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While same-sex couples ought to be able to get marriage licenses—if the state is involved in marriage at all—a commitment to equality under the law can’t justify the restriction of private parties’ constitutionally protected rights like freedom of speech or association.

Arlene’s Flowers, a flower shop in Richland, Washington, declined to provide the floral arrangements for the wedding of Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed. Mr. Ingersoll was a long-time customer of Arlene’s Flowers and the shop’s owner Barronelle Stutzman considered him a friend. But when he asked her to use her artistic abilities to beautify his ceremony, Mrs. Stutzman felt that her Christian convictions compelled her to decline. She gently explained why she could not do what he asked, and Mr. Ingersoll seemed to understand.

Later, however, he and his now-husband, and ultimately the state of Washington, sued Mrs. Stutzman for violating the state’s laws prohibiting discrimination in public accommodations. The trial court ruled against Arlene’s Flowers on summary judgment. The Washington Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Mrs. Stutzman’s floral design did not constitute artistic expression worthy of First Amendment protection. Now the case is on the U.S. Supreme Court’s doorstep and Cato, joined by the Reason Foundation and Individual Rights Foundation, has filed an amicus brief urging the Court to take up the case and consolidate it with Masterpiece Cakeshop, the case of the similarly situated Colorado baker that the Court has already agreed to hear.

Although floristry may not initially appear to be speech to some, it’s a form of artistic expression that’s constitutionally protected. There are numerous floristry schools throughout the world that teach students how to express themselves through their work, and even the Arts Council of Great Britain has recognized the significance of the Royal Horticultural Society’s library, which documents the history, art, and writing of gardening. The Supreme Court has long recognized that the First Amendment protects artistic as well as verbal expression, and that protection should likewise extend to floristry—even if it’s not ideological and even if it’s done for commercial purposes.

The Court declared more than 70 years ago that “[i]f there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.” W.Va. Board of Education v. Barnette (1943). And the Court ruled in Wooley v. Maynard—the 1977 “Live Free or Die” license-plate case out of New Hampshire—that forcing people to speak is just as unconstitutional as preventing or censoring speech. The First Amendment “includes both the right to speak freely and the right to refrain from speaking at all” and the Supreme Court has never held that the compelled-speech doctrine is only applicable when an individual is forced to serve as a courier for the message of another (as in Wooley).

Instead, the justices have said repeatedly that what the First Amendment protects is a “freedom of the individual mind,” which the government violates whenever it tells a person what she must or must not say. Forcing a florist to create a unique piece of art violates that freedom of mind. Moreover, unlike true cases of public accommodation, there are abundant opportunities to choose other florists in the same area.

Finally, granting First Amendment protection to florists would not mean that public-accommodation laws could provide no protection to same-sex couples. The First Amendment protects expression, which should include floristry but would not include many other businesses like caterers, hotels, and limousine drivers who are not in the business of creating artistic expression. These sorts of businesses may have other defenses available, constitutional or statutory, but that’s a different legal matter.

My recent blog post on the deaths and injuries caused by terrorists according to their motivating ideologies sheds some light on how frequent attacks like Charlottesville occur. I found that there were 3,350 total murders on U.S. soil caused by terrorists from 1992 through August 12, 2017. Of those, Islamists were responsible for 92 percent, Nationalist and Right Wing terrorists for about 7 percent, and Left Wing terrorists for less than one percent. The most common query after reading my post was: “What happens if you exclude deaths from the outlier attacks of 9/11 and the Oklahoma City bombing?” 

I originally did not exclude the deaths in these outlier attacks in my first post because I merely sought to describe who was killed and by whom. In response to that common question, I decided to post the results that exclude the outlier 9/11 and Oklahoma City attacks. Doing so changes the ratio of murders by ideology but it does not change which terrorism-inspired ideologies are the deadliest.

Table 1 subtracts the 2,983 deaths and 14,842 injuries caused by Islamist terrorists on 9/11 and the 168 deaths and 650 injuries caused by a Nationalist/Right Wing terrorist in the Oklahoma City bombing. Excluding the outliers reduces the total number of deaths by 94 percent from 3,350 to 199. The number of injuries also falls by 89 percent. Just two attacks account for nearly all of the deaths and injuries, though 9/11 was the bigger contributor. After removing the outlier deaths and injuries, Islamist-inspired terrorists are responsible for 52 percent of the murders and 78 percent of the injuries. That is a decline from my original post where I included 9/11 and found that Islamists are responsible for 92 percent of deaths and 94 percent of injuries. The relative percentage of murders committed by Nationalist and Right Wing terrorists rises from about 7 percent in my original post to 30 percent when the 9/11 and the Oklahoma City attacks are excluded. The deaths by Left Wing terrorists also grow in importance from less than 1 percent to 10 percent. 

Table 1

Deaths and Injuries in Terrorist Attacks by the Ideology of the Attacker Excluding 9/11 and Oklahoma City, 1992-2017.

LINK Excel.Sheet.12 "\\\\vmfile40\\cato$\\desktop\\anowrasteh\\Desktop\\Charlottesvile
Blog\\terror1.xlsx" Findings!R1C11:R6C15 \a \f 5 \h  \* MERGEFORMAT  

Deaths

Deaths%

Injuries

Injuries%

Islamist

103

52%

1,492

78%

Nationalist and Right Wing

60

30%

342

18%

Left Wing

19

10%

27

1%

Unknown/Other

17

9%

61

3%

Sources: Global Terrorism Database at the University of Maryland, RAND Corporation, ESRI, and author’s calculations.

Figure 1 shows that Islamist terrorists killed 103 people while Nationalists and Right Wing terrorists killed 60. The number killed by Left Wing and Unknown/Other terrorists remained unchanged at 19 and 17, respectively. The injuries also drop dramatically (Figure 2).

Figure 1

Deaths in Terrorist Attacks by the Ideology of the Attacker Excluding 9/11 and Oklahoma City, 1992-2017.

 

Sources: Global Terrorism Database at the University of Maryland, RAND Corporation, ESRI, and author’s calculations.

Figure 2

Injuries in Terrorist Attacks by the Ideology of the Attacker Excluding 9/11 and Oklahoma City, 1992-2017.

 

 Sources: Global Terrorism Database at the University of Maryland, RAND Corporation, ESRI, and author’s calculations.

Two years ago, researchers at Duke University, drawing on a survey they conducted with police departments around the country through the Police Executive Research Forum, published a study on police perceptions of the domestic terrorist threat. It’s worth recounting the key findings:

Law enforcement agencies in the United States consider anti-government violent extremists, not radicalized Muslims, to be the most severe threat of political violence that they face.

They perceive violent extremism to be a much more severe threat nationally than the threat of violent extremism in their own jurisdictions.

And a large majority of law enforcement agencies rank the threat of all forms of violent extremism in their own jurisdictions as moderate or lower (3 or less on a 1-5 scale). 

The study looks at post-9/11 incidents and comes to conclusions comparable to a GAO study on the topic, commissioned by the bipartisan leadership of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, earlier this year. Nearly a decade ago, a then-controversial DHS report on domestic extremism highlighted the potential danger for violent acts by white supremacist or neo-Nazi groups. 

My colleague Alex Nowrasteh has a very interesting and informative piece out today that goes into some depth about the relative threat from terrorists compared to other forms of violence. One point I would make is that the 9/11 attacks represent an anomaly in the overall picture because of the magnitude of the intelligence failure involved. As I’ve written previously, that foreign terrorist attack on America was entirely preventable. That’s not to suggest that Salafist terrorism does not pose a domestic threat; clearly it does. But the on-the-ground daily reality—as the studies cited above show—is that in post-9/11 America, the threat from white supremacists, “sovereign citizens,” and those professing similar views and acting on them is at least as great a threat as Salafist-inspired killers.

In the wake of the Charlottesville tragedy, the phrase “anti-government group” is likely to get tossed around rather carelessly, both in the media and by some in the advocacy community. Calling for a smaller federal government whose powers—especially surveillance powers—are reduced and properly controlled does not make one an “extremist.” Spewing racial hatred and committing acts of murder is the very manifestation of violent extremism, something all of us should condemn and oppose.

 

Last week, the Trump administration filed its merits brief in the Supreme Court case over his executive order suspending all travel and immigration from six African and Middle Eastern countries. On Twitter, President Trump has been insistent that the executive order is a “travel ban,” not some “politically correct term.” The statement shows that, while he is often difficult to understand, the president is actually very interested in how he brands his proposal. This fact matters because the constitutional case against the ban depends, in part, on Trump’s statements about it—specifically, the fact that he has repeatedly equated his current policy with his original proposal for a “Muslim ban.”

Beyond the lawsuit, however, it matters why the president has chosen to carry out certain proposals. If the president believes his travel ban will improve security by reducing Muslim immigration, then this is an important consideration for voters or anyone interested in influencing his policies in the future.

Trump’s Statements Equating the Muslim and Travel Bans

I reviewed the president’s comments about the ban—a list of which you can find below with fuller context—and found at least 12 statements where Donald Trump equated his plan to suspend immigration from certain countries with his original plan to ban all Muslims from entering the United States. I say at least because I have not watched all of his many rallies and have no access to his private correspondence. On another occasion, when asked after the election whether his plans to ban Muslims had changed, he reiterated that his plans on that subject were known. These dozen cases collectively demonstrate that President Trump understood his travel ban as a version of his Muslim ban.

Trump’s 12 statements occurred over a period of seven months from May 2016 to December 2016. They include nine separate situations and six direct denials to direct questions about whether the travel ban had changed his plans to ban Muslims. These statements occurred in various contexts, including private phone calls, written speeches, improvised speeches, interviews, and a debate. During this time, he described the travel ban as an “expansion” of the Muslim ban, a “bigger” version of the Muslim ban, and a “morphed” version of the Muslim ban.

Moreover, in these statements, President Trump explained exactly why his method of carrying out the ban changed. He specifically cited two reasons: the negative reaction to the outright Muslim ban and the constitutional concerns that others had expressed. However, he stated that for his part, he believed that the “Constitution does not give us the right to commit suicide,” a phrase used to express that although it may violate the Constitution, we should permit the violation to avoid a collapse of the entire society. Nonetheless, he said he was willing to acquiesce to others’ concerns.

