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Yesterday, the Washington Post reported that the U.S. age-adjusted death rate has ticked up slightly, breaking a trend of long-term decline. That is worrying and worth looking into, but let’s not lose sight of the broader picture. 
The rise in U.S. life expectancy has been going on for more than a century—almost uninterrupted. The only major disruption to the trend was a brief dip a century ago caused by the Spanish Flu pandemic following the end of WWI. What a pity that long-term trends do not make for flashy headlines! 
Life expectancy isn’t the same for different groups. As is the case globally, the gender gap in the United States favors women. Scientists are still studying why women live longer than men, but it may be related to differences in the immune system.
Racial life expectancy disparities have narrowed considerably since 1900, although they still remain. The gender gap has proved far more persistent than the racial gap: African American women now outlive white American men on average. 
Life expectancy has been rising at an even faster pace in most developing countries, thanks in large part to falling infant mortality rates. In my lifetime alone, Africans have gained almost eight years of life on average, while U.S. life expectancy has risen by almost four years. While it may not make for a good headline, rising life expectancy certainly makes for a story worth telling.

A new paper that examined the effect Uber had on crime in 150 cities and counties from 2010-2013 reveals that Uber lowers the rate of DUIs and fatal vehicle crashes. This is not an especially surprising finding given that Uber, like other ridesharing companies, offers a convenient way for those who’ve had a few drinks to get a sober ride home. Interestingly, the paper’s authors, Providence College’s Angela K. Dills and Stonehill College’s Sean Mulholland, also found that the introduction of Uber is followed by a decline in arrests for assault as well as an increase in vehicle theft. On balance, Dills and Mulholland’s paper ought to reassure those who are concerned about ridesharing safety.

Uber’s effects on drunk-driving have been one of the technology company’s strongest talking points. Last year, Uber teamed up with Mothers Against Drunk Driving and issued a report, which claimed that Uber’s entry into Seattle was associated with a 10 percent reduction in DUI arrests. During debates on ridesharing in Austin, Texas, Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton noted that while the causal relationship between Uber’s arrival and a reduction in DWI arrests “requires more study,” DWI arrests had fallen 16 percent in 2014, the year after Uber came to Austin, and in 2015 DWI arrests declined by 23 percent.*

According to Dills and Mulholland, “For each additional year of operation, Uber’s continued presence is associated with a 16.6 percent decline in vehicular fatalities.” The reduction in fatal vehicle crashes prompted by Uber’s arrival shouldn’t be attributed solely to fewer drunk people driving. A recent Pew survey found that 28 percent of 18-29 year-old have used a ridesharing services like Uber, more than another other age group. As the graph from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety below shows, this an age group that is comparatively very prone to fatal car accidents.

Not only is there a strong indication that Uber reduces drunk driving, it’s also a platform very popular among some of the country’s most dangerous drivers.

The decline in arrests for assault is an intriguing finding, and Dills and Mulholland write that this may be because Uber cuts wait-times for passengers, thereby reducing their chance of being assaulted on the street:

Wait times are also likely to be lower because ride-sharing applications can quickly adjust prices in response to changes in the number of riders and drivers. Potential ride-share passengers do not need to physically search for a vehicle as they do for a taxi. This reduces opportunities for them to become the victim of a street crime. Potential passengers can also leave on short notice. This may reduce assaults.

Perhaps the most interesting of Dills and Mulholland’s findings is that an increase in vehicle thefts follows Uber’s arrival in an area, “reflecting more than 100 percent increases at the mean.” Dills and Mulholland suggest that this could be because of “an increased propensity for Uber passengers to leave personal vehicles parked in public locations.”

I and others have argued that ridesharing services such as Uber should be allowed to compete against traditional market incumbents. Uber is a popular service that allows users to efficiently find rides at times and places where it is inconvenient to find taxis. Dills and Mulholland’s paper shows that not only can Uber offer a valuable service to its users, it can save lives as well.

*For the difference between a DUI and DWI under Texas law see this explainer from Johnson, Johnson & Baer, a Houston-based DWI law firm. http://www.dwi-texas.com/what-is-the-difference-between-a-dui-and-a-dwi-under-texas-law/

Earlier this year, I documented the Obama administration’s abysmal results before the Supreme Court (the two Obamacare cases excepted). Not only is its overall winning percentage much worse than any other modern presidency, but its spate of unanimous losses is truly record-breaking.

And that record has only grown in the last few months. This week the government suffered its fifth unanimous loss of the year – matching its dubious achievement in 2013 with 25 cases still left to be decided – in a property-rights case in which Cato filed an amicus briefU.S. Army Corps of Engineers v. Hawkes Co.

Hawkes has a somewhat technical background but the case boiled down to this question: Can a landowner – in this case a peat-mining company (nothing to do with scotch, unfortunately) – challenge a government determination that its land is subject to federal regulation? Not whether the land is properly a wetland under the Clean Water Act, but whether the owner can go to court to argue the point in the first place!

Thankfully, all eight justices ruled that yes, this agency action is subject to judicial review under the Administrative Procedure Act. If you’re an eagle-eyed reader and think this reminds you of another case from a few years ago, you’re right! In 2012, the Court – also unanimously – ruled essentially the same way in a case called Sackett v. EPA. Yes, that case involved a different government agency and different legal technicalities, but the upshot is the same: if the government does something that hurts your use and enjoyment of your land, you get to go to court to challenge that action.

You’d think this would be a simple proposition, and yet the government insists on fighting it all the way to highest court in the land – and garnering nary a vote. Congratulations to our friends at the Pacific Legal Foundation, who litigated Hawkes and who have now won eight straight cases at the Supreme Court!

Finally, one interesting footnote to Hawkes: The Court took up this case after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit had ruled against the government and thus split from an opposite ruling by the Fifth Circuit in an essentially identical case called Kent Recycling Services v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. That Hawkes ruling happened but two weeks after the Court had denied review in Kent Recycling. Accordingly, the keen PLF lawyers who also brought Kent Recycling filed an immediate petition for rehearing, which the justices held pending the resolution of Hawkes. That petition will now be Granted, the lower-court ruling Vacated, and the case Remanded – what lawyers call “GVR’d” – for reconsideration (and reversal) in light of Hawkes.

As far as I know, it’s been decades since a cert. denial was not only reconsidered, but turned into a summary reversal on the merits. And it was here at Cato’s Constitution Day conference where John Elwood made what I believe was the first public call for just that outcome (see final panel). 

Last week marked the 92nd anniversary of the passage of the Immigration Act of 1924, also known as the National Origins Act.  This bill marked the permanent end of America’s nearly open borders policy with Europe.  Other previously passed laws like the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Literacy Act of 1917, and the Page Act restricted immigration from elsewhere.

The Immigration Act of 1924 limited the annual number of new immigrants by country to just 2 percent of the number of immigrants from that country who were already living in the United States in 1890.  This was a reform of the temporary Emergency Quota Act of 1921 that limited immigration to just 3 percent of the number of immigrants from any country who were already living in the United States in 1910.  Congress picked 1890 as the target date for the 1924 Act because that would exclude most of the Italian, Eastern European, and other Southern Europeans who came to dominate immigration since then (Charts 1 and 2).  The 1924 Act also created family reunification as a non-quota category. 

 

Chart 1   

Immigrants by Region of Origin (1820-1889)

Source: Yearbook of Immigration Statistics.

