build subsidized projects next to rail stations. Although New York’s MTA carries nearly 37 percent of all transit riders in the country, its membership dues covered less than 2 percent of APTA’s budget because APTA gets most of its money from non-transit agencies. Thus, like Congress, APTA is biased towards new construction.

For example, APTA claims to be an educational organization, yet it hasn’t done much to educate Congress or the public about the long-term costs of rail transit and the need to almost completely and expensively rebuild those rail lines every 30 years or so. After all, this message could undermine support for building new rail transit lines in cities that don’t need them.

People who support the needs of actual transit riders, rather than rail snobs (people who say they’ll ride a train but not a bus) or contractors, should use these facts to persuade Congress to stop funding obsolete rail transit systems when cities desperately need things that will truly relieve traffic congestion and cost-effectively improve everyone’s mobility.

Neal McCluskey has updated an overview study on federal aid for K-12 education, which is posted at DownsizingGovernment.org. Neal reports that K-12 spending under the U.S. Department of Education and its predecessor agencies rose from $4.5 billion in 1965 to $40.2 billion in 2016, in constant 2016 dollars. He notes that the department funds more than 100 subsidy programs, and each comes with regulations extending federal control over local schools.

Over the years, the states have been happy to receive federal funds, but they have chafed under the mandates imposed by Washington. George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act provoked a backlash because of its costly rules for academic standards, student testing, and unrealistic proficiency demands. Neal argues that the new Ensuring Student Success Act of 2016 may have reduced some aspects of top-down control, but we won’t know for sure until all the regulations have been written.

Despite large increases in federal aid since the 1960s, public school performance has not improved much, if at all. Reading and math scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress for 17-year-olds have been stagnant. In addition, America’s performance on international tests has remained mediocre, yet we spend more per-pupil on K-12 education than most countries.

Neal concludes that federal funding and mandates are not the way to create high-quality K-12 education. He notes that Canada has an advanced economy, yet it has no federal department of education. Public education in Canada is almost solely a concern of provincial and local governments. That decentralized approach has resulted in substantial experimentation and innovation, including school vouchers, charter schools, and competing public schools. International comparison tests show that Canadian kids generally outperform American kids in reading, mathematics, and science.

Neal is right that Congress should phase out federal funding for K-12 education and end all related regulations. Federal aid is ultimately funded by the taxpayers who live in the 50 states, and thus it provides no free lunch. Indeed, the states just get money back with strings attached, while losing billions of dollars from wasteful bureaucracy. There is no advantage in federal manipulation of K-12 education, and our school systems would be better off without it.

Neal’s essay.

In his push to stop Donald Trump in Indiana, Ted Cruz has finally taken a principled stand against Trump’s economy-crushing proposal to impose a 45% tariff on all imports from China.  This comes after months of Cruz equivocating on trade policy and even adopting Trump’s own rhetoric (“we’re getting killed at international trade”) at a debate less than two months ago. 

Here’s what Cruz said on last Sunday’s Meet the Press:

Donald’s only economic agenda is imposing massive taxes on the American people with a 40 percent tax hike of a giant tariff.  That would send us into a recession.  It would drive jobs overseas.  It would kill small businesses.

In the past, Cruz has limited his criticism of Trump’s tariff proposal to the fact that it would spark retaliation against U.S exports.  He recommended his own proposal for a value-added-tax for having the same effect of stifling imports without incurring such retaliation. 

Cruz is, unfortunately, still pushing the idea that bringing manufacturing jobs back to America is a good economic policy.  The truth is that American manufacturing is thriving (especially in Indiana) even as manufacturing employment decreases, enabling other sectors of the U.S. economy to grow faster.

Thankfully, Cruz’s plan to “bring back manufacturing jobs” is to reduce the burden of taxes and regulations, which will be good for the economy whether it achieves Cruz’s stated goal or not.

In an interesting twist, Politifact has gauged Cruz’s criticism of Trump’s tariff as only Half True while still recognizing that it would cause prices “to soar” and “cost U.S. jobs.”  Here’s what they had to say:

Trump has outlined a few other economic proposals beyond tariffs like declaring China a currency manipulator, upholding intellectual property law, ending China’s export subsidies (more on this later) and lowering the corporate tax rate to incentivize American companies to stay at home. He’s also suggested renegotiating or pulling out the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and stopping the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

I think it’s worth recognizing that complaints about what China is doing are not economic proposals.  Upholding Chinese intellectual property law and ending China’s export subsidies, for example, are goals that Trump ostensibly hopes to achieve through his tariff proposal.  They are not separate policy proposals, since even Trump wouldn’t have the power to change Chinese law.