The Evolution of the Ban

This list reveals the concept’s evolution. After defending the outright Muslim ban for six months, Trump called Rudy Giuliani in early May 2016 [1] to, as Trump himself put it, “look at the Muslim ban.” Giuliani explained that Trump told him, “Show me the right way to do it legally.” This indicates that Trump wanted Giuliani to come up with a version of the Muslim ban that would satisfy legal concerns. (Note that at this point, there is no other proposal for the “it” to be, Trump confirmed that he used the phrase “Muslim ban,” and grammatically, the antecedent to “it” is “Muslim ban” in Giuliani’s comments.) With these marching orders, Giuliani and House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul—with help from former Attorney General Michael Mukasey and Rep. Peter King—then sent a memo to the Trump team that explained why the outright ban could be unconstitutional and urged the adoption of a territorial-based ban.

No matter what these men thought about banning Muslims, Trump clearly saw this change as a reform to, not a rejection of, his Muslim ban. In June 2016, Trump detailed this new plan for the first time publicly [2]. He claimed that he was right to call for “a ban after San Bernardino” in December 2015—i.e. the Muslim ban—and that immigration laws give him the power to “suspend entry into the country of any class of persons that the President deems detrimental” and that he would use this power to “suspend immigration from areas of the world when there is a proven history of terrorism… until we understand these threats.”

Thus, the very first time he brought up the idea, the president both tied the two bans together and detailed—in a rare prepared, written speech—the exact legal strategy that he has used to implement them. Incredibly, the administration’s brief in the Supreme Court case actually cites this speech as proving that he did not want to ban Muslims. In a speech [3] and an interview [4] afterward, Trump explained that the “Muslim ban” or “temporary ban”—as he said he preferred to call the Muslim ban—would now apply to “in particular the terrorist states.”

It’s worth mentioning that this new territorial version of the Muslim ban actually resolves an important practical consideration that people, including Michael Mukasey, who was part of the Giuliani committee, had raised with Trump about the outright Muslim ban: it’s impossible to enforce a belief-based ban. Trump had previously claimed that the ban would only apply to those who responded “yes” to the question, “Are you a Muslim?” This is obviously a practical absurdity, but a ban on certain nationalities would be easy to enforce.

In a series of interviews on CBS [5][6], NBC [7][8], and Fox [9] that followed, he repeatedly denied that the territorial ban was a rejection of the Muslim ban in response to five direct questions, while insisting that his plans would now focus on “territory, not religion.” But he emphasized that he considered this “not a rollback,” but an “expansion” of the original Muslim ban [8] or a “bigger” version of the Muslim ban [9]. It was during this time that the president’s advisors drafted the executive order itself.

Then in another prepared speech in August, Trump explained that he would implement the new ban as part of “extreme vetting” where he would suspend entries from certain countries until he created a new vetting system for Muslims to screen out those “who believe that Sharia law should supplant American law.” During the presidential debate [10], when the moderator asked whether he had changed his position on the Muslim ban, he denied it again, saying that the “Muslim ban is something that in some form has morphed into extreme vetting for certain areas of the world.” She asked him again whether the “Muslim ban” still stands, and again, he flatly declared, “It is called extreme vetting” [11]. He continues to use this phrase “extreme vetting” to describe his Executive Order.

After the election, he reiterated his plan to suspend immigration from certain countries on “Day 1.” In December 2016 [12] a reporter directly asked him whether he had rethought his plan to “ban Muslim immigration” —yet again giving him the opportunity to say “yes, that plan is irrelevant to my current plans”—but instead, he said, “You know my plans all along. I’ve proven right.” His plans “all along” have been a Muslim ban with revisions to how it would be enforced. I could find no statement during this period where he denied that the travel ban was a version of the Muslim ban.

The Benefit of the Doubt

While some people may find ambiguity in one or two of these statements, their collective force matters more than any individual statement. Trump clearly wanted people to understand the travel ban as a version of the Muslim ban. Although Trump often shoots from the hip, he has carefully guarded the branding of the Muslim ban from the beginning. He’s made many other statements telling journalists how to frame this issue as well, as his Twitter comments show.

While Trump has since said that the travel ban is “not about religion—it’s about terror,” Trump repeatedly said the exact same thing about his outright Muslim ban, saying “it’s not about religion. It’s about security.” This means that to Trump, even a ban of an entire religion is not actually a ban about that religion. There is no doubt that the president believes that his travel ban would actually improve security. The question is whether he believes it for the same reason that he believed his Muslim ban would improve security—that it would lead to fewer Muslims entering the United States. His earlier statements directly indicate that this is the reason.

If Americans are to ignore the 12 statements, the president’s comments about Muslims in other contexts should provide some obvious evidence for the belief that he would not actually have favored a ban on Muslims (even if he said he did). But the evidence is almost entirely the other way. Trump has demonstrated repeatedly that his fears of Muslims lead him to believe even the most outlandish lies about them and suggest policies that specifically target them as a group.

In defense of the ban, Trump stated, “I think Islam hates us.” He repeatedly praised the idea of murdering Muslim prisoners of war with bullets dipped in pigs’ blood purely because it would be scary to other Muslims. He repeatedly and falsely claimed that “thousands and thousands” of Muslims in the United States cheered on 9/11. He said that the U.S. government should “shut down” mosques.

Even after his switch to the “territory ban,” he described Muslim immigration as “suicide” for the United States on at least two occasions. He called for indiscriminate surveillance of U.S. mosques and ethnic profiling of Muslims based on their religion. Without evidence, he described Muslim refugees to the United States as “people who believe that women should be enslaved and gays put to death.” He falsely said that Muslim assimilation is virtually nonexistent. He repeated the false claim about Muslims dancing on 9/11 even after it was debunked. He incorrectly said “the Muslim community” does not report terrorists. He falsely said that the wife of a speaker at the DNC Convention may have not been “allowed to speak” by her husband simply because they were Muslims.

On numerous occasions, Trump repeated a falsehood about howmany people” in the “Muslim communityrefused to turn in the San Bernardino shooters despite seeing “bombs all over their floor.” He has used this point constantly to defend the Muslim ban, travel ban, and extreme vetting, including during a presidential debate. Yet in fact, it was a non-Muslim man working in the area who witnessed the delivery of “numerous packages” and was suspicious but didn’t say anything.

The fact is that there is every reason to believe that Trump wanted to morph the Muslim ban into the travel ban to avoid potential legal problems and no reason not to.

*************************************************************************************

The initial quotes about the outright Muslim ban provide context about how Trump discussed that ban. Note that Trump has said he preferred to use the phrase “temporary ban” to refer to the Muslim ban.

Statements on the Outright Muslim Ban

December 7, 2015: In a statement shortly after the San Bernardino terrorist attack:

Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on. According to Pew Research, among others, there is great hatred towards Americans by large segments of the Muslim population… . Mr. Trump stated, “Without looking at the various polling data, it is obvious to anybody the hatred is beyond comprehension. Where this hatred comes from and why we will have to determine. Until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses, our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in Jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life. If I win the election for President, we are going to Make America Great Again.”

December 8, 2015: On MSNBC:

Geist: Donald, a customs agent would then ask a person their religion?

Trump: That would be probably—they would say, “Are you Muslim?”

Geist: And if they said, “Yes,” they would not be allowed in the country?

Trump: That’s correct.

December 12, 2015: On Fox News:

It’s a temporary ban, not on everyone, but on many… . We’re not insulting. This is about security. It’s not about religion. This is about security. We can’t allow people to come into this country that have horrible thoughts in their mind.

March 9, 2016: On CNN:

I think Islam hates us. There is something – there is something there that is a tremendous hatred there. There’s a tremendous hatred. We have to get to the bottom of it. There’s an unbelievable hatred of us… . we can’t allow people coming into this country who have this hatred of the United States and of people who are not Muslim.

May 11, 2016: On Fox News Radio (at 7:30):

We have a serious problem, it’s a temporary ban, it hasn’t been called for yet, nobody’s done it, this is just a suggestion until we find out what’s going on.

The Twelve Instances of Trump Equating the Muslim Ban and the Travel Ban

[1] 1. May 11, 2016: On Fox News:

I’m looking at it very strongly with Rudy Giuliani heading it. I’ve spoken to him a little while ago. We’re going to put together a group of five or six people. Very, very highly thought of people, and I think Rudy will head it up, and we’ll look at the Muslim ban or the ‘temporary ban’ as we call it … He will head it up and he’s agreed to do so.

January 29, 2017: On Fox News:

Jeanine Pirro: I want to ask you about this ban [the territory ban Executive Order] and the protests. Does the ban [the territory ban] have anything to do with religion? How did the president decide the seven countries? I understand the permanent ban on the refugees. Talk to me.

Rudy Giuliani: I will tell you the whole history of it [the Executive Order]. When he first announced it [the Executive Order], he said, ‘Muslim ban.’ He called me up. He said, ‘Put a commission together. Show me the right way to do it [the Muslim ban] legally.’ I put a commission together with Judge Mukasey, with Congressman McCaul, [Congressman] Pete King, whole group of other very expert lawyers on this. And what we did was, we focused on, instead of religion, danger—the areas of the world that create danger for us, which is factual basis, not a religious basis. Perfectly legal.

[2] 2. June 13, 2016: In a speech:

I called for a ban after San Bernardino, and was met with great scorn and anger but now, many are saying I was right to do so – and although the pause is temporary, we must find out what is going on. The ban will be lifted when we as a nation are in a position to properly and perfectly screen those people coming into our country. The immigration laws of the United States give the President the power to suspend entry into the country of any class of persons that the President deems detrimental to the interests or security of the United States, as he deems appropriate. I will use this power to protect the American people. When I am elected, I will suspend immigration from areas of the world when there is a proven history of terrorism against the United States, Europe or our allies, until we understand how to end these threats.

[3] 3. June 15, 2016: In a speech:

We have to stop on a temporary basis at least, but we have to stop people from pouring into this country until we find out what the hell is going on… . We don’t want to have these problems, and we’ve already got ’em. Look at this weekend. We don’t want to have these problems. So what I’m saying is it’s a temporary ban, in particular for certain people coming from certain horrible—where you have tremendous terrorism in the world. You know what those places are. But we have to put a stop to it. We have to put a stop to it until such time as we can figure out what is going on.

[4] 4. June 27, 2016: In an NBC phone interview:

Trump said his Muslim ban would apply “in particular [to] the terrorist states.”