 

Chart 2

Immigrants by Region of Origin (1890-1920)

 

Source: Yearbook of Immigration Statistics.

 

The supporters of the 1924 Act gave several reasons for blocking immigration from Europe. 

Prescott Hall, co-founder of the Immigration Restriction League that concocted the national origin scheme, wrote: “Do we want this country to be peopled by British, German, and Scandinavian stock … or by Slav, Latin, and Asiatic races, historically downtrodden, atavistic, and stagnant?” 

Representative Albert Johnson, chairman of the House Committee on Immigration and Naturalization, was also the head of the Eugenics Research Association.  One of Johnson’s key advisers on immigration was Madison Grant, author of the 1916 best seller The Passing of the Great Race, a tract that denigrated Asians, blacks, and split Europeans along absurdly antiquated racial lines.  They wrote Hall’s scheme into law.

Why did the 1924 Act use a complex national-origins system to discriminate (mostly) based on race and ethnicity when they could have just explicitly discriminated based on race and ethnicity?  Prominent 1924 Act supporter and New York University sociologist Henry Pratt Fairchild explained the answer to that in his 1926 book The Melting Pot Mistake:

 

“The question will probably at once arise, why, if this legislation was a response to a demand for racial discrimination, was it expressed in terms of nationality?  The answer is simple.  As has already been shown, our actual knowledge of the racial composition of the American people, to say nothing of the various foreign groups, is so utterly inadequate that the attempt to use it as a basis of legislation would have led to endless confusion and intolerable litigation.  So Congress substituted the term nationality, and defined nationality as country of birth.  It is clear, then, that ‘nationality,’ as used in this connection, does not conform exactly to the correct definition of either nationality or race.  But in effect it affords a rough approximation to the racial character of the different immigrant streams [Emphasis added].”

 

Fear of litigation, administrative simplicity, and the knowledge that nationality and race were close enough for this piece of discriminatory legislation to achieve their goals made explicit discrimination unnecessary. 

Some of the worst provisions of the 1924 Act were changed in 1952 and the rest of it was obliterated in 1965, with the exception of the immediate family exemptions from the quota.  The Displaced Persons Act of 1948 corrected another serious deficiency of the 1924 Act by creating the first refugee law in U.S. history.  The Displaced Persons Act was in response to the U.S. government denying Jewish refugees during the 1930s and to help absorb the refugees of communism in the newly declared Cold War.

The brutal justifications for the 1924 Act and its terrible consequences should make us all glad that it’s a dead and buried law.  

NATO’s foreign ministers met recently to assess current security threats. Alas, the gathering illustrated how NATO has become an expensive burden for America.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was birthed during the Cold War. America’s defense shield allowed the war-ravaged states of Western Europe to recover.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact NATO’s raison d’etre disappeared. For a time alliance supporters worried about the organization’s future.

But the organization soon reinvented itself as a sort of Welcome Wagon for Moscow’s former republics and satellites. Hence the inclusion of the largely indefensible Baltic States, which are attractive as friends but irrelevant to the safety of anyone else in NATO.

Newly invited Montenegro is noteworthy mostly for its reputation: high-level corruption and influential criminal networks. The world’s greatest military alliance, created to hold back the Soviet hordes under Joseph Stalin, has become a social club for tiny nations of no consequence.

The alliance also took on responsibility for “out-of-area” activities, including policing conflicts with no obvious security relevance to Europe. The Yugoslavian civil war was tragic, but not a security concern for the West.

While the initial action against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan was justified (though of minimal interest to Europe), nearly 15 years of attempted nation-building squandered thousands of lives and vast quantities of cash. European countries also participated in America’s Iraq debacle they urged the disastrous intervention in Libya.

On his recent visit to Washington NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg talked about the ongoing work of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Afghanistan, Africa, Georgia, Iraq, Kosovo, Libya, Middle East, and North Africa. NATO is helping interdict migrant ships in the Mediterranean.

Worse, though, the alliance has turned back to its more traditional anti-
Soviet role as it courts war with nuclear-armed Russia. At the latest meeting, said Stoltenberg, NATO discussed how “to adapt to a more assertive Russia.”

Poland and the Baltic States are demanding allied, effectively meaning American, garrisons. The U.S. already intends to add an armored brigade combat team. The administration requested $3.4 billion from Congress for the “European Reassurance Initiative.”

But this isn’t nearly enough in the view of some analysts. Why this move back toward the Cold War?

Vladimir Putin is a nasty fellow. But that doesn’t make him likely to attack America or Europe.

Putin could have overrun Georgia in 2008. He could have annexed eastern Ukraine, if not the entire country. If Moscow didn’t conquer these territories, why would it attack a NATO member?

How would Putin benefit trying to rule, say, a hostile Ukraine? Seizing the Baltic States would result in catastrophe as well.

Russia has behaved badly, but Moscow believes the West has ignored Russia’s interests. Moscow’s fears might seem irrational in Washington, but Putin has responded to the West’s expansion of NATO, dismantlement of Serbia, and support for a street revolution against a friendly president in Ukraine.

If aggression is not likely, intimidation still is a reality. That policy reflects Putin’s ruthlessness, but is no casus belli, especially for America. Where are the rest of the Europeans?

When NATO was created Western Europe was a wreck. Today the GDP and population of united Europe is greater than those of America and a multiple of those of Russia.

Yet Putin’s confrontational behavior has not resulted in much practical response, other than an upsurge in requests for U.S. action. America devotes $1865 per person to the military. Norway comes in a distant second at $1343. The UK is third at $851. A dozen European NATO members spend less than $300 per person.

As I point out on Forbes: “The only way to get the Europeans to make a more meaningful military contribution is to turn responsibility for their defense over to them. Washington should stop taking care of them.”

Europe needs to be defended. But the continent no longer requires America’s protection. Washington should allow the Europeans to defend themselves.

The Glenn Defense Marine scandal has exposed “a staggering degree of corruption within the Navy,” concludes a Washington Post investigation.

A more accurate title for this blog might have been “Our Corrupt 7th Fleet,” but the ease with which one foreign contractor infiltrated and ripped off the Navy in the Pacific makes one wonder about the integrity and strength of the broader institution. It is surprising that Navy officers with so much training and experience fell prey to the simple flattery, bribes, and other low-tech tools of a Singapore-based huckster.

For more than a decade, the head of Glenn Defense, Leonard Glenn Francis, cozied up to Navy leaders to win lucrative contracts to refuel and resupply ships. At the same time, he was gathering internal Navy procurement information and other intelligence. To do so, he wined and dined Navy officers, and provided them with gifts, prostitutes, and other favors to get them to do his bidding.

If this nobody, who had no military background, could wrap so many Navy leaders around his finger with little more than charisma, there is a huge institutional problem here. What about our other military and intelligence services and agencies—are they just as easy for hucksters, let alone expert foreign spy services, to penetrate?

You should read the full Post story. The revelations are disgusting and pathetic. I assume the Navy puts a huge effort into training, protocols, security, and technology to ensure that we have the most effective fighting force possible. Yet all of that was so easily undermined in such old-fashioned ways. I don’t get it.

To the Navy’s credit, it was their internal investigation that eventually exposed the corruption. And the Post story indicates that there were some officers who wouldn’t go along with the sleaze.