Tariffs at the level Trump is suggesting would cause prices of cheap products like air conditioners and intermediate goods like auto parts to soar and could cost U.S. jobs. But as some of the costs would be absorbed by Chinese and Mexican exporters, a 40 percent tariff doesn’t translate directly into a 40 percent tax hike.

Most economists agree that American consumers and manufactures would bear some of the cost of these tariffs, though it’s not entirely clear if prices would increase by 40 percent, as Cruz says.

What Politifact has done here is conflate “tax” hikes with “price” hikes.  It’s true that a 40% tariff won’t increase prices by 40% and no one, not even Cruz, has said it would.  Even a 40% general sales tax wouldn’t increase prices by that amount—some of the added expense would be absorbed in the form of lower wages and lower profits.

A tariff is, by definition, a tax paid by American businesses and consumers when they purchase imports.  When only some products are taxed at a higher rate, the result is less competition and less efficiency—leading to higher prices.  The fact that foreign producers would also suffer from increased tariffs only goes to show how harmful they can be.  It doesn’t mitigate the fact that Trump’s tariff is a tax paid by Americans that would lead to higher prices for American consumers and manufacturers.

Trade is one of a number of areas where Trump’s candidacy is driving the Republican Party away from free market policies.  It’s nice to see Cruz, even at his candidacy’s apparent eleventh hour, stick up for free trade by pointing out the costs of protectionism.

In January North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test in the face of universal international protest. Even China, Pyongyang’s one nominal ally, joined in the criticism.

With Beijing’s support the United Nations imposed new sanctions on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The U.S. and its allies warned Pyongyang of further isolation if the DPRK continued to flout the will of the international community.

Now the North appears to be preparing another nuclear test. If the DPRK does so no further proof will be needed that the North intends to become a significant nuclear power.

Pyongyang has invested too much to drop the program. Moreover, the North lives the old Henry Kissinger aphorism that even paranoids have enemies. The U.S., backed by the Europeans, has demonstrated its willingness to oust dictators on its “bad” list, even after making a deal with them, such as Moammar Khadafy.

What makes the prospect of another test particularly dramatic is Kim Jong-un’s apparent willingness to proceed at any cost. He can have little doubt that the U.S. will press for additional sanctions. He knows that no other government will defend his regime.

He is aware that after the January test the People’s Republic of China approved tougher international penalties. Every additional DPRK provocation threatens to become the last back-breaking straw for China, leading it to target food and energy aid, which would cause Pyongyang enormous hardship.

What to do when nothing so far has worked?

First, the U.S., Republic of Korea, and Japan should consider how to deal with a nuclear North Korea. Two decades of pronouncements that the North must not develop nuclear weapons are for naught.

If North Korea continues to augment its capabilities, then what? What military, political, and economic steps should be taken, and by whom? The more likely the prospect of Pyongyang as a modest nuclear power, the more urgent serious thinking about a transformed Northeast Asia.

Second, Japan and the ROK should set aside past differences to confront a common threat. The colonial era ended 71 years ago. These two prosperous democratic countries should prepare for problems of the future rather than reinvigorate hatreds of the past.

Third, U.S. and its allies should further engage Beijing over Pyongyang. The PRC has the most leverage with the North because of the former’s energy and food assistance, but is hesitant to risk encouraging regime collapse. Thus, as I point out in National Interest: “the allies need to offer to share costs, acknowledge Chinese interests, and convince Beijing that they would not take geopolitical advantage of the demise of the PRC’s one East Asian ally.”

Fourth, Washington should offer to defuse the perceived threat environment facing the North, backed by an offer to negotiate on issues other than nuclear weapons. This doesn’t mean blaming America or trusting Pyongyang. Rather, it means recognizing that the current regime has reason to fear the U.S. To the extent that Kim desires a wealthier nation, he might be willing to limit his arms programs if less concerned about his dynasty’s future. Maybe not, but Washington should test the possibility.

Fifth, the allies should consider the advisability of Japan and South Korea developing countervailing nuclear arsenals. America’s nuclear umbrella keeps the U.S. dangerously entangled in a potential conflict no longer critical to American security.

We are approaching a time when Northeast Asia will have three nuclear powers, all potentially bad actors: China, Russia, and the North. Washington can forever remain in the middle of this unstable nuclear scrum. Or America’s democratic allies can deter aggression on their own. The idea certainly is worth discussing, especially within hearing of Chinese officials.

It’s still okay to hope for collapse, implosion, or some other deus ex machina to “solve” the problem of the North. But it is foolish to expect a miraculous rescue. The U.S. and its friends should start planning seriously for a nuclear DPRK.

A half century of military dictatorship has officially ended in Burma, or Myanmar. Yet taking the final steps toward democracy may be as difficult as making the transition so far.