[5] 5, 6. July 17, 2016: On CBS (at 13:52),

Lesley Stahl: In December, [Mike Pence tweeted], “Calls to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. are offensive and unconstitutional.”

Trump: So you call it territories. OK? We’re gonna do territories. We’re gonna not let people come in from Syria that nobody knows who they are. Hillary Clinton wants 550 percent more people to come in than Obama who doesn’t know what he’s—

[6]Stahl: So you’re changing your position.

Trump: No. Call it whatever you want. We’ll call it territories, OK?

Stahl: So not Muslims?

Trump: You know, the Constitution, there’s nothing like it. But it doesn’t necessarily give us the right to commit suicide, as a country, OK? And I’ll tell you this. Call it whatever you want, change territories, but there are territories and terror states and terror nations that we’re not gonna allow the people to come into our country. And we’re gonna have a thing called “Extreme vetting.” And if people wanna come in, there’s gonna be extreme vetting. We’re gonna have extreme vetting. They’re gonna come in and we’re gonna know where they came from and who they are.

[7] 7, 8. July 24, 2016: On NBC:

Chuck Todd: The Muslim ban. I think you’ve pulled back from it, but you tell me. You said, “Lastly and very importantly,” this is from your speech on Thursday night, “we must immediately suspend immigration from any nation that has been compromised by terrorism until such time as proven vetting mechanisms have been put in place.” This feels like a slight rollback.

Trump: I don’t think it’s a rollback

[8] Todd: Should it be interpreted as that?

Todd: I don’t think so. I actually don’t think it’s a rollback. In fact, you could say it’s an expansion. I’m looking now at territories. People were so upset when I used the word Muslim. Oh, you can’t use the word Muslim. Remember this. And I’m okay with that, because I’m talking territory instead of Muslim. But just remember this: Our Constitution is great. But it doesn’t necessarily give us the right to commit suicide, okay? Now, we have a religious, you know, everybody wants to be protected. And that’s great. And that’s the wonderful part of our Constitution. I view it differently. Why are we committing suicide? Why are we doing that? But you know what? I live with our Constitution. I love our Constitution. I cherish our Constitution. We’re making it territorial. We have nations and we’ll come out, I’m going to be coming out over the next few weeks with a number of the places.

[9] 9. On July 25, 2016: On Fox News

Hannity: What is your position? Because you were trying to explain yesterday [on NBC] that your position has not changed that you either vet them or they can’t get in.

Trump: No. I think my position’s gotten bigger now. I’m talking about territories now. People don’t want me to say Muslim. I guess I prefer not saying it, frankly, myself. So we’re talking about territories.

[10] 10, 11. August 15, 2016: In a speech:

I call it extreme, extreme vetting. …In addition to screening out all members of the sympathizers of the terrorist groups, we must also screen out any who have hostile attitudes toward our country or its principles or who believe that Sharia law should supplant American law. …To put these new procedures in place, we will have to temporarily suspend immigration from some of the most dangerous and volatile regions of the world that have a history of exporting terrorism.

On October 9, 2016: In a debate:

Moderator: Your running mate said this week that the Muslim ban is no longer your position, and if it is, was it a mistake to have a religious test?

Trump: …The Muslim ban is something that in some form has morphed into extreme vetting for certain areas of the world.

[11] Moderator: Why did it morph into that? Answer the question. Would you please explain whether the Muslim ban still stands?

Trump: It is called extreme vetting. We are going to areas like Syria.

[12] 12. December 21, 2016: In an interview:

Reporter: Have you had cause to rethink or reevaluate your plans to create a Muslim register or ban Muslim immigration to the United States?

Trump: You know my plans all along, and I’ve proven to be right, 100 percent correct.

Education scholars such as Richard Kahlenberg from The Century Foundation claim that since school choice programs “divert important resources away from the public schools,” children left behind in traditional public schools could be negatively impacted academically. However, a peer-reviewed study recently released by Temple University professor Sarah Cordes finds that charter school competition actually improves student achievement in nearby traditional public schools in the nation’s largest school district—New York City.

Specifically, Cordes finds that attending a traditional public school within a mile of a charter school in NYC increases student achievement in math and reading by about 0.015 standard deviations, or around 11 days of additional learning in both subjects. The detected effects increase with the proximity of the public charter school competition.

But why does this happen?

Residentially assigned public schools only lose funding if families are able to exit them for an alternative private or public educational option. If a traditional public school leader knows that their educational institution could be financially harmed by the choices of individual families, they will have a strong incentive to cater to the needs of their students. Since parents care about the academic success of their children, public school leaders will need to focus on turning educational resources into vital lifelong outcomes when faced with competitive pressures.

Although these findings may surprise those that listen to the frequent claims made by public education monopolists, they should not surprise social scientists. This study only adds to the abundance of the evidence existing on the topic that points in the same direction.

Prior Scientific Evidence 

As shown in Table 1 below, 23 of 24 such prior evaluations find that competitive pressures from private school choice programs improve the test scores of students left behind in traditional public schools. One study did not find any statistically significant competitive effects.

Table 1: Effects of School Choice Competition on Public School Test Scores 

 

Note: Green boxes indicate that the study found statistically significant positive effects on student test scores in traditional public schools. Yellow boxes indicate that no statistically significant effects were found.

Another peer-reviewed systematic examination of the scientific evidence finds the same conclusion: 20 of 21 reviewed studies indicate that private school choice programs improve the achievement of students that are left behind in their assigned public schools. No studies found negative effects.

Public school leaders that are currently able to compel families to pay for their educational services, nearly regardless of quality or price levels, have an obvious interest in preserving the existing public school monopoly. Rather than listen to the propaganda disseminated by those in power, we should embrace rational theory and the evidence produced by the only thing that can allow us to approach truth: the scientific method.

One person were murdered in a likely terrorist attack in Charlottesville, Virginia this Saturday when a suspected white nationalist named Alex Fields Jr. drove his car into a group of protesters. Prominent people on both sides of the political spectrum have condemned the politically motivated violence. However, some commentators have pointed out that left wing terrorists and rioters have also committed violence in recent years, but they have not provided any information to actually compare the violence of both sides. This blog fills that gap by describing terrorist murders by the political ideology of the perpetrators. The chance of being murdered in a terrorist attack is minor but there is wide variation by ideology.

Data and Methodology

This post examines 25 years of terrorism on U.S. soil from 1992 through August 12, 2017. Fatalities and injuries in terrorist attacks are the most important measures of the cost of terrorism. The information sources are the Global Terrorism Database at the University of Maryland and the RAND Corporation. Other organizations seem to count many religiously or racially motivated crimes as terrorist offenses, an overcounting that I attempted to avoid. I estimate the number of murders committed by terrorists in 2017 from online sources although they may be incomplete. As much as possible, I excluded terrorists who died or were injured in their attacks as they are not victims.

I grouped the ideology of the attackers into four broad groups: Islamists, Nationalists and Right Wingers, Left Wingers, and Unknown/Other. Global Terrorism Database descriptions of the attackers and news stories were my guide in organizing the groups by ideology. Islamists and unknown/other straightforward. Left Wing terrorists include Communists, Socialists, animal rights activists, anti-white racists, LGBT extremists, attackers inspired by Black Lives Matter, and ethnic or national separatists who also embrace Socialism. Nationalist and Right Wing terrorists include white nationalists, Neo-Confederates, non-socialist secessionists, nationalists, anti-Communists, fascists, anti-Muslim attackers, anti-immigration extremists, Sovereign Citizens, bombers who targeted the IRS, militia movements, and abortion clinic bombers. Some of the marginal attacks are open to reinterpretation but the ideology of the attackers by death and injury are straightforward in virtually all cases.

Findings

Terrorists have murdered 3,350 people on U.S. soil from 1992 through August 12, 2017 (Figure 1). Islamists committed 92 percent of all those murders and are, far and away, the deadliest group of terrorists by ideology. The 9/11 attacks accounted for 2,983 of the 3,086 Islamist-inspired terrorist deaths—an overwhelming 97 percent. The chance of being murdered in a terrorist attack committed by an Islamist during this period was about 1 in 2.5 million per year (Table 1). 

Nationalist and Right Wing terrorists are the second deadliest group of terrorists by ideology and account for 228 murders and 6.9 percent of all terrorist deaths. The chance of being murdered in a Nationalist or Right Wing terrorist attack was 1 in 33 million per year. The 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, the second deadliest terrorist attack in U.S. history after 9/11, killed 168 people and accounted for 74 percent of the murders committed by Nationalist and Right Wing terrorists. Left Wing terrorists killed only 19 people in terrorist attacks during this time but 15 since 2016. Nationalist and Right Wing terrorists have only killed 5 since then, including Charlottesville. Meanwhile, the annual chance of being murdered by a Left Wing terrorist was about 1 in 400 million per year. Regardless of the recent upswing in deaths from Left Wing terrorism since 2016, Nationalist and Right Wing terrorists have killed about 12 times as many people since 1992. Terrorists with unknown or other motivations were the least deadly. 

Figure 1

Murders in Terrorist Attacks by the Ideology of the Attacker, 1992-2017.

Sources: Global Terrorism Database at the University of Maryland, RAND Corporation, ESRI, and author’s calculations.

Table 1

Annual Chance of Dying in a Terrorist Attack by Ideology of Perpetrator, 1992-2017

Terrorist Ideology

Terrorism Deaths per Ideology

Annual Chance of Being Murdered

Islamist

3,086

1 in 2,461,464

Nationalist and Right Wing

230

1 in 33,316,130

Left Wing

19

1 in 399,793,565

Unknown/Other

17

1 in 446,828,102

Total

3,352

1 in 2,267,486

Sources: Global Terrorism Database at the University of Maryland, RAND Corporation, ESRI, United States Census, and author’s calculations.

The distribution of injuries committed by terrorists is similarly ideologically skewed (Figure 2). Attacks committed by Islamists are responsible for almost 94 percent of the 17,414 injuries during the entire period. Nationalist and Right Wing terrorists are responsible for 992 injuries, or 5.7 percent of the total. Left Wing terrorists are responsible for 27 injuries, or 0.16 percent of the total. Nationalist and Right Wing terrorists injured about 37 times as many people in terrorist attacks as Left Wingers did during this time. 

Injuries is a less clear category of damage that can range from a few scratches to amputations or brain damage. The annual chance of being injured in a terrorist attack does not reveal as much as your annual chance of being injured but I included it anyway (Table 2).