Francis was captured and pled guilty to various crimes. Four Navy officers, an enlisted sailor, and a Navy investigator have pled guilty to crimes. Last Friday three more officers were charged with corruption-related offenses. Investigations are ongoing, and dozens of other Navy officials are under scrutiny.

Here are some of the highlights from the Post story about one of the worst national security breaches in years:

Leonard Glenn Francis was legendary on the high seas for his charm and his appetite for excess. For years, the Singapore-based businessman had showered Navy officers with gifts, epicurean dinners, prostitutes and, if necessary, cash bribes so they would look the other way while he swindled the Navy to refuel and resupply its ships.

Much more than a contracting scandal, the investigation has revealed how Francis seduced the Navy’s storied 7th Fleet, long a proving ground for admirals given its strategic role in patrolling the Pacific and Indian oceans.

In perhaps the worst national-security breach of its kind to hit the Navy since the end of the Cold War, Francis doled out sex and money to a shocking number of people in uniform who fed him classified material about U.S. warship and submarine movements. Some also leaked him confidential contracting information and even files about active law enforcement investigations into his company.

He exploited the intelligence for illicit profit, brazenly ordering his moles to redirect aircraft carriers to ports he controlled in Southeast Asia so he could more easily bilk the Navy for fuel, tugboats, barges, food, water and sewage removal.

Over at least a decade, according to documents filed by prosecutors, Glenn Defense ripped off the Navy with little fear of getting caught because Francis had so thoroughly infiltrated the ranks.

The company forged invoices, falsified quotes and ran kickback schemes. It created ghost subcontractors and fake port authorities to fool the Navy into paying for services it never received.

The investigation has mushroomed partly because Glenn Defense was a pillar of U.S. maritime operations for a quarter-century. The 7th Fleet depended on the firm more than any other to refuel and resupply its vessels.

Over time, Francis became so skilled at cultivating Navy informants that it was a challenge to juggle them all. On a near-daily basis, they pelted him with demands for money, prostitutes, hotel rooms and plane tickets.

“The Soviets couldn’t have penetrated us better than Leonard Francis,” said a retired Navy officer who worked closely with Francis and spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid reprisal. “He’s got people skills that are off the scale. He can hook you so fast that you don’t see it coming. . . . At one time he had infiltrated the entire leadership line. The KGB could not have done what he did.”

North Korea is a multilateral conundrum. Despite enduring decades of confrontation and isolation, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea continues to accelerate nuclear development, miniaturize nuclear weapons, and produce intercontinental missiles.

Failure to restrain the DPRK, along with understandable horror at its mass violation of human rights, caused some analysts to urge Washington to emphasize improving human rights and overthrowing the Kim dynasty. For instance, Carl Gershman of the National Endowment for Democracy recently argued that “human rights must come first.” After the recent tightening of sanctions against the North, the Wall Street Journal declared: “Now is the time to squeeze even harder with a goal of regime change.”

The North Korean nuclear crisis has been raging for more than a quarter century. Unfortunately, dealing with Pyongyang requires choosing the least bad alternative.

So far negotiations have failed. Few observers believe the DPRK is prepared to trade away its nuclear arsenal.

Despite agreeing to tougher sanctions, Beijing has refused to end energy and food aid, which helps keep the Kim dynasty afloat. Military strikes against the North’s nuclear facilities almost certainly would trigger retaliation and potentially full-scale war.

Unfortunately, promoting regime change is unlikely to improve human rights but probably would exacerbate the security threats which have unsettled the region.

The North Korean system is uniquely odious. But like other authoritarian regimes it emphasizes self-preservation. In this sense human rights may be more important than nuclear weapons to Pyongyang.

Thus, to predicate security discussions on human rights concessions is to preclude the former. While no negotiation seems likely to strip the North of its nuclear weapons, Pyongyang might be amenable to making more limited but still worthwhile agreements—adopting limits on proliferation, for instance.

Moreover, launching a human rights crusade without the means to achieve the end is little more than an act of moral vanity. Unfortunately, the U.S. government has no ability to protect North Koreans from their own government.

As long as security issues remain unresolved, Pyongyang is unlikely to even address human rights. DPRK officials would likely see more intense human rights demands as further evidence of attempted regime change.

As oft has been said, even paranoids have enemies. The North has watched the U.S. routinely overthrow the latter’s adversaries. Openly attempting to overthrow Kim Jong-un would make him dig in further to resist any liberalization.

Moreover, prioritizing human rights and regime change would push the People’s Republic of China back toward the North. The PRC has been frustrated with its small ally, but is not going to punish the North to improve the latter’s human rights practices. The PRC might seek its own variant of regime change, yielding a more predictable, responsible authoritarian government ready to cooperate with its big neighbor.

Indeed, Western governments should be careful what they wish for. The prime question for regime change should be: compared to what? Both Iraq and Libya have demonstrated how removing a dictator can create greater hardship for oppressed peoples and security threats for other nations.

As I wrote for Forbes: “a messy denouement to the Kim regime would invite military intervention by South Korea, the U.S., and China, creating an explosive situation. Or Kim might be replaced by a less confrontational dictator more willing to respect the PRC’s interests—indeed, one supported by if not elevated by Beijing.”

Such a regime might continue to oppress the North Korean people, maintain threatening weapons programs, and challenge the Republic of Korea, while enjoying China’s support. In which case the West would end up entrenching the system which it had hoped to destroy.

There are no easy answers when it comes to the DPRK. However, the West’s priority should remain to diminish the security threats posed by Pyongyang.

Progress in this area would improve conditions for eventual political and human rights reform. Frustration with North Korea should not lead the West to allow the perfect to become enemy of the good.

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JUNE 15: Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel speaks onstage at the Klick Health Ideas Exchange on June 15, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for Klick Health)

Ezekiel Emanuel notices that inflated demand for antibiotics has led to overuse, and that antibiotic-resistant infections may be killing 23,000 Americans per year. He notices the pharmaceutical industry is focusing more on expensive non-cures for cancer that only extend life by months than on new antibiotics. But he hasn’t noticed that government intervention is causing these problems, so he thinks the solution is—you guessed it—even more government.

Government Inflates Demand for Antibiotics

In the Washington Post, Emanuel warns that “high patient demand leads to overprescribing” of antibiotics, which “breeds resistance” and can lead to superbugs against which we humans have no defenses.

Yet the main reason patient demand is so high is that the federal government—through Medicare, Medicaid, the tax code, Emanuel’s beloved ObamaCare, and other measures—have anesthetized patients to the cost of antibiotics and everything else. We would have less antibiotic overuse and resistance if government just let people keep their own money to spend on health care.

Government Distorts Pharmaceutical Research

Emanuel then complains pharmaceutical manufacturers are spending far more money to research and develop cancer treatments that only add a few months to cancer patients’ lives (and cost more than $100,000 a pop) that they spend developing lower-cost antibiotics.

If this state of affairs fails to reflect patients’ preferences, perhaps the reason is that Medicare offers to make drug companies and oncologists fantastically wealthy by paying for cancer treatments regardless of value.

Overprescribing Government

Rather than admit that government can be incompetent to the point of contributing to the problems it is trying to solve—as his fellow Obama-administration alumnus Larry Summers does—Emanuel doubles down on the Big Government ideology. He proposes requiring hospitals to track antibiotic (over)use as a condition of receiving Medicare subsidies.