It long seemed like this day would never come. But six years ago the military regime transformed itself into a nominally civilian administration. Suu Kyi, now a Nobel laureate, was released from house arrest. Free elections were held last November, in which the NLD won an overwhelming victory.

The new government has taken over. Suu Kyi was barred from the presidency by a constitutional provision drafted specifically against her. However, she chose classmate U Htin Kyaw as president, having previously explained that she would be “above the president.”

To formalize her authority the party’s first legislative act was to create the position of “state adviser,” which, explained MP Khin Maung Myint, would be “the president’s boss” who “can control the president and all the Cabinet members.” This step was necessary because the military refused to remove the clause disabling Suu Kyi.

Guaranteed one-quarter of the parliamentary seats by the constitution it drafted, the Tatmadaw, as the military is known, is able to block any amendment. The armed forces also retain control of the defense, home affairs, and border affairs ministries.

Despite the NLD’s overwhelming electoral triumph and Suu Kyi’s expansive moral authority, governing will remain a cooperative process. Myanmar’s future requires Suu Kyi and the NLD to push steadily for moderate reform while winning the military’s confidence if not trust.

The challenges facing the new government are enormous. Despite enormous potential, Burma remains a desperately poor land. However, reforms have barely begun. The latest Economic Freedom of the World index placed Burma at a dismal 146 of 157 nations.

The state remains authoritarian. Last year Human Rights Watch reported that “the reform process has stalled.” Freedom House rated Burma as “Not Free” and moving backwards. The new government must liberalize free speech and assembly, media freedom, online activism, judicial process, and criminal procedure.

Myanmar remains a land aflame. Although most ethnic groups have signed ceasefires with the government, conflict continues with some. Particularly contentious is the status of the stateless Rohingya in Rakhine State, who have been targeted by Buddhist nationalists.

Complicating all these tasks are the people’s high expectations. President Htin Kyaw called for patience, but that may end up in short supply. The Burmese people voted more for The Lady, as Suu Kyi is known, than the NLD or a particular political program. It isn’t likely to take long for disappointment to arrive amid practical politics, including difficult economic, ethnic, labor, and religious disputes.

Despite all this, however, what is happening in Naypyidaw is extraordinary. As I pointed out in Forbes: “civilians have taken over most of the positions of authority in Burma. The people of Myanmar do not yet rule themselves. But they are closer to doing so than at any previous point in more than a half century.”

The U.S. and other nations should encourage the democracy process. Some U.S. economic sanctions remain. As a result, American firms are having trouble finding capable local partners and at a disadvantage compared to firms from Europe. Indeed, Suu Kyi declared last November that “With a genuinely democratic government in power, I do not see why they would need to keep sanctions on.”

While much more remains necessary to create a liberal and free society, Washington should further relax sanctions to reward progress so far. If the military continues to cooperate in Myanmar’s transformation the rest of the restrictions should be lifted in the coming months.

Burma once vied for the title of worst governed nation on earth. Today Myanmar is not yet fully democratic, but it no longer is a dictatorship. The Burmese people deserve America’s support as they seek to complete their journey to a liberal and free society.

This weekend Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro announced a 30 percent increase in the minimum wage. This marks the twelfth increase since he took over from Hugo Chavez in 2013, and comes on the heels of a 25 percent increase March 1. The minimum wage is now up to roughly $13.50 at the black market inflation rate. That’s not an hourly minimum, but $13.50 per month.

Due to disastrous economic policies and the recent fall in the price of oil, Venezuela’s economy, already teetering on the brink of a crisis, has plunged into full-fledged collapse in recent weeks. Venezuelans face dire shortages in everything from food to soap to toilet paper.  Rampant inflation makes it hard to find the basic necessities they need to survive even when they spend hours in lines hoping to buy them.

Venezuela, once one of the richer countries in the Americas due to its oil, has had the ignominy of topping the Misery Index, a project from Cato’s Steve Hanke which scores countries on unemployment, inflation, lending rate and change in real GDP per capita.

There does not seem to be an end in sight to these troubles. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecasts an economic contraction of eight percent this year after the economy shrank 10 percent last year. Inflation shows no signs of abating either, as the IMF expects it to surge even further to 720 percent this year.

Instead of pursuing economic liberalization or structural reform, Maduro is doubling down on the same kinds of government interventions and price controls that led to the country’s current predicament.

Without appearing to recognize the irony of his statement, Venezuelan President Maduro lauded the minimum wage increase in an address on state television, saying “Only a president like Nicolas Maduro, son of Hugo Chavez (could achieve this).”

Aggrieved Venezuelans might agree, though not in the way Maduro would hope. The Washington Post reported that yesterday the opposition turned in a petition with 1.8 million signatures seeking a nationwide referendum to remove him from office, in what would be a final repudiation of the economic policies of his administration. 

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