Figure 2

Injuries in Terrorist Attacks by the Ideology of the Attacker, 1992-2017.

 

Sources: Global Terrorism Database at the University of Maryland, RAND Corporation, ESRI, and author’s calculations.

Table 2

Annual Chance of Being Injured in a Terrorist Attack by Ideology of Perpetrator, 1992-2017

Injuries

Terrorism Injuries per Ideology

Annual Chance of Being Injured

Islamist

16,334

1 in 465,047

Nationalist and Right Wing

992

1 in 7,657,336

Left Wing

27

1 in 281,336,213

Unknown/Other

61

1 in 124,525,865

Total

17,414

1 in 436,205

Sources: Global Terrorism Database at the University of Maryland, RAND Corporation, ESRI, United States Census, and author’s calculations.

The risk of being killed or injured in a terrorist attack on U.S. soil is small. However, a comparison to other intentional harms can put the risk in perspective. The chance of being murdered in a non-terrorist homicide from 1992 through 2017 was about 1 in 17,000 a year, which is about 133 times as great as being killed by terrorism during that time.

Islamism is an ideology created overseas, while much of the ideology that inspires Nationalist, Right Wing, and Left Wing terrorism is home grown or it has been here for so long that it might as well be.

Conclusion

Islamist terrorists are the deadliest since 1992. They killed about 13.5 times as many people as Nationalist and Right Wing terrorists who, in turn, killed about 12 times as many people as Left Wing terrorists did. The deadliness of terrorists by ideology has changed over time and will continue to do so. Charlottesville was a tragedy and the person responsible should be tried and, if convicted, punished to the fullest extent possible under the law. However, it is important to realize that the actual scale and scope of the recent terrorist threat differs significantly by ideology even though the annual chance of being murdered in such an attack is still small.

 

 

Timothy Carpenter and Timothy Sanders were convicted in federal court on charges stemming from a string of armed robberies in and around the Detroit area. They appealed on the ground that the government had acquired detailed records of their movements through cell site location information (“CSLI”) from their wireless carriers in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit turned their appeal aside, finding that “[t]he government’s collection of business records containing these data … is not a search.”

The Fourth Amendment states that “[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.” Presumably, when called on to determine whether a Fourth Amendment violation has occurred, courts would analyze the elements of this language as follows: Was there a search? Was there a seizure? Was any such search or seizure of “their persons, houses, papers, [or] effects”? Was any such search or seizure reasonable?

In cases involving familiar physical objects, they usually do. In harder cases dealing with unfamiliar items such as communications and data, however, courts retreat to the Supreme Court’s “reasonable expectation of privacy” doctrine that emerged from Katz v. United States (1967). The Court has decided to review the important criminal-procedure and digital-privacy issues here.

Cato and the Competitive Enterprise Institute, joined by Reason Foundation and the Committee for Justice, filed an amicus brief urging the Court to return to the text of the Fourth Amendment. The reasonable expectation of privacy test is outdated because it lacks a strong connection to the text and asks courts to conduct a sociological exercise rather than a judicial one. This is especially true in the context of new technology, where societal expectations have not been fully formed yet and will change based on the Court’s judgment, leading to circular reasoning.

Courts have also used the ”reasonable expectation of privacy” test to undermine the very things the Fourth Amendment was designed to protect. For instance, dog sniffs looking for drugs have been said to not “compromise any legitimate interest in privacy” because they are only looking for contraband. But just because a search is designed to look for illegal activity doesn’t mean that the Fourth Amendment is inapplicable.

Likewise with the “third-party doctrine,” which holds that constitutional protections stop when protected information is shared.

The Carpenter case deals with information about a person’s location for more than 100 days, and yet the government claims that no privacy is violated when it seizes and searches that data. The Court should return to the text of the Fourth Amendment and recognize that data and digital communication are property that are protected by the papers and effects part of the Fourth Amendment, as it did in Riley v. California—the 2014 case where the justices unanimously required a warrant for searching a phone seized during an arrest.

Here, the government ordered the information on Mr. Carpenter’s location turned over (a seizure) and then processed that data for the location of the defendants (a search). The defendants had a contract with the phone company prohibiting the distribution of the data and the Court should recognize the property interest that the defendants had based on that contract.

In sum, the Fourth Amendment presumes that a warrant is required but for exceptional circumstances. There was no exigency that threatens the destruction of the data here, threat to officer safety, or any other reason that law enforcement officers could not get a warrant if they had probable cause. Focusing on the actual text of the Fourth Amendment demonstrates that the government’s actions here violated the Fourth Amendment.

The Supreme Court will hear Carpenter v. United States this fall.

The federal government spends more than $4 trillion a year on programs in hundreds of agencies. Which are the largest agencies, and how fast are they growing?

You can find out using the charting tool at DownsizingGovernment.org/charts. The tool plots spending on hundreds of federal agencies and programs in real, or inflation-adjusted, 2017 dollars. The charts cover 1970 to 2017, based on data from the 2018 federal budget.

The following are seven charts from the tool showing spending by the 21 largest agencies in order by size.

The first chart shows the largest departments: Defense, Health and Human Services, and Social Security. The three used to vie for top spot, but Defense has been left in the dust in recent years as the two entitlement-dispensing agencies have continued to grow. The federal government now has two $1 trillion agencies. Wow.

The second chart shows that spending by Veterans Affairs, Agriculture, and the IRS have soared in recent years. Veterans Affairs spending has doubled in a decade—again this is real dollars. Yikes. Agriculture spending includes food stamps and farm subsidies. IRS spending is fueled by outlays on “refundable” tax credits, particularly the earned income tax credit.

The third chart shows Education, Transportation, and the Office of Personnel Management. For the latter agency, spending includes the retirement and health costs of federal workers. Education spending gyrates widely because of recalculations in the costs of student loans. Transportation spending shows a solid upward trend, despite all the claims that we shortchange infrastructure investment. Either way, federal transportation spending should be cut.

The fourth chart shows Labor, Homeland Security, and Other Defense Civil Programs. The latter includes spending on military retirement and health care. The spike in Labor around 2010 was due to the extra UI benefits passed by Congress during the recession. Homeland spending spiked during the early Bush years and remains high.

The fifth chart shows that State department spending has tripled in constant dollars since 2000. HUD spending gyrates due to the accounting for housing finance subsidies. Justice spending tripled from 1990 to the mid Bush years. If you go to the chart tool, you can see that HUD subsidies for rental aid and community development remain at high levels.

The sixth chart shows Energy, NASA, and International Aid. The Energy spike from 2010-2012 stemmed from President Obama’s “stimulus” legislation. Remember Solyndra?

The seventh and final chart shows Interior, Commerce, and the EPA. The spikes in Commerce surround Census years. You can see this if you go to the charting tool, click open Commerce, and plot Census separately.

Similarly, use the chart tool to see that the Commerce spike in the late 1970s was for the Economic Development Administration, which by the way is one of the dumbest agencies in the government.

Finally, if you click open EPA on the charting tool, you can see that the spike in the late 1970s was due to a surge in grants to state governments.

Which of these departments and agencies should be cut? I suggest starting with these.

 

Can we talk about the story of whether Google, a company entrusted with everyone else’s personal secrets, should let its own employees’ confidential data be thrown open to the scrutiny of a vengeful world in the course of trying to show that its workplace is not rife with discrimination?

No, not that Google story. Not the one about the firing of Google Memo author James Damore, which has been taking up oxygen in online conversation all week.  I’ve already had my say in Wednesday’s USA Today on how existing federal law would have helped shape Google’s incentives in handling that furor. (“Now, as then, government pressure on employers to ban speech consists less of direct you-must-ban mandates and more of litigation incentives whose contours are not explicitly announced.”) And since you can read that piece here, I won’t retrace the ground it covers. 

My purpose here instead is to relate another Google bias-claims-and-employee-privacy story from last month, which would have counted as fairly significant news in its own right had it not soon been eclipsed by the memo episode. 

In 2015 the U.S. Department of Labor launched a contract-compliance review of Google’s employment practices related to diversity. This past January, in its last month of office, the Obama DoL followed up with a lawsuit alleging that Google had not been forthcoming enough in providing employee information in response to the review, and asking a court to order it to comply. (As I mentioned in my Wednesday piece, for a company like Google to actually be in litigation over its employment practices “means lawyerly caution would be at a zenith on whether to let its corporate culture be portrayed in a future courtroom as tolerant of sexist argumentation.”)

How forthcoming had Google already been? Per the law firm of Michael Best & Friedrich in the National Law Journal

Up until June 2016, Google had complied with all of OFCCP’s information requests, producing over 1 million data points and approximately 740,000 pages. This production cost Google approximately $500,000 and 2,300 man hours.

In June 2016, OFCCP sent Google two letters requesting a large amount of information and materials. This request came after Google had already provided an incredibly large volume of documents requested during the audit. Google complied with all but three of OFCCP’s requests: (1) a salary history for every person employed by Google during two snapshot periods, going back to each person’s date of hire (which for some extended back to 1998); (2) another snapshot period that included not only the OMB-approved list of information, but also an additional 38 categories for each of the 19,539 people employed by Google on September 1, 2014; and, (3) the name, address, telephone number, and personal email of every employee reflected on either of the two snapshots.

The Labor Department’s suit was heard by one of its own in-house administrative law judges (ALJs), which ruled last month that the demands were “over-broad, intrusive on employee privacy, unduly burdensome, and insufficiently focused on obtaining the requested information.” While allowing some of the requests to go forward in pared-down form, the ALJ drastically cut back their scope and said the agency “OFCCP offered nothing credible or reliable to show that its theory … is based … on anything more than speculation.

Since DoL’s own ALJs have (to understate matters) little reason to lean against the department’s interests, this is a pretty good indication that the requests were indeed overbroad, maybe even an example of the widely suspected federal agency practice of going on subpoena “fishing expeditions” meant to find some rule violation.  

In a statement, Google said it was “concerned that providing personal contact information for more than 25,000 Google employees could have privacy implications, and the judge agreed, citing the history of government data breaches and recent hacking of Department of Labor data.”   

Now if only Google could get its own employees to be as careful about not spilling confidential information about co-workers to parties on the outside. 