Does it occur to Emanuel that a Medicare program stupid enough to subsidize five decades of antibiotic overuse might not be competent enough to track, much less solve that problem?

Next, Emanuel illustrates why the passive voice should be unconstitutional: “every antibiotic prescription should be electronically reviewed to be certain it meets national guidelines.” Like many devotees of the passive voice, Emanuel employs it to hide what he means, which is: “The federal government and its agents should review every antibiotic prescription you and your family receive, even when the government isn’t paying for it.”

What could possibly go wrong? I mean, can you imagine any reasons why people might want a little privacy when it comes to their use of antibiotics? Emanuel can’t—or he doesn’t care.

Finally, he proposes to have the federal government award $2 billion prizes to anyone who secures FDA approval for a new antibiotic. A system of prizes might actually do a better job than the federal government’s patent system of encouraging antibiotics R&D. But Emanuel does not address such thorny questions as who gets to define which new antibiotics will qualify; who sets the amount of the prize; what sort of complications financing the prizes would create; how this award would affect the FDA, and lobbying of the FDA; or whether the net effect of this system would be positive or negative.

Ezekiel Emanuel has no time for such trifles. He’s got himself a hammer, and by God he’s found a nail.

Conclusion 

Government is like antibiotics. Some amount is necessary. But overprescribing it makes things a lot worse.

A good indication you’ve overdosed on the statist Kool-Aid is when you make dismissive comments like this one Emanuel levels at current antibiotic-tracking programs: “Unfortunately, they are voluntary.”

The Massachusetts legislature is currently debating the state government’s budget for the new fiscal year which begins July 1st. This phenomenon—finalizing a spending plan before the beginning of the fiscal year—is something rarely seen in the U.S. Congress any more. Kudos, Bay State, for surpassing the low bar set in Washington, D.C.

But the General Court of Massachusetts is taking one page from the U.S. Congress’s tattered playbook. According to WRAL news, it may attach national ID compliance legislation to the budget bill.

That’s how Congress passed the ill-conceived REAL ID Act back in 2005. There were no hearings on the national ID issue or the bill that gave us one. Instead, the Republican House leadership attached the national ID law to a must-pass spending bill and rammed it past the Senate to President Bush, leaving states to grapple with implementation challenges and Department of Homeland Security belligerence ever since.

As in many states, the U.S. DHS has been telling Massachusetts legislators that they have to get on board with the national ID law, issuing licenses and ID cards according to federal standards, or see their residents refused at TSA’s airport checkpoints.

The threat of federal enforcement in 2016 was broadcast loud and clear last fall. Then in January DHS kicked the deadline a few more years down the road. It’s hard to keep track of the number of times DHS has set a REAL ID deadline, then let it slide when elected state officials have declined to obey the instructions of unelected DHS bureaucrats.

Minnesota has had a similar experience. Last winter, its legislature was spooked into creating a special “Legislative Working Group on REAL ID Compliance.” But Minnesota just ended its legislative season without passing REAL ID compliance legislation. There are a few people there who recognize the demerits of joining the national ID system, and Minnesota elected officials may have figured out that when DHS bureaucrats say “Jump!” they do not have to ask “How high?”

The General Court has done better than the U.S. Congress on REAL ID by holding hearings before acting. In 2007, then-Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley testified before the Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs.

“The Real ID Act was pushed through Congress in 2005 without meaningful debate or hearing on its implications for the states,” she said. “Not only does the Real ID Act call for sweeping changes in how states issue driver’s licenses with limited time to implement the changes, but it does not consider the financial burden placed on the states.”

REAL ID still threatens state budgets. If Massachusetts passes REAL ID compliance language in a budget bill, that will be somewhat ironic, because a pledge to REAL ID compliance would give DHS bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. the power to dictate the Bay State’s driver licensing policies and practices forevermore. The DHS will tell Massachusetts legislators how to spend Massachusetts taxpayer dollars at the Registry of Motor Vehicles.

Like most states, Massachusetts has yet to grapple with the fact that REAL ID law requires the RMV to share driver data with every other motor vehicle bureau nationwide through a system of databases. The DHS has downplayed that statutory requirement, effectively writing it out of the law until enough states have committed to compliance. But when enough states have signed on, DHS will tell Massachusetts to open up its databases of personal information. Giving nationwide exposure to driver data creates privacy concerns and identity fraud risks greater than the paltry and arguable security benefits of having a national ID.

Will the Massachusetts legislature join the Bush-era Republican Congress in ramming national ID legislation through attached to a spending bill? That’s exactly what it should do, said no one ever.

The U.S. dominates the globe militarily. Washington possesses the most powerful armed forces, accounts for roughly 40 percent of the globe’s military outlays, and is allied with every major industrialized state save China and Russia.

Yet the bipartisan hawks who dominate U.S. foreign policy see threats at every turn. For some, replacing the Soviet Union as chief adversary is the People’s Republic of China. They view another military build-up as the only answer.

The PRC’s rise is reshaping the globe. Of greatest concern in Washington is China’s military build-up. The Department of Defense publishes an annual review of China’s military. The latest report warns that the PRC “continued to improve key capabilities,” including ballistic and cruise missiles, aircraft and air defense, information capabilities, submarines, amphibious and airborne assault units, and more.

This program may sound menacing, but Beijing’s ambitions are bounded. Observes DOD, China’s leaders “portray a strong military as critical to advancing Chinese interests, preventing other countries from taking steps that would damage those interests, and ensuring that China can defend itself and its sovereignty claims.” Which is precisely what U.S. policymakers do.

In the short-term Beijing’s principle objective is to advance its territorial claims in the Asia-Pacific without provoking conflict. In the longer-term the objective, says DOD, is “to deter or defeat adversary power projection and counter third-party—including U.S.—intervention during a crisis or conflict.” That is, deterrence.

Even the Pentagon does not believe Beijing is planning an aggressive war. America enjoys a vast military lead, possessing a significantly larger nuclear force, 10 carrier groups compared to China’s one carrier, and much more. With Washington spending roughly $600 billion annually on the military, compared to an estimated $180 billion by Beijing, China is not overtaking America.

The PRC’s economic predominance is not guaranteed. Moreover, even a more powerful PRC would not easily threaten the U.S. Projecting force across oceans and continents is extraordinarily expensive. America is uniquely secure, enjoying relative geographic isolation—in contrast to China, which is surrounded by nations with which it has been at war over the last century: Russia, Japan, Korea, India, and Vietnam.

In fact, only Washington’s desire to dominate China along the latter’s border (imagine the Chinese navy patrolling America’s East Coast) is likely to trigger war. The U.S. understandably favors its friends in their disputes with the PRC, but none of the ongoing territorial controversies is worth conflict with nuclear-armed China.

As I point out in National Interest: “The U.S. should be watchful and wary of China’s rise. But the best way for the U.S. to prepare for the future is to husband its economic strength and respond militarily only if a serious threat develops. Otherwise Washington should seek to accommodate rather than combat such an important rising power.”

One of my pet peeves is how some people seem to think the WTO and other trade agreements are used to impose high tariffs. In fact, these trade agreements involve promises to lower tariff rates. For example, if the U.S. and Canada both charge a 20% tariff on car imports, a trade agreement between them might involve a promise that neither will charge more than a 10% tariff. This would mean the existing 20% tariff would have to be lowered to 10% or less. It’s not a perfect solution to the problem of tariffs, but it does move us in the right direction.

I bring this up because of something I read by Tim Worstall about the Brexit debate. He quotes the Director General of the WTO, Robert Azevedo, but appears to misunderstand Azevedo’s point. Here’s how Worstall puts it:

In the barrage of bloodcurdling tales we’re having thrown at us about the costs of Britain leaving the European Union this one really does have to take the biscuit. The head of the World Trade Organisation, Roberto Azevedo, is stating that British consumers will have to carry a heavy burden of up to £9 billion of import tariffs on the goods that they purchase. This is an entirely nonsensical assertion, a ludicrous one. Azevedo then goes on to state that it would be illegal for Britain not to charge such tariffs. This is seriously absurd. Because his claim is that it would be the rules of his organisation which make it so: but his point is that Britain would not be, on Brexit, a member of his organisation. I would prefer to believe that there’s been some mistake in translation, possibly reporting, than to believe that a major world organisation might be in the hands of someone so confused. A sovereign state is only bound by the rules of those international organisations which it belongs to, not those which it doesn’t.

The allegation:

World Trade Organization chief Roberto Azevedo warned about the potential economic cost of a Brexit, stating that leaving the EU would cost UK consumers £9 billion in annual additional import tariffs.

Azevedo told The Financial Times that a Brexit would require the UK to negotiate its membership of the WTO, as it is currently represented by the EU – this is on top of having to strike new trade deals with countries around the world.

That’s claim one: that it is the EU which is part of the WTO, thus if Britain leaves then it would be necessary to negotiate entry into the WTO. OK, fair enough. But then there’s claim two:

Mr Azevedo said: “The consumer in the UK will have to pay those duties. The UK is not in a position to decide ‘I’m not charging duties here’. That is impossible. That is illegal.” 

But under whose rules must Britain charge such duties? The WTO ones, the organisation Azevedo has just insisted that Britain is not a part of and therefore whose rules do not apply.

Thus, as Mr. Worstall sees all this, WTO rules would prevent the UK from eliminating tariff duties. But as noted, that’s completely wrong, and I’ve heard this kind of thing enough that I wanted to correct the record. An independent UK is certainly free to eliminate all of its tariffs, and would be applauded at the WTO if it did so.

As to why there was a misunderstanding in this instance, let me give the full quote from Azevedo in the underlying Financial Times article:

An exit from the EU, for example, would cause the UK to lose the preferential access to other markets covered by 36 trade agreements with 58 countries negotiated by the EU. As a result, to remain compliant with WTO rules the UK would have to impose higher “most favoured nation” tariffs on imports from those 58 countries, while they would have to levy their own surcharges on British exports, Mr Azevêdo said. 

A WTO analysis had calculated the cost of the additional tariffs on goods imports to British consumers at £9bn, while British merchandise exports would be subject to a further £5.5bn in tariffs at their destination. 

“The consumer in the UK will have to pay those duties. The UK is not in a position to decide ‘I’m not charging duties here’. That is impossible. That is illegal,” Mr Azevêdo said. 

The only other option available to the UK would be removing all barriers for all WTO members, effectively turning its economy into a duty-free one like Singapore and lifting the protections politically sensitive domestic industries enjoy under the EU. “That is possible. But that is also very unlikely,” he said. 

It’s a little complicated, but here’s what’s going on. Generally speaking under WTO rules, countries have to charge the same tariffs to all trading partners. For example, the U.S. can’t charge a 10% tariff on Canadian car imports and a 20% tariff on Mexican car imports. Discrimination of this sort is generally prohibited. But there is an exception for comprehensive free trade areas, such as the NAFTA. In those situations, countries can charge lower tariffs to specific trading partners.

This is relevant here because the EU has negotiated various free trade agreements already, and can charge lower tariffs on imports of goods from countries with whom it has signed an agreement. Azevedo was just saying that if the UK leaves the EU, it cannot, without negotiating its own free trade areas, charge the lower tariffs offered by the EU through its FTAs.

Of course, that doesn’t mean the UK cannot get rid of its tariffs more generally, and, as noted above, if it actually did so, it would no doubt receive thunderous applause at the next WTO meeting.  (Azevedo notes this possibility, and its unlikely prospects, in the last quoted paragraph). In addition, the UK would be free to negotiate its own FTAs, and reduce tariffs that way.

Unfortunately, it’s not clear if Brexit would lead us in this direction, as there is talk about how the new UK power over trade policy after Brexit could actually be used to impose higher tariffs. But if an independent UK wanted to lower tariffs, which is what it should do, it will certainly be able to do so.

North Korea appears headed for a fifth nuclear test. The U.S. joined South Korea and Japan in warning Pyongyang against violating its international obligations. Just as the three governments have done for the last quarter century.

Alas, they cannot stop the North from moving forward with its nuclear program, at least at reasonable cost. Washington should learn the value of saying nothing

The U.S. stands apart from the rest of the world. American officials circle the globe lecturing other nations. Yet other governments rarely heed Washington. It doesn’t matter whether they are friends or foes. Other states act in their, not America’s, interest.

Perhaps the most famous recent “red line” set by Washington was against Syria’s apparent use of chemical weapons in the ongoing civil war. However, the president’s off-hand comment promising action never made sense, since America would have gained nothing by going to war.

Syria’s death toll has reached 400,000, the vast majority from bombs and bullets. Use of chemical weapons only marginally adds to the horror. And weakening the Assad regime effectively strengthens the Islamic State.

Anyway, since 2011 the Obama administration has said that Syrian President Bashir al-Assad must go. But the administration has done little to force him out. So much for U.S. credibility.

Washington suffers the same problem when addressing its nominal friends and allies. For instance, Washington long demanded that its allies spend and do more. But most states sheltering behind America continue to do what they always did, live off of the U.S. Washington responded by doing what it always did, whine while underwriting its nominal allies. America’s complaints had no impact on its friends’ behavior.

Now North Korea is in the news again. For a quarter century U.S. presidents—Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama—insisted that the North cannot, must not, dare not, develop nuclear weapons. The North proceeded to accumulate nuclear materials, test nuclear weapons, miniaturize warheads, and expand missile development. Which led Washington to … insist, yet again, that Pyongyang comply with its demands.

American officials should stop making demands which they are unwilling to enforce. An occasional bluff might pay dividends, but U.S. officials will retain credibility only if they exercise restraint and reserve threats for issues of serious interest to America.

As I wrote in Conservative Review: “The world always will be unmanageable and messy, well beyond America’s control. After all, the U.S. was created by a few angry, determined colonists who took on the world’s greatest power. It should not surprise their descendants that governments and peoples elsewhere are willing to similarly defy the world’s current greatest power.”

In most cases, the U.S. should say nothing and work behind the scenes to achieve its goals. Rather than highlight its impotence, Washington should demonstrate humility and prudence, virtues too often missing in U.S. foreign policy.

Anna Fifield of the Washington Post found Kim Jong Un’s aunt and uncle and profiled them at length. Ko Yong Suk was the sister of Ko Yong Hui, who was one of Kim Jong Il’s wives and the mother of Kim Jong Un, the third-generation leader of North Korea. She and her husband were close to the Kim family, living in the same compound in Pyongyang, raising their sons together, and taking care of the future leader when he was at school in Switzerland. But when Ko Yong Hui got cancer, her sister and brother-in-law worried about what might happen to them if she died. So they managed to get out of North Korea and eventually made it to the United States, where they now run a dry cleaning store somewhere in the eastern part of the country.