The first installment of this blog was a preliminary look at a Washington Post article “Is Amazon Getting Too Big?” by Steven Pearlstein.  That article promoted strong opinions of Yale law school student Lina Khan based largely on (1) faulty market concentration estimates from President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers and (2) a selective 40-year survey of mergers as evidence of some current problem linking concentrated markets to rising prices.    

There was another bit of indirect evidence in the Obama CEA memo which merits discussion.  A graph from former CEA Chair Jason Furman showed large recent gains in “returns on invested capital” among public nonfinancial firms, as measured by McKinsey & Co.  The CEA insinuated that this shows a recent surge in “rents” (receipts larger than needed to attract capital) which they wrongly defined as “greatly in excess of historical standards.”  There is a simpler explanation.

Return on invested capital is notoriously difficult to estimate and, as McKinsey explains, returns look relatively larger by this measure because invested capital has become smaller as the economy shifted from capital-intensive manufacturing to services and software:

“What if the invested-capital side of the equation approaches zero, as it increasingly does among companies that use outsourcing and alliances and thus reduce the capital intensity of parts of their businesses? Other businesses, such as software development and services, also have inherently low capital requirements or take advantage of atypical working-capital dynamics, including prepayment by customers for licenses and payment by suppliers for inventory. Even traditional businesses are shedding capital: the median level of invested capital for US industrial companies dropped from around 50 percent of revenues in the early 1970s to just above 30 percent in 2004.”

Like the CEA’s mention of a rising share of sales by Top 50 firms in 10 industries between two years, the CEA’s return on invested capital data also failed to uncover any new “market concentration” problem to be solved by the Democratic Party’s mysterious “Better Deal.”

Neither Khan, Pearlstein, nor their cited sources provide any evidence of (1) the alleged widespread increase in market share held by 3 or 4 firms, nor of (2) higher prices outside of federally-regulated and subsidized industries, nor of (3) any connection between concentration and monopoly pricing, nor of (4) any connection between return on invested capital and concentration or monopoly pricing.

Despite no evidence that market share (concentration) predicts higher pricing, Pearlstein and Khan talk about Amazon’s share of markets.  Pearlstein claims Amazon sells 40% of books in this country, but such estimates vary depending on how we handle Kindle’s share of e-Books, Amazon’s consumer-friendly discounting of new books, and Amazon’s utility as a market for used books. Many people, like me, sell very good used books on Amazon and eBay, making the market for new books more competitive than ever.  Stacy Mitchell’s “The Big Box Swindle” costs $14.32 on Amazon Prime, but very good used copies sell below $2.

Khan claims “Amazon now controls 46% of all e-commerce in the United States.” That inflated figure includes sales that Amazon processes for other retailers and producers. And retail alone is not “all e-commerce” even ignoring the biggest e-commerce market – China. In U.S. business-to-business sales, Amazon Business is ranked 37th in the B2B E-Commerce 300 by Digital Commerce.  Besides, e-commerce only  amounted to 11.7% of U.S. retail sales last year, according to the Commerce Department.

The source of Amazon’s alleged 46% share of something or other is Stacy Mitchell (BA in History) a publicist for “local-self-reliance” (which was also the unwise goal [zi li geng sheng] of Mao Tse-tung’s 1958-59 “Great Leap Forward”).  As Ms. Mitchell and her co-author explain, “Amazon’s market share was calculated by the authors, drawing on information from Amazon and Channel Advisor.”

E-commerce is not a market, much less a U.S. market, and it’s not something that can be “controlled.”  But the Khan-Mitchell-Pearlstein complaint is not about a big market share causing higher prices for buyers but about lower prices for sellers.  Mitchell applauds the Democrats’ new tough talk on antitrust because, “With most industries now dominated by just a few firms, it is harder…  for small businesses to compete and for farmers and producers to get a fair price” [emphasis added].

“In considering whether a proposed merger or business practice would harm competition,” writes Mr. Pearlstein, “courts and regulators narrowed their analysis to ask whether it would hurt consumers by raising prices.” He and Kahn blame such a “narrow” emphasis on consumer welfare on what they call “The Chicago School.”  They want courts and regulators to instead ask whether businesses structure or practices would harm competitors by reducing prices. Khan thinks “antitrust enforcers” should take a “holistic” approach, taking account the interests of rival sellers or producers who might have a tough time competing with Amazon’s low prices, huge inventories, or fast delivery. 

As I noted in the first blog, antitrust law is a large and lucrative industry, which has long been famously generous to politicians and think tanks who try to enlarge the volume and value of antitrust activities.  “Amazon is reported to be in the market for an antitrust economist,” notes Pearlstein, and “has engaged the services of two former heads of the Justice Department antitrust division, one Democrat and one Republican.” Indeed. That’s the way the antitrust extortion racket is played.  Skilled antitrust lawyers are equally eager to prosecute or defend, since they win either way.

Antitrust works very much like any other regulatory bureaucracy. Business lobbyists recruit antitrust agencies to get them to damage or constrain their more-successful rivals. Key members of congressional committees use antitrust threats to shake down corporate executives for campaign contributions and discourage them from supporting a rival Party’s policies or candidates.  Redundant federal agencies, the DOJ and FTC, drag companies into costly litigation battles for years, with the usual result being multi-billion-dollar fines rather than noticeable change in business practices.  Ambitious prosecutors use the publicity from high-profile cases as a red-carpet invitation into the revolving door of high-paying positions as antitrust defense attorneys or as executives in the effected industries.

Pearlstein suggests antitrust should be more about “fair play” and a “level field” to protect competitors who would much prefer to charge higher prices for less selection and slower service. “Some observers point to the E.U.’s Google case as an example of the difference between the American and European approach: They protect competitors; we protect consumers. … To me, this view betrays a naïve belief that in our open market system, every person and every company has the same opportunity to succeed. … Leveling the playing field is a legitimate policy goal.”  

To me, Pearlstein’s view betrays naïve optimism that ambitious politicians and prosecutors are omniscient and incorruptible. He thinks future antitrust cops should have great discretionary authority to “block Amazon” from competing too effectively with UPS, Oracle or Comcast.  If that threat ever materialized, it would surely attract generous donations from UPS, Oracle, or Comcast to sympathetic politicians and think tanks.  Antitrust law is not supposed to be about dividing the spoils but frequently is.

The federal government plays a large role in the nation’s highways through the funding of aid programs for the states and the imposing of top-down regulations. Congress passed a major highway bill in 2015 that authorized $305 billion in spending over five years, of which $226 billion was for highways and most of the rest for urban transit.

The Trump administration is promising a fresh approach to highway spending and regulation. What are the main problems with current highway policies, and what reforms should the administration pursue?

Transportation expert Gabriel Roth and I examine these questions in a new study at DownsizingGovernment.org. We review the history of federal highway interventions, describe the inefficiencies of federal aid and regulations, and discuss possible reforms.

We argue that Americans would be better off if federal highway and transit spending, fuel taxes, and related regulations were cut. The states can more efficiently tackle their transportation needs with a reduced federal role, and they would be more likely to pursue privatization and other market-based reforms.

Our primer on federal highway policies is here.

As expected, and thanks to the big 2015-6 El Niño, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has announced that 2016 is the warmest year in their 150-year long global surface temperature record. They didn’t mention that there are signs that global average temperatures are headed back to pre-El Niño values, which may put them near the range of the long “pause” in warming beginning in 1997 that ended with the recent El Niño.

There are several sources showing this. Here’s the satellite data from the University of Alabama-Huntsville through last month:

Temperatures have fallen to within approximately 0.15⁰C of the average since the end of the last (1998) big El Niño and the beginning of the recent one. These are “bulk” data for the lower atmosphere.

You can see similar behavior in the surface record from the University of East Anglia:

In this record, the “pause” from mid-1997 through 2013 is obvious. It will be interesting to see where this record settles out, as the early 2017 data look very “pause-y”.

We are also suffering from the problem that NOAA’s (the folks who made today’s announcement) record is the “pause-buster” version that used a new record of sea-surface temperatures (designated ERSSTv4) that became progressively warmer, beginning in 1998, compared to its predecessor (ERSSTv3).  It also raised very good buoy temperatures to match very bad ship intake tube temperatures. Just inside a large hunk of conductive metal sitting in the sun isn’t a good place to take the water temperature.   

One increasingly popular recent surface temperature history is “reanalysis” data in which temperatures are transformed onto a tight latitude/longitude grid that provides a spatially “level playing field”, bypassing the problems that occur as weather stations move, or go off or on-online. You can also see the temperature peak here, and that we are approaching pre-El Niño values.

It looks like the warm party is breaking up.

The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is a major business enterprise operated by the federal government. It has a legal monopoly over first-class mail, which prevents entrepreneurs from competing to improve quality and reduce costs.

I describe the postal system’s inefficiencies here, and discuss how European countries have privatized their systems and/or opened them to competition.

In this country, privatization is needed more than ever because the USPS is increasingly distorting the booming package delivery business. My study discusses USPS cross-subsidies between its mail and package activities, and a recent article in the Wall Street Journal explored the problem further.

Josh Sandbulte argued that the USPS gives Amazon an unfair advantage over brick-and-mortar firms:

The U.S. Postal Service delivers [Amazon’s] boxes well below its own costs. Like an accelerant added to a fire, this subsidy is speeding up the collapse of traditional retailers in the U.S. and providing an unfair advantage for Amazon.

… The 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act made it illegal for the Postal Service to price parcel delivery below its cost. But with a networked business using shared buildings and employees, calculating cost can be devilishly subjective.

… An April analysis from Citigroup estimates that if costs were fairly allocated, on average parcels would cost $1.46 more to deliver. It is as if every Amazon box comes with a dollar or two stapled to the packing slip—a gift card from Uncle Sam.

In a response to Sandbulte here, the USPS claims that they do not cross-subsidize. The solution for this dispute? Privatize the USPS, repeal the monopoly, and let competitive markets decide on product pricing.

Another way that the USPS distorts the marketplace was explored in the Washington Post recently. Stamps.com appears to have a sweetheart deal with the USPS related to selling postage, preparing labels, and servicing shippers:

At the heart of this dispute is the Postal Service’s use of discount deals, called negotiated service agreements, that allow some companies to sell postage for less than others even though the underlying service — having the Postal Service deliver a package to a particular address within a specified period of time — is identical. The details of these deals, and even the identities of companies receiving them, are not public because of the Postal Service’s broad exemption from public disclosure laws when it comes to its dealings with private businesses, leaving rivals to guess at who is getting better terms and why.

Several current and former industry officials say they believe that Stamps.com, through several subsidiary companies, has gotten particularly lucrative discount postage deals from the Postal Service and is using them in novel ways that give Stamps.com an unfair competitive advantage over other companies.

The WaPo story talks about USPS dealings with language such as “opaque,” “closely held secrets,” and “details of which are not made public.” I’m confused—I thought the USPS was the people’s mail service operated in the public interest?

Alas, as I explored in this study on privatization, government agencies are usually less transparent than private enterprises. The WaPo says, “The Postal Service declined multiple requests for interviews regarding its postage-discount programs and did not respond to written questions from The Post.”  Public agencies are often less responsive to the public than private ones.

Bottom line: We do not need a giant and secretive distortion machine in the middle of our mail and package industry, as the Europeans are showing us. Postal-socialism makes no sense in the Internet age.

I never expected to have trouble distinguishing the rhetoric of America’s president and North Korea’s leader. Nor did I ever imagine it would be unclear which official was more impulsive, emotional, blustering, and reckless. But these are not normal times.

For anyone contemplating the odds in a war between the U.S. and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, a few numbers are instructive. Last year the U.S. had a GDP of almost $19 trillion, roughly 650 times the GDP of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The latter is equivalent to the economy of Portland, Maine or Anchorage, Alaska. America’s population is around 13 times as large as that of the DPRK.

The U.S. military spends upwards of 100 times as much as the North’s armed forces. With the world’s most sophisticated nuclear arsenal and 1411 warheads (the peak was 31,255 50 years ago), Washington could incinerate the North in an instant. Pyongyang is thought to possess around 20 nukes, of uncertain status and deliverability.

Does the DPRK’s “Supreme Leader” Kim Jong-un recognize this reality? There’s plenty of evidence that he is ruthless and cruel. But none that he is blind or suicidal. Like his father and grandfather, who ruled before him, he most assuredly prefers his virgins in this world.

The North’s rhetoric is bombastic, splenetic, confrontational, and fantastic. But it always has been thus. Even before Pyongyang possessed deployable nukes and long-range missiles, it was promising to turn New York (as well as Seoul) into a “lake of fire.” The North Koreans even distributed a video showing precisely that result. If calm ever descends upon the Supreme Leader and his minions, then perhaps Americans should really worry.

The North’s rhetoric and behavior is determined at least in part by domestic considerations. Politics is all-consuming and militaristic images are everywhere. (I visited in June and put up a bunch of photos on Forbes. We are holding a CatoConnects session on Tuesday, August 15 to discuss my visit.) The regime seeks support by portraying itself as heroically defending—against overwhelming odds—a society under siege by imperialistic Americans and their South Korean puppets. The constant mantra, almost irrespective of subject, place, or person, I heard was “under the wise leadership of the Supreme Leader.” Whether the population believed it seemed secondary.

As for Pyongyang’s international interactions, the regime is acting out of weakness. Even North Korean officials, while proudly proclaiming that their nation was prospering despite sanctions, admitted that becoming an “economic power” was an objective, not an accomplished fact. The Victorious Fatherland War Museum displays pictures of the devastation wreaked by U.S. air attacks during the Korean War. Even when it comes to nuclear weapons officials talk of “matching the U.S.,” not outpacing Washington.

Indeed, this helps explain North Korea’s weapons development. Of course, there is nothing good to say about the Kim dynasty, now into its third generation. It runs a totalitarian regime which holds an entire people in bondage. Although state controls are slipping a bit, especially when it comes to the economy, individuals have essentially no civil, political, or religious liberties. Nevertheless, it is important to try to understand the DPRK in order to develop sensible policies.

North Korean elites know Washington’s power. After all, the U.S. intervened to defend the Republic of Korea after the 1950 DPRK invasion and would have liberated the entire peninsula had China not joined the conflict. Gen. Douglas MacArthur then advocated using nuclear weapons, a threat also employed by the incoming Eisenhower administration to “encourage” China to conclude an armistice.

Once that agreement was reached, the U.S. forged a “Mutual Defense” treaty (in practice it runs only one way, of course) with the South and maintained a garrison, backed by nuclear weapons on the peninsula, joint military exercises with the South, and ample supplemental forces nearby. Such measures posed an obvious existential threat to the North Korean regime.

The dangers resulting from America’s policies were enhanced by the end of the Cold War, when first Moscow and then Beijing opened diplomatic relations with South Korea. Today the DPRK is truly alone, even as U.S. officials say “all options are on the table”—and the American president threatens “fire and fury.”

Moreover, the Kim regime sees Washington engage in promiscuous military intervention around the globe. American administrations most recently used the armed forces to promote regime change in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. Notably, the government of the latter traded away its nukes and missiles, leaving it vulnerable to outside intervention. North Korean officials are quick to cite these examples.

If there ever was a case of a paranoid state having a real enemy, it is North Korea.

Obviously, anything said by the DPRK should be taken with several grains of salt, but there is little reason to doubt the concerns Pyongyang expresses over potential U.S. military action. When I visited the North in June North Korean officials dismissed criticism of their nuclear program, pointing to America’s “hostile policy,” highlighted by “military threats” and “nuclear threats.”

The DPRK’s nuclear weapons obviously defend against such “threats,” but have other uses as well, such as international status and extortion. Long-range missiles have only one purpose: deterring U.S. military intervention against the North.

The Kims want to avoid, not wage, war with America. If the U.S. was not “over there,” the North’s safest course would be to ignore Washington. But with America already involved and threatening intervention, Pyongyang’s only sure defense is deterrence.

The North is moving to do what no other potential adversary other than China and Russia has done, effectively foreclose the possibility of U.S. military action. Once the Kim regime has a reasonable chance of turning at least a couple of major American cities into “lakes of fire,” would any administration risk even conventional involvement in a Korean conflict?

Indeed, Washington should have turned South Korea’s defense over to Seoul years ago—the South possesses 40 times the GDP and twice the population of the North. Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions should spur Washington to withdraw from the Korean imbroglio, phasing out both the U.S. treaty guarantee and troop deployment. But even then the DPRK tops the list of regimes that should not possess nukes. And as long as America is involved, the possibility of misjudgment and mistake remains real. Especially with two leaders possibly suffering from impulse control issues.

What to do? Military strikes would risk triggering the Second Korean War, which could kill tens or hundreds of thousands, result in widespread devastation, and spread chaos, instability, and refugees. The war would be in Northeast Asia, “not here in America,” as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) proclaimed, but Americans still would suffer.

Better to lower the regional temperature, in both action and rhetoric; begin phasing out America’s security treaty and military garrison, shifting any Korean military struggle from the U.S. to the peninsula; open a dialogue with the North, especially over security issues; engage China over its interests, encouraging it to more fully cooperate over the North; and develop a regional  development/security package in return for North Korea’s denuclearization, enlisting Beijing as the chief muscle behind an offer impossible to refuse.

Perhaps most important, the U.S. should continue to set as its prime objective supporting peace on the peninsula. That has been America’s objective since the end of the Korean War 64 years ago. That should remain Washington’s goal as it seeks to extricate itself from an outdated military commitment that now threatens to go nuclear.

Seventy-two years after the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki the specter of nuclear war once again hangs over the world. In the span of a few hours, both the United States and North Korea made nuclear threats against one another. Donald Trump went first, saying “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”

Shortly after Trump’s “fire and fury” comments, North Korea’s KCNA carried a statement from the Strategic Force of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) that threatened the “air pirates” stationed at Guam with a nuclear strike. The KCNA statement closed with the warning, “[The United States] should immediately stop its reckless military provocation against the state of the DPRK so that the latter would not be forced to make an unavoidable military choice.” While KCNA did not reference Trump’s comments, the timing of its release creates the impression that the two countries had issued dueling nuclear threats.

At their core, both Trump’s “fire and fury” comment and the KCNA statement are deterrent threats, which seek to prevent a certain action by threatening a high cost in retaliation. If the target of the deterrent threat takes the action that the threat issuer deems unacceptable, then the former will suffer a worse fate. The credibility of deterrent threats depend on whether or not the targeted state believes that the issuer will follow through on its rhetoric.

While both Trump and KCNA issued deterrent threats, the quality of the threats are markedly different. Trump’s threat is incredibly vague both in terms of what the threat is trying to prevent and what costs the United States would inflict on North Korea in response. A lack of clarity about what Trump wants to deter could prevent North Korea from taking any escalatory actions, but given the high stakes involved for North Korea it is unlikely to view Trump’s threat as credible. Kim Jong Un will keep making nuclear threats because the vulnerability of the United States to nuclear attack deters America from attacking North Korea in the first place.

Ambiguous deterrent threats can work, but such threats are not usually issued by powerful countries. Meanwhile, the uncertainty created by Trump’s comment is not reassuring to the other parties involved in the North Korea issue. The “fire and fury” statement could complicate relationships with U.S. allies if they feel that Trump’s rhetoric increases the likelihood of escalating the crisis and putting their security at risk. Additionally, efforts to convince China to do more to help the United States solve the North Korea problem could suffer if Trump’s rhetoric is seen as an indication of unpredictable U.S. policy.

In contrast to Trump’s ambiguous language about “fire and fury,” the KCNA statement is very detailed and precise. The statement references specific U.S. actions that North Korea wants stopped and says what costs North Korea is prepared to inflict. Flights of strategic bombers out of Guam are interpreted as “muscle-flexing in a bid to strike the strategic bases of [North Korea]. This grave situation requires the KPA to closely watch Guam…and necessarily (sic) take practical actions of significance to neutralize it.” In order to neutralize this threat, the KPA is preparing an operational plan to make “an enveloping fire at the areas (sic) around Guam with medium-to-long-range strategic ballistic rocket (sic) Hwasong-12 in order to contain the U.S. major military bases on Guam.”

There is little ambiguity in the KCNA statement. The deployment of strategic bombers to Guam is seen a major threat to North Korea’s security. In the event of a conflict, the KPA plans to neutralize the threat with nuclear-armed ballistic missiles to both prevent the bombers from carrying out an attack on North Korea and send a “serious warning signal to the U.S.” Pyongyang is trying to deter strikes by aircraft stationed at Guam by threatening to destroy the island’s air force base with nuclear weapons. An unprovoked North Korean attack against Guam is not credible because it would invite a devastating retaliation, but their threats to attack the U.S. base early in a conflict are credible. Such threats can deter the United States by making the costs of preemptive action prohibitively high.