But read Fifield’s story, and see if it isn’t a familiar story of royal intrigue and excess while peasants starve:

The Kim family has ruled North Korea for 70 years, through a repressive system built on patronage and fear. The royal family and top cadres in the Workers’ Party benefit from this system — and have the most to lose if it collapses or if they run afoul of the regime.

So the couple decided to flee — not to South Korea, as many North Koreans do, but to the United States….

Traveling on a diplomatic passport, Ri went back and forth between North Korea and Switzerland, sometimes ferrying their youngest daughter and Kim Jong Un’s younger sister back and forth.

The family spoke Korean at home and ate Korean food but also enjoyed the benefits of an expatriate family in an exotic locale. Ko took the Kim children to Euro Disney, now Disneyland Paris. Kim Jong Un had been to Tokyo Disneyland with his mother some years before — and her photo albums are full of pictures of them skiing in the Swiss Alps, swimming on the French Riviera, eating at al fresco restaurants in Italy….

The world did not know that Kim had been anointed his father’s successor until October 2010, when his status was made official at a Workers’ Party conference in Pyongyang. But Kim had known since 1992 that he would one day inherit North Korea.

The signal was sent at his eighth birthday party, attended by North Korea’s top brass, the couple said. Kim was given a general’s uniform decorated with stars, and real generals with real stars bowed to him and paid their respects to him from that moment on.

“It was impossible for him to grow up as a normal person when the people around him were treating him like that,” Ko said….

“We lived the good life,” Ko said. Over a sushi lunch in New York, she reminisced about drinking cognac with sparkling water and eating caviar in Pyongyang, about riding with Kim Jong Il in his Mercedes-Benz….

Stories about the couple in the South Korean news media have suggested that they sought asylum in the United States because they were concerned about what could happen to them after either of Kim Jong Un’s parents died. This was their link to the royal family, and without that link, what would happen to them?

Walking through Central Park on a bright Sunday morning, Ko seemed to imply that this was a concern.

“In history, you often see people close to a powerful leader getting into unintended trouble because of other people,” she said. “I thought it would be better if we stayed out of that kind of trouble.”

They had reason to be scared, given Ko’s sister’s position, said Michael Madden, editor of the North Korea Leadership Watch website.

“Ko Yong Hui was an ambitious woman — she wanted her sons to be promoted, and she made enemies in the process,” Madden said. “If you were her sister or her brother-in-law, you would feel threatened. Someone could easily make you disappear.”

The courts of Richard III, Henry VIII, and Caligula had nothing on the House of Kim. And indeed the House of Kim can live better than those earlier monarchs, because now royals can enjoy cognac, caviar, Mercedes-Benz, movie theaters, and travel to the Swiss Alps, Euro Disney, the French Riviera, and Italian cafes.

The academic year now closing has seen more than its normal share of student, professorial, and administrative moral posturing, so much so that we’re seeing signs of a healthy backlash. Two recent invitations came to me to speak on the subject, for example, one on academic freedom, the other more broadly on tolerance. And very recently we’ve seen that the campus protests over naming the George Mason University Law School after the late Justice Antonin Scalia were just settled after Virginia’s State Council of Higher Education declined to block the name change. 

But don’t think the battle against leftist academic intolerance has been won. Witness Nicholas Kristof’s op-ed in today’s New York Times, “The Liberal Blind Spot.” In a column a few weeks ago, Kristof offered “a confession of liberal intolerance” in which he criticized his fellow progressives for their hypocrisy in promoting all kinds of diversity on campuses—except ideological. The reader reaction? 

It’s rare for a column to inspire widespread agreement, but that one led to a consensus: Almost every liberal agreed that I was dead wrong.

“You don’t diversify with idiots,” asserted the reader comment on The Times’s website that was most recommended by readers (1,099 of them). Another: Conservatives “are narrow-minded and are sure they have the right answers.”

NYT readers aside, how skewed are the numbers in academia? Well at Princeton during the 2012 presidential election, 157 faculty and staff donated to Barack Obama’s campaign, 2 to Mitt Romney’s—a visiting engineering professor and a janitor. From 2011 to 2014 at Cornell, 96 percent of the funds the faculty donated to political candidates or parties went to Democratic campaigns; only 15 of 323 donors gave to conservative causes— perhaps a product of Cornell’s agricultural school. And that same ratio, 96 percent, describes the contributions of Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences to Democratic candidates during that same period. For a broad picture of the ideological complexion of American law schools, see the splendid article by Northwestern University Law School’s Jim Lindgren in the 2016 Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy, published by the law school’s Federalist Society chapter. 

Numbers that skewed don’t come about by accident. As Kristof notes, “When a survey finds that more than half of academics in some fields would discriminate against a job seeker who they learned was an evangelical, that feels to me like bigotry.” Fortunately, a noted progressive has had the courage to call this for what it is. Kristof’s piece is worth reading.

One of the problems with big government is that it stimulates the worst sort of behavior from people and attracts legions of cheaters on the inside and outside.

On the outside, the more than 2,300 federal subsidy programs are under constant assault by dishonest individuals, businesses, and criminal gangs. The improper payment rates for the earned income tax credit and school breakfast programs, for example, are more than 20 percent. Medicare and Medicaid are ripped off by tens of billions of dollars a year. It’s a sad reality that when the government dangles free money, millions of people will falsify application forms to try and get some of it.

On the inside, the bad behavior of some federal bureaucrats never fails to amaze me. The official responsible for recent security failings at the TSA apparently bent the rules to line his own pockets and bullied his subordinates to silence any dissent. Kelly Hoggan was the person in charge when “undercover agents from the inspector general’s office … were able to penetrate security checkpoints at U.S. airports while carrying illegal weapons or simulated bombs, 95 percent of the time.”

The Washington Post describes how Hoggan filled his pockets with an extra $90,000 on top of his regular salary of $181,500:

The downfall of a top official in the Transportation Security Administration this week came amid allegations of under-the-radar bonuses and targeted retribution at the highest levels of the agency.

One of the practices that led to Kelly Hoggan’s removal as head of the TSA’s crucial security division is common enough to have a name: smurfing. … Hoggan received bonuses of $10,000 on six different occasions, and three others just above or below that amount, over a 13-month period…

The inspector general, in a report last year, outlined a convoluted process through which Hoggan received the bonus pay. His boss, then-TSA Deputy Administrator John Halinski, told one of Hoggan’s subordinates to recommend Hoggan for the bonus money. That subordinate, Deputy Assistant Administrator Joseph Salvator, recommended that Hoggan receive bonuses. Halinski then approved them.

As for the bullying, the Post reports:

Hoggan also was identified as one of the senior TSA officials who used forced transfers to punish agency employees who spoke out about security lapses or general mismanagement. Those allegations, first raised by TSA whistleblowers, caused considerable anger among members of Congress at three hearings held this month and last. Three of the whistleblowers appeared before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on April 27.

“Many of the people who broke our agency remain in key positions,” testified Jay Brainard, the TSA security director in Kansas. “These leaders are some of the biggest bullies in government.”