Trump’s bombastic statement about “fire and fury” is a clumsy threat that is unlikely to change North Korea’s calculus or behavior. Ambiguity can be a very valuable tool for deterrence, but ambiguous deterrent threats are ill-suited for addressing America’s North Korea problem. Trump doesn’t have to give up his colorful language, but if he wants his deterrent threats to be effective he needs to be precise about what actions the United States deems unacceptable. He should leave the “fire and fury” talk to the North Koreans.

North Korea’s Kim Jong Un is doing everything in his power to ensure that he remains atop the United States’ enemies list. For months, his government has been test-launching missiles and issuing threats. This week the rhetoric got even hotter. President Trump pledged to rain “fire and fury like the world has never seen” on North Korea. The North Koreans responded with a promise to attack the U.S. base at Guam.

Notwithstanding Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s statements last week and in April that the United States does not seek regime change in Pyongyang, other tin-pot dictators have heard similar assurances before. If KJU doesn’t want to go the way of Slobodan Milosevic, Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi, he’ll hold onto his nukes.

Unsurprisingly, hawks in Washington – who don’t like being so deterred – are urging President Trump to launch a preventive war, and denude the latest Crazy Kim of his dangerous toys.

For example, John Bolton explained last week that, since diplomacy is unlikely to be successful, Trump has only three options: “pre-emptively strike at Pyongyang’s known nuclear facilities, ballistic-missile factories and launch sites, and submarine bases”; “wait until a missile is poised for launch toward America, and then destroy it”; or launch “airstrikes or [deploy] special forces to decapitate North Korea’s national command authority, sowing chaos, and then sweep in on the ground from South Korea to seize Pyongyang, nuclear assets, key military sites and other territory.”

To summarize: small war now, small war later, or big war now. And, of the middle option, Bolton warns that a preemptive strike would “provide more time but at the cost of increased risk” and that “Intelligence is never perfect” – so that leaves war now (or soon).

Bolton grudgingly admitted “All these scenarios pose dangers for South Korea, especially civilians in Seoul,” and that “The U.S. should obviously seek South Korea’s agreement (and Japan’s) before using force, but no foreign government, even a close ally, can veto an action to protect Americans from Kim Jong Un’s nuclear weapons.”  

Along similar lines, Lindsey Graham explained “Japan, South Korea, China would all be in the crosshairs of a war if we started one with North Korea. But if [North Korea gets] a missile they can hit California, maybe other parts of America.”

“If there’s going to be a war to stop [Kim Jong Un],” Graham continued, “it will be over there. If thousands die, they’re going to die over there. They’re not going to die here.”

This leaves aside the rather obvious fact that the American troops carrying out a war with North Korea would be risking death. That factor should also weigh heavily on the president’s mind. The American people, bitten by other wars that Bolton and Graham championed, are highly averse to new ones–especially those that are likely to result in large numbers of Americans getting killed. 

As I point out in a new article at The Skeptics

A recent paper finds that in the 2016 election, Donald Trump performed well in those communities that paid the heaviest price during America’s post–9/11 wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Voters in these communities may even have provided the margin he needed to win the presidency.

“Trump’s ability to connect with voters in communities exhausted by more than fifteen years of war,” write Douglas Kriner and Francis Shen, “may have been critically important to his narrow election victory.”

“If Trump wants to win again in 2020, his electoral fate may well rest on the administration’s approach to the human costs of war. Trump should remain highly sensitive to American combat casualties.”

Could public sentiment really constrain a president convinced that military action is the last best course of action? Maybe, argue Kriner and Shen. “The significant inroads,” they write, “that Trump made among constituencies exhausted by fifteen years of war—coupled with his razor thin electoral margin (which approached negative three million votes in the national popular vote tally)—should make Trump even more cautious in pursuing ground wars.”

I’m skeptical.

“Trump” and “cautious” are two words that rarely go together. And not all U.S. wars are ground wars.

The human cost of war should factor into any president’s decision to start one. But Donald Trump’s limited understanding of modern warfare and international politics might convince him that he can pick a few cheap and easy fights to boost his popularity and secure a few quick wins. Though he might be disinclined to initiate a major conflict, that doesn’t mean that Trump is reluctant to use force. And those superficially limited military engagements have a nasty tendency to morph into honest-to-goodness full-blown wars.

You can read the whole thing here.

Maranda O’Donnell was arrested for driving with a suspended license and bail was set at the prescheduled amount of $2,500, which she could not pay. Ms. O’Donnell was not alone in having bail set at an amount that could not be paid. Robert Ford’s bail was set at $5,000 for misdemeanor theft of property and Loetha McGruder’s bail was set at $5,000 for the misdemeanor of giving a false name to a police officer. There are many other such examples; all of these bail amounts were set according to a predetermined schedule based on the offense. None of the defendants could afford the bail and so were forced to stay in jail.

According to one report, 81% of misdemeanor arrestees in Harris County (Houston), Texas, were unable to post bail at booking, and 40% were never able to post bail. Ms. O’Donnell sued Harris County and various government officials on behalf of herself and all others similarly situated for violating the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses by setting bail amounts higher than defendants could pay, which detained indigent people much longer than those financially able to pay.

The federal district court found that the predetermined bail schedule was treated as a “nearly irrebuttable presumption in favor of applying secured money bail at the prescheduled amount.” Further, the court found that Harris County did not even provide “timely hearings” to prove their inability to pay or even the reasons why defendants were being denied a bail they could paid. The court issued a preliminary injunction ordering the county to release misdemeanor defendants on personal bond—not secured by cash in advance—within 24 hours of being arrested.

The county appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, where Cato has now filed an amicus brief supporting the injunction based on the history of bail.

Bail has ancient roots going back to before Magna Carta. Even before the United States existed, English courts required that bail be set on an individualized basis based on the financial ability of the defendant. When the king’s sheriffs issued bail that was too high to be paid, the prohibition on excessive bail was created in the English Bill of Rights, which was then incorporated into the U.S. Constitution in the Eighth Amendment. As both the Supreme Court and D.C. Circuit held in 1835, “to require larger bail than the prisoner could give would be to require excessive bail, and to deny bail” in violation of the Constitution. This was the understanding in America for more than 100 years after the Founding.

The modern Supreme Court has continued to recognize the protection that these ancient requirements for bail provide: “In our society, liberty is the norm, and detention prior to trial or without trial is the carefully limited exception.” United States v. Salerno (1987). These long-standing bail customs require an individualized determination of the bail amount, which was not provided by Harris County, violating the defendants’ right to the due process of law as guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. The Fifth Circuit should maintain the preliminary injunction in O’Donnell v. Harris County.

In a recent column, AEI scholar Abby McCloskey claims that “[m]ost people on the right and on the left” want government-sponsored paid family leave. McCloskey links to an admiring summary of a 2016 public opinion poll as evidence.

The summary does not provide the associated poll topline (questionnaire), but Morning Consult kindly provided some questions upon request. They included “Do you support or oppose requiring employers to offer paid parental leave for new parents?” and “if the federal government required employers to offer paid parental leave for new parents, how long should that leave be?”

Unfortunately, the poll’s questions are not sound from a psychology of survey response perspective. As analysts know, the question’s language makes an enormous difference in poll results. When people are asked whether or not they would like a particular benefit sans the process or cost, many will respond affirmatively.

But if costs are mentioned, public opinion transforms (see polling on healthcare for example). As a result, polling can be confusing at best and calculated to elicit certain responses at worst. In the first question, the Morning Consult poll does not describe who will be requiring employers to provide paid family leave or how they will do so. It does not mention tradeoffs. In the second question it asks respondents to accept that government is providing paid leave and then pick the length.

Usually it would be hard to know how much the absence of the “whos” or “hows” mattered for the results. But fortunately, Pew Research asked the same questions and made the details explicit.

Specifically, Pew asked whether A) the federal government should require employers to provide paid family leave or B) employers should be able to decide for themselves whether to provide paid family leave. 

Pew found “there is no consensus,” and public opinion was split evenly. Contrary to McCloskey’s summary article which claims political parties unanimously approve of a government mandate for paid family leave, Pew described public opinion as being divided along political lines. Democrats were the only group where a majority strongly favored the lightest of paid family leave measures; using government tax credits as an incentive for employers to provide paid leave. 

Far from being a top policy priority, another recent Pew poll suggests that “expanding access to paid family and medical leave ranks at the bottom of a list of 21 policy items.”  7 of 10 workers (69%) are at least somewhat satisfied with the benefits their employer already provides, and Americans prioritize other issues over creating an entitlement to a benefit most already receive63% of workers who took parental, family, or medical leave say their employer paid for part or all of it.

It seems that the public is divided after all. That said, do Americans like or want paid family leave benefits? Of course, and when asked they say so. But the right question is not whether they like or desire leave, but whether they desire federal involvement. The answer is often “no.”

One fortunate aspect of President Trump’s bill to reduce legal immigration by 50 percent is that it has started the conversation on how to reform the nation’s legal immigration system—even if it started it on the wrong foot. Members of Congress now have an opportunity to respond with legislation that would increase legal immigration and fix the various problems with the system, which are numerous.

1) Employment-based quotas haven’t changed since 1990, even as the economy doubled in size. Unlike many other countries, the legislative branch establishes hard ceilings on immigration, rather than flexible targets or administratively determined limits. In 1990, Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1990, which established the current limit at 140,000 visas for immigrants whom employers sponsor for legal permanent residency. Since then, U.S. real Gross Domestic Product increased from 8.9 trillion to 17 trillion. At the same time, the computer and Internet revolutions transformed the economy, yet the quota remained the same.

  • Congress should double the 1990 employment-based quota to at least 280,000 and index the quota to GDP growth. Senators Ron Johnson and John McCain incorporate GDP indexing in their State-Sponsored Pilot Program Act, which would allow states to sponsor temporary workers (see p. 24).

2) Half the quota for immigrant workers is filled by family. Of the 140,000 employer-sponsored visas, sponsored employees actually use less than half. That’s because the George H.W. Bush administration in 1991 adopted an interpretation of the law that found that spouses and children of the immigrants—who are entitled to a visa with the primary applicant as well—count against the quota. As I’ve written before, it is far from clear that this is the correct interpretation of the law, but it makes little sense in any case. The quota is targeting the number of workers that the economy needs. Why should married workers take away slots from other applicants? If the quota is hit after a worker receives his visa but before his family does, why should we separate them? For these reasons, all temporary worker categories exempt spouses and children from those caps.

  • Congress should clarify that spouses and children of immigrant workers do not count against the green card limits. This would require amending 8 U.S.C. 1153(d) with a statement that the visas or status issued under that subsection don’t reduce the number of visas available to primary applicants.

3) America discriminates against applicants from more populous countries. The law states that the total number of permanent residency visas made available to nationals of any single country may not exceed 7 percent. This means that countries with few applicants, like Iceland and Moldova, receive priority over countries with many applicants like China and India, creating massive wait times for specific nationalities. The wait for Indian employer-sponsored immigrants is so long many of the applicants will die before they see their visas. Nativists, however, openly admit that they prefer the per-country limits specifically because they make the system so frustrating that immigrant workers from certain countries want to give up.

  • Congress should remove the per-country limits. The Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants Act (H.R. 392), which has 238 cosponsors, would phase out the per-country limits for employment-based immigrants and double the limits for family-based.

4) Foreign workers can work here for 10 years legally, but still not receive the right to live here permanently. As I’ve said before, America treats its high-skilled immigrants worse than it treats its lowest skilled refugees, who receive permanent residency after one year. Employers can sponsor H-1B high skilled temporary workers for permanent residency, and the law allows them to extend their status indefinitely. Despite living and working in the country for many years—even a decade—they cannot enjoy their full rights. They cannot work for whomever they want. They cannot start businesses. They must apply for extensions every single year. Other work visa categories, such as the E-2 temporary visa for entrepreneurs and investors and the O-1 visa for entrepreneurs and other outstanding achievers, have no visa category for which they can apply because they have no employer to sponsor them. They can work for decades and receive no path to permanent residency.

  • Congress should create a path to permanent residency for any worker who has worked legally in the United States for an aggregate period of more than 10 years. It should similarly allow anyone who is waiting abroad to enter if they have waited for 10 years. That would place a hard limit on backlogs and create an incentive for legal immigrants to stay and not abandon the American dream for the Canadian dream.

5) Children of legal foreign workers grow up in the United States but are deported at adulthood—even if they were already waiting in line for permanent residency. This “aging out” problem is one of the more cruel aspects of America’s immigration system. H-1B foreign workers and their spouses and minor children receive a temporary visa that is renewable indefinitely if their employer sponsors the worker for permanent residency. The worker may add his spouse and minor children to the permanent residency application, and the whole family waits together in the U.S. Thus, many children of H-1B workers grow up in the United States, graduate a U.S. high school, and attend U.S. colleges. You can read here about how accomplished these young people are. Yet because only minor children are eligible, they receive a removal order as soon as they reach age 21 if their parent has yet to receive permanent residency. As I’ve written before, they are essentially young immigrant “Dreamers.”

  • Congress should end “aging out.” If a person is already waiting in line for permanent residency when they hit 21, they should remain in the green card queue and in legal status in the United States. This could be done in a number of ways, but perhaps the best is section 3(c) of the Johnson-McCain state-sponsored visa bill (pp. 36–37). The Johnson-McCain bill language would also solve a number of other problems for high-skilled workers, including the inability to change jobs and the prohibition on spousal work (which President Obama partially ended).

6) If the administration fails to issue the required permanent residency visas for a year, immigrants and employers are out of luck. This fact is unbelievable, but true. Every year from 1992 to 2009, with the exception of 2008, the government simply failed to issue the full allotment of visas. According to the 2010 U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman report, nearly 750,000 visas went unused during this time. Immigrants who are the beneficiary of an approved immigrant petition from a U.S. employer cannot apply for permanent residency until their “priority date” comes up. The State Department estimates the priority date, but it cannot know the date for certain. It depends on how many people are waiting and how many of those who are waiting apply once their number does come up. Both of these factors are unknown. Thus, the State Department must guess. If it guesses wrong, not enough immigrants apply, and visa slots are lost.

  • Congress should recapture all of the lost visas since 1992 and create a provision that increases the quota in the following year by the number of visas that go unused in the prior year. These provisions were included in the Section 2304 of the Senate-passed 2013 immigration bill (p. 371).

7) The quota for immigrant workers without a bachelor’s degree is just 5,000. This figure is laughably low in light of the more than 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the United States—85 percent of whom have no college degree. It’s also absurd given that even in 2020, only 35 percent of job openings will require a four-year degree, while 36 percent will require no education at all after high school. These positions are not all “low-skilled” either. Dozens of occupations, like these, require no bachelor’s degree, but pay over $70,000, which is close to the threshold for getting “points” under the Trump immigration bill. Opponents of low-skilled immigration claim that these workers are a detriment to U.S. workers, but the empirical evidence indicates that this is false.

  • Congress should make available 100,000 visas for workers without a college degree. This is where a points system actually makes more sense. For college grads, the degree is a decent predictor of labor market success. For those with less than a college degree, there is significantly more variability in outcomes, so a points system could be a better predictor. The Senate bill’s Merit-Based Track 1, Tier 2 (pp. 354–356) provides a model for this type of point system.

8) The U.S. educates and trains a million foreign students and then sends them home to compete with us. This must rank highly among America’s worst economic policies. According to the National Academy of Science 2016 report on the fiscal effects of immigration, each foreign bachelor’s degree holder contributes, in net present value terms, between $210,000 and $330,000 more in taxes than they receive in benefits over their entire lifetime. For those with advanced degrees, it’s between $427,000 and $635,000 (p. 341). As my colleague Alex Nowrasteh has detailed, foreign-born immigrants contribute massively to innovation, entrepreneurship, and economic growth. Yet if the U.S. continues its current policy, they will do those things in other countries.

  • Congress should exempt from the immigration quotas foreign graduates of U.S. universities, at least for all science, technology, engineering, and math fields. The Senate bill’s Section 2307 would have exempted foreign physicians, doctorate degree holders from U.S. universities, and all advanced degree holders in science, technology, engineering, and math (pp. 407–409). This would be a good start.

9) The U.S. has a limit on the number of “extraordinary” immigrants that it will admit. The EB-1 visa category is for immigrants with “extraordinary ability,” “outstanding professors and researchers,” and multinational executives. These include Nobel Prize winners and those with “original scientific, scholarly, artistic, athletic, or business-related contributions of major significance to the field.” Yet bafflingly, we subject these immigrants to the same quota as other immigrants.

  • Congress should exempt all employment-based first preference immigrants from the quota system. The Senate bill’s Section 2307 would have implemented this change (pp. 404–407). Congress should immediately adopt these changes.

10) America has no entrepreneurship visa. Immigrants are roughly twice as likely to start a business in the United States as native-born Americans. Immigrants founded more than half of all new businesses in Silicon Valley from 1995 to 2005. In 2011, nearly 70,000 New York City immigrants owned more than 60 percent of the city’s small businesses. Almost all of the city’s dry cleaning and laundry services and taxi and limo services were immigrant owned. Yet somehow there is no permanent residency category for entrepreneurs. It goes without saying that this is exceptionally counterproductive. It’s important to emphasize that most immigrant entrepreneurs will not start the next Google, but even small business owners play an important role in keeping America’s economy competitive and innovative.

  • Congress should create a visa category for businesses owners and entrepreneurs. Sen. Jerry Moran’s Startup Act is the best available option to do so.

Note that these are just the reforms related to the process for permanent residency. There are equally as many reforms needed to the temporary work visa system. Moreover, the RAISE Act, the president’s preferred legal immigration reform, contains only one of these reforms (#3). It also makes #7 worse by completely eliminating all permanent residency visas for non-college grads. Surprisingly, the situation in #9 would be worse as well because the RAISE Act does not increase skilled visas at all. Instead, it would completely eliminate the EB-1 extraordinary ability category and replace it with a point system that is so convoluted that Nobel Prize winners may do worse than certain bachelor’s degree holders, as I’ve explained before.

CSBA’s Katherine Blakeley has published a brief but highly informative analysis of the prospects for a major military spending boost.

Bottom line up front: The combination of “procedural and political hurdles” in Congress make an increase along the lines of what the Trump administration requested (approx. $54 billion) unlikely. The substantially larger increases passed out of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees (roughly $30–33 billion more than the president’s request) seem even more fanciful.

Blakeley concludes:

The wide gulfs between the political parties, and between the defense hawks and the fiscal hawks, will not be closed soon. Additionally, the full legislative calendar of the Congress before September 30, 2017, including Obamacare repeal, FY 2018 appropriations, and an impending debt ceiling debate, increase the likelihood that FY 2018 will begin with a several-month-long continuing resolution, rather than a substantial increase in defense spending.  

This aligns with what I’ve suspected all along – but Blakeley provides critical details to back up her conclusions.

For years now, we’ve heard defense hawks say that adequately funding the defense budget shouldn’t be a struggle for a country as wealthy as the United States. A mere 4 percent of GDP, for example, should be a piece of cake. And, at one level, that is absolutely correct. It should be easy. But when you dig into it, as Blakeley has done, you discover that even 3 percent is a real struggle. After all, $50 billion – a rounding error in a $19 trillion economy – threatened to bring the entire budget process to a screeching halt in late June, and may do so again.

If and when a final budget deal is hammered out, the Pentagon’s Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account may provide at least some of the additional billions that the HASC and the SASC want. Because OCO is exempted from the bipartisan Budget Control Act’s spending caps, additional defense dollars do not have to come at the expense of non-defense discretionary spending, as President Trump’s budget proposed.

But many billions from the Pentagon’s base budget (i.e. non-war spending) have been shoved into the OCO for years now, and the gimmick is starting to wear thin – after all, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan peaked years ago. The voices in Congress and beyond who pushed the BCA in the first place, and who remain committed to reducing the deficit (e.g. current OMB chief Mick Mulvaney), are likely to feel that they’re being played.

The defense vs. non-defense spending debate is, and always has been, about politics, not math. And it isn’t obvious that the Pentagon will win this political battle. Given this uncertainty, we should adapt our military’s objectives to the means available to achieve them. We should prioritize U.S. security and defending vital national interests, and approach foreign adventures that don’t advance these interests with great caution. Expecting our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines to do the same – or more – with less money isn’t fair to them, and isn’t likely to work.

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