Mark Livingston, a manager in the Office of the Chief Risk Officer at TSA headquarters, told the committee that his pay was reduced by two grades after he reported misconduct by TSA officials and security violations.

“If you tell the truth in TSA you will be targeted,” Livingston said.

Directed reassignments have been punitively used by TSA senior leadership as a means to silence dissent, force early retirements or resignations,” said [Andrew] Rhoades, a TSA manager at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

The solution to the TSA mess is to demonopolize and decentralize aviation security, as I discuss here and here.

For more on the federal government’s failing bureaucracies, see here.

You Ought to Have a Look is a feature from the Center for the Study of Science posted by Patrick J. Michaels and Paul C. (“Chip”) Knappenberger.  While this section will feature all of the areas of interest that we are emphasizing, the prominence of the climate issue is driving a tremendous amount of web traffic.  Here we post a few of the best in recent days, along with our color commentary.

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In this week’s YOTHAL edition, we’ll focus on some recent climate science findings that deserve further mention and are worthy of a deeper dive. If and when you have the time and/or inclination, you ought to have a look.

First up is a collection of papers that describe the results of a several experiments looking into cloud formation—or rather, into the availability and development of the aerosol particles that aid in cloud formation. The tiny aerosols are called cloud condensation nuclei (CCN) and without them, it is very difficult for clouds to form. 

It’s well known that sulfate particles, formed as a by-product of fossil fuel burning (primarily coal and oil), make for a good source of CCN. In fact, the change in cloud characteristics resulting from this form of air pollution are thought to have asserted a cooling pressure on the earth’s surface temperature—a cooling that has acted to offset a certain portion of the warming caused by the co-incidental emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

Just how much warming has been offset by human-induced changes in cloud characteristics is one of the great unknowns in climate science today. Which is unfortunate, as it is a key to understanding how sensitive the earth’s climate is to increasing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases. The less warming offset by enhanced cloud cooling, the less warming caused by greenhouse gas increases.

What the new research found was even in the absence of sulfate aerosols, there are plenty of other sources of potential CCN—a primary one being chemical emissions (known as volatile organic compounds, or VOCs) from plants. Through various processes, which the researchers found involve cosmic galactic rays, the plant VOCs can pretty efficiently transform and grow into CCN.

The bottom line from the new research findings is that the world was probably a cloudier place in the pre-industrial period than it has been generally realized. The implication is that human sulfate emissions haven’t altered cloud characteristics to the degree currently assumed—which means that current assumptions overestimate the magnitude of the anthropogenic cooling enhancement and thus overestimate the warming influence of greenhouse gas emissions (that is, the earth’s climate sensitivity is less than previously determined).

A good review of these three new experimental results (two of which were published in Nature and the other, simultaneously, in Science) and their implications is found in this news piece in Science that accompanied the papers’ publication. Here’s a teaser:

In other words, Earth is less sensitive to greenhouse gases than previously thought, and it may warm up less in response to future carbon emissions, says Urs Baltensperger of the Paul Scherrer Institute, who was an author on all three papers. He says that the current best estimates of future temperature rises are still feasible, but “the highest values become improbable.” The researchers are currently working toward more precise estimates of how the newly discovered process affects predictions of the Earth’s future climate.

At the very least, the Science overview article is worth a read. If you are interested further, you can have a look at the papers themselves (see links in reference list)—although, fair warming, they are quite technical.

Next up is an excellent review paper on wildfire occurrence in a warming world. The article, jointly authored by Stefan Doerr and Cristina Santín of Swansea University is part of a special issue of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B dedicated to “The interaction of fire and mankind.” Doerr and Santín take us through the extant literature of the trends and variability of fire occurrence and the factors influencing them. What they find is in stark opposition to the conclusion that you’d come to by reading the mainstream press. To hear the authors tell it:

Wildfire has been an important process affecting the Earth’s surface and atmosphere for over 350 million years and human societies have coexisted with fire since their emergence. Yet many consider wildfire as an accelerating problem, with widely held perceptions both in the media and scientific papers of increasing fire occurrence, severity and resulting losses. However, important exceptions aside, the quantitative evidence available does not support these perceived overall trends. Instead, global area burned appears to have overall declined over past decades, and there is increasing evidence that there is less fire in the global landscape today than centuries ago.

This is an eye-opening read in light of the hype surrounding the Ft. McMurray fires of recent weeks and the general warming-is-causing-more-fires-trope that is paraded out every time there is a fire burning somewhere in the US.  The authors go on to note that “[t]he media still promote perceptions of wildfire as the enemy even in very fire-prone regions, such as the western USA…”

And finally is a paper examining what the paleo-history of Greenland tells us about the relationship between higher temperatures and snowfall there. A research team led by University at Buffalo’s Elizabeth Thomas analyzed “aquatic leaf wax” records from sediment cores extracted from a lakebed in western Greenland to reconstruct a temperature and precipitation profile there over the past 8,000 years. Thomas and colleagues found that winter precipitation (snowfall) during a multi-millennial period of warmer-than-current temperatures in Greenland (extending from about 4,000 to 6,000 years ago) was substantially increased.

The proposed mechanism is that the warmer temperatures resulted in reduced sea ice in the nearby Baffin Bay and Labrador Sea which raised the regional moisture availability and increased snowfall.  The enhanced snowfall acted to offset some of the summer ice sheet melting that occurred with the higher temperatures, thereby slowing sea level rise. The authors suggest that a similar mechanism should accompany the current period of rising temperatures. They summarize:

The response of the western GrIS [Greenland Ice Sheet] to higher summer temperatures may have been muted due to increased accumulation in the middle Holocene. Our results suggest that in the future, as Arctic seas warm and sea ice retreats, increased winter precipitation may enhance accumulation on parts of the GrIS and partly offset summer ablation, particularly in areas close to modern winter sea ice fronts.

This result would seem to temper the scare stories of several meters of sea level rise in the coming century that have been circulating around the press—but, predictably, it’s been crickets from those press outlets.

Read more about in this press release, and/or from the paper itself.

 

References:

Bianchi, F., et al., 2016. New particle formation in the free troposphere: A question of chemistry and timing. Sciencedoi: 10.1126/science.aad5456.

Doerr, S. and C. Santín, 2016. Global trends in wildfire and its impacts: perceptions versus realities in a changing world.Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, doi: 10.1098/rstb.2015.0345.

Kirkby, J., et al., 2016. Ion-induced nucleation of pure biogenic particles. Nature, 533, 521–526, doi:10.1038/nature17953.

Thomas, E., et al., 2016. A major increase in winter snowfall during the middle Holocene on western Greenland caused by reduced sea ice in Baffin Bay and the Labrador Sea. Geophysical Research Letters, doi: 10.1002/2016GL068513.

Tröstle, J., et al., 2016. The role of low-volatility organic compounds in initial particle growth in the atmosphere. Nature, 533, 527–531, doi:10.1038/nature18271.

 

California has a “mandatory mediation and conciliation process” whereby unions can force agricultural employers into collective bargaining and also bind the employers to the terms of a collective-bargaining agreement drawn up by a “neutral” mediator. This is the only such compulsory-bargaining law in the country. 

One employer successfully challenged the process in the California court of appeal on the grounds of “class of one” discrimination (treating this employer differently than others)—and separation-of-powers violation. That ruling is now on appeal to the California Supreme Court.

Cato has joined the National Federation of Independent Business and four agricultural associations on an amicus brief supporting the farming company. We argue that the compulsion regime is unconstitutional for two reasons.

First, it imposes mini-labor codes to govern the relations of individual employers and their employees’ unions. It doesn’t provide any safeguard to ensure that similarly situated employers or unions will be treated similarly. It allows mediators to wield legislative authority irrationally and arbitrarily. It therefore denies affected parties the equal protection of the laws, in violation of the U.S. and California Constitutions.

Second, the compulsion regime delegates substantial legislative authority to private-party mediators. It doesn’t provide these mediators with any goal or purpose that they must achieve in drafting collective bargaining agreements. It doesn’t give them any standard or rule by which to achieve any goal or purpose. It fails to establish any adequate safeguards against the abusive exercise of the power delegated. The compulsion regime therefore violates the non-delegation doctrine—delegating legislative powers to an executive agency—and the separation of powers.

In the case of Gerawan Farming, Inc. v. Agricultural Labor Relations Board, the California high court should affirm the judgment below.

There are two ways to become an illegal immigrant in the United States.  The first is to enter illegally, usually across the Southwest border.  Those folks are sometimes called EWIs, short for entered without inspection.  The second way to become an illegal immigrant is to enter legally and then lose legal status, often by overstaying a temporary visa.  

The majority of new illegal immigrants were EWIs until recently.  A recent paper by Robert Warren and Donald Kerwin at the Center for Migration Studies found that overstays accounted for 58 percent of new illegal immigrants in 2012, a rapid increase over the course of a decade (Chart 1).

Chart 1

Overstays as a Percent of all Illegal Entries

 

Source: Warren and Kerwin.

 

At an immigration hearing last week, several witnesses emphasized that continued illegal immigrant entries along the Southwest border and a rising percentage of overstays mean that America’s immigration system is insecure.  In contrast, the higher overstay rate is evidence of fewer illegal immigrants crossing the border as EWIs. 

In calculating the percent of new illegal immigrants who are overstays, the number of EWIs is in the denominator added to the number of overstays.  The number of overstays is the numerator.  The falling number of illegal immigrants crossing the Southwest border without inspection shrinks the denominator on its own, thus boosting the overstay rate.  The surge in the overstay rate is not a lack of security at points of entry and exit but caused by a yuuuuge fall in illegal immigrants crossing the border. 

As evidence for that, I kept Warren and Kerwin’s estimates of the overstay population unchanged but held constant at 2000 levels the number of illegal immigrants entering without inspection.  In other words, I didn’t change the flows in the overstay population but just froze the number of illegal immigrants entering without inspection at the higher 2000 number.  Doing that lowers the 2012 overstay rate to 24 percent – less than half of the rate it actually was and lower than at any point during the entire 30 year period in their paper.

Warren and Kerwin admit that their overstay rate results are sensitive to their estimates of EWIs and how many overstays actually stay long enough to become illegal immigrants.  Small changes in those numbers can shift their findings dramatically.  However, the relationship between the number of CBP apprehensions and the overstay rate supports my simple point (Chart 2).  As the number of apprehensions fell because fewer immigrants attempted to enter the United States, overstays provided a greater percentage of new illegal immigrants.

Chart 2

Overstay Rate and CBP Apprehensions

 

Sources: Warren and Kerwin and Customs and Border Protection. 

The increasing contribution of overstays to the illegal immigrant population is a result of a relatively secure border rather than a worsening vulnerability that is itself worsening.        

1. A dozen California metropolitan areas – including big cities like Fresno, Stockton, Bakersfield and Modesto – already have unemployment rates from 8.0% to 18.6%. Yet California’s statewide minimum wage is now scheduled to rise every year through 2022.

2.  News reports imagine that raising the minimum wage will push up other wages, so average wages would supposedly rise more quickly. On the contrary, three of the four most recent increases in the federal minimum wage were quickly followed by prolonged stagnation in average wages.  

3. In 2015, twice as many earned less than the $7.25 federal minimum wage (1,691,000) as the number paid that minimum wage (870,000).

4. Every time the federal minimum wage has been increased the number earning less than that minimum always increased dramatically.  This was not just true of teenagers but (as the graph below shows) also for those over 25.  When the minimum wage is pushed up faster than the market would have moved it, the effect is to greatly increase the proportion of jobs paying less than the minimum (including working for cash in the informal economy).  Employers offering less than the minimum, legally or otherwise, then enjoy a flood of unskilled applicants unable to compete for scarcer opportunities among larger businesses subject to minimum wage laws. Such intensified rivalry for sub-minimum-wage jobs then pushes the lowest wages even lower.

 5. Regardless of federal, state or city laws, the actual minimum wage is always zero.

Introducing their important work, Buhaug et al. (2015) note that earlier research suggests there is “a correlational pattern between climate anomalies and violent conflict” due to “drought-induced agricultural shocks and adverse economic spillover effects as a key causal mechanism linking the two phenomena.” But is this really so?

Seeking an answer to this question, the four Norwegian researchers compared half a century of statistics on climate variability, food production and political violence across Sub-Saharan Africa, which effort, in their words, “offers the most precise and theoretically consistent empirical assessment to date of the purported indirect relationship.” And what did they thereby find?

Buhaug et al. report that their analysis “reveals a robust link between weather patterns and food production where more rainfall generally is associated with higher yields.” However, they also report that “the second step in the causal model is not supported,” noting that “agricultural output and violent conflict are only weakly and inconsistently connected, even in the specific contexts where production shocks are believed to have particularly devastating social consequences,” which fact leads them to suggest that “the wider socioeconomic and political context is much more important than drought and crop failures in explaining violent conflict in contemporary Africa.”

“Instead,” as they continue, “social protest and rebellion during times of food price spikes may be better understood as reactions to poor and unjust government policies, corruption, repression and market failure,” citing the studies of Bush (2010), Buhaug and Urdal (2013), Sneyd et al. (2013) and Chenoweth and Ulfelder (2015). In fact, they state that even the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report concludes “it is likely that socioeconomic and technological trends, including changes in institutions and policies, will remain a relatively stronger driver of food security over the next few decades than climate change,” citing Porter et al. (2014).”

And so we learn that alarmist claims of future climate-change-induced reductions in agricultural production that lead to social unrest and violent conflicts simply are not supported by real-world observations.

 

References

Buhaug, H., Benjaminsen, T.A., Sjaastad, E. and Theisen, O.M. 2015. Climate variability, food production shocks, and violent conflict in Sub-Saharan Africa. Environmental Research Letters 10: 10.1088/1748-9326/10/12/125015.

Buhaug, H. and Urdal, H. 2013. An urbanization bomb? Population growth and social disorder in cities. Global Environmental Change 23: 1-10.

Bush, R. 2010. Food riots: poverty, power and protest. Journal of Agrarian Change 10: 119-129.

Chenoweth, E. and Ulfelder, J. 2015. Can structural conditions explain the onset of nonviolent uprisings? Journal of Conflict Resolution 10.1177/0022002715576574.

Porter, J.R. et al. 2014. Food security and food production systems. Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Part A: Global and Sectoral Aspects. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Ed. C.B. Field et al. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press) pp. 485-533.

Sneyd, I.Q., Legwegoh, A. and Fraser, E.D.G. 2013. Food riots: media perspectives on the causes of food protest in Africa. Food Security 5: 485-497.

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