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David Boaz

The Establishment media really love laws and government. NPR, the Washington Post, Huffington Post, Pew Research, NBC, Politico – they’re all lamenting the “least productive Congress” ever. Or more precisely noting that the just-concluded 113th Congress was the second least productive Congress ever, second only to the 2011-12 112th Congress. But what’s the definition of a “productive Congress”? One that passes laws, of course, lots of laws. Congress passed only 286 laws in the past two years, exceeded in slackerdom only by the 283 passed in the previous two years of divided government.

Now journalists may well believe that passing laws is a good thing, and passing more laws is a better thing. But they would do well to mark that as an opinion. Many of us think that passing more laws – that is more mandates, bans, regulations, taxes, subsidies, boondoggles, transfer programs, and proclamations – is a bad thing. In fact, given that the American people pondered the “least productive Congress ever” twice, and twice kept the government divided between the two parties, it just might be that most Americans are fine with a Congress that passes fewer laws. 

Is a judge “less productive” if he imprisons fewer people? Is a policeman less productive if he arrests fewer people? Government involves force, and I would argue that less force in human relationships is a good thing. Indeed I would argue that a society that uses less force is a more civilized society. So maybe we should call the 112th and 113th Congresses the most civilized Congresses since World War II (the period of time actually covered by the claim “least productive ever”).

Dana Milbank of the Washington Post ups the ante from “least productive” to “by just about every measure, the worst Congress ever.” Seriously? Since I am confident that Mr. Milbank is not historically ignorant, I assume he’s just being rhetorically provocative. But just in case any of his readers might actually believe that claim, let me suggest a few other nominees for “worst Congress ever”:

The 31st Congress, which passed the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850

The 5th Congress, which passed the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798

The 21st Congress, which passed the Indian Removal Act in 1830

The 77th Congress, which passed Public Law 503, codifying President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 authorizing the internment of Japanese, German, and Italian Americans, in 1942

The 65th Congress, which passed the Eighteenth Amendment (Prohibition), the Espionage Act, and the Selective Service Act, and entered World War I, all in 1917

Worst Congress ever? The 113th isn’t even in the running. 

Patrick J. Michaels and Paul C. "Chip" Knappenberger

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

Here are a couple of items from around the web that caught our eye this week:

The first is an analysis of recent climate model performance undertaken by Steve McIntyre over at his now-famous “Climate Audit” blog. (Recall that McIntyre began his blog as a place to carefully examine—”audit”—the now infamous “hockeystick” representation of the earth’s surface temperature history of the past millennium or so.) In his latest post, McIntyre compares climate model predictions against real-world observations of the earth’s temperature over the past several decades—a task that is near and dear to our own hearts. (We have been in San Francisco this week at the annual fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union presenting a poster on a similar topic.)

McIntyre finds the discrepancy between models and reality to be “unprecedented” and described the results of his examination:

Equally noteworthy however—and of greater interest to [Climate Audit] readers where there has been more focus on model-observation discrepancy—is that the overheating discrepancy between models and surface temperatures in 2014 was the fourth highest in “recorded” history and that the 5 largest warm discrepancies have occurred in the past 6 years.  The cumulative discrepancy between models and observations is far beyond any previous precedent. This is true for both surface and satellite comparisons.

If this all sounds familiar, it’s because we reached a similar conclusion ourselves in our recent post, “Record Global Temperature—Conflicting Reports, Contrasting Implications,” where we noted:

For the past 16 straight years, climate models have collectively projected more warming than has been observed.

Our results (and Steve’s) follow from plots like the one below, showing the average expectations from climate models verses what really happened since 1980.


Global annual surface temperature anomalies from 1980 to 2014. The average of 108 climate models (red) and observations from NOAA (blue) are anomalies from the 20th century average. In the case of the NOAA observations, the 2014 value is the average of January-October.

There are a lot more details in the full McIntyre post, including an analysis of the satellite-derived temperatures of the lower atmosphere (which shows pretty much the same discrepancy with climate models as do surface observations). Also, there are interesting discussions in the comments section of the post regarding further details of assessments of climate model performance and their appropriateness. You ought to have a look, and while you are there, be sure to add “Climate Audit” to your “favorites” list—you won’t be disappointed.

Another post that caught our attention this week was this piece by Judith Curry over at “Climate Etc.” examining the issue of ethics and climate change policy. Curry focuses on a recent report from the Global Warming Policy Foundation authored by Peter Lee, a lecturer in ethics and political theory at the University of Portsmouth, adding her own comments along the way.

Curry highlights this extract from Lee’s paper:

Put more crudely, setting mitigation policy goals that cannot and will not be met, either because they are aiming beyond the scope of the knowable and do-able or because national political interests make them unrealistic and unattainable, is itself in practice less ethical than setting goals that are lower, but more readily achievable. I assume here that the greater the speculation and uncertainties involved, the weaker the ethical claim. Conversely, as the certainty increases, the stronger the ethical claim. If it is not apparent already, I am suggesting that a commitment to mitigation policies has a reduced ethical claim because of the unknowns and unknowables involved, whether those unknowns concern the future of the environment or the future of the poorest citizens on Earth. An ethical commitment to adaptation is at least rooted in actual events as they occur.

She conclude her remarks with:

I spent a lot of time reading and thinking about this essay. I haven’t previously encountered Peter Lee’s writings; I’ve googled him and it seems that climate change is a new topic for his writings. Lee is a very welcome voice to the complex debate on climate change ethics. I don’t agree with everything in his essay, but I found his overall perspective to be very fresh and I found some of his statements to be remarkably insightful.

The whole piece at “Climate Etc.” is well worth checking out.

Last, but certainly not least, President Obama and his pen remain tireless in throwing up roadblocks to all manner of development in the name of mitigating climate change. The latest congressional end-around comes in the form of proposed new guidelines issued by the White House Council on Environmental Policy for all federal projects (or projects requiring federal approval) to include the project’s effect on climate change. The Wall Street Journal’s Amy Harder describes the implications this way:

The White House is calling on federal agencies to consider the climate-change impact of a wide range of energy projects that require government approval.

The draft guidelines, released Thursday by the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality, are likely to affect fossil-fuel projects the most, such as pipelines, terminals that export coal and liquefied natural gas, and production of oil, natural gas and coal on public lands.

The ironic (if that is the right word) thing here is that while the new guidelines are aimed at climate change, they strongly dissuade the reporting agencies from actually reporting on the climate change effects of the projects under consideration. The White House prefers, instead, to limit the discussion to the greenhouse gas emissions (both direct and indirect) from the project, and how those emissions affect the larger goal of greenhouse gas emissions targets at the state or national level.

Apparently, it is preferable to say things like [emphasis in EPA original]:

 ● All told—the Plan puts our nation on track to cut carbon pollution from the power sector by 30 percent by 2030—that’s about 730 million metric tonnes of carbon pollution.

● That’s equal to the annual emissions from more than 150 million cars, or almost 2/3s of the nation’s passenger vehicles—or the annual emissions from powering 65 million homes, over half the homes in America.

But it’s not OK to say things like:

This Plan will mitigate global warming by less than two one-hundredths of a degree Celsius by the year 2100.

We note that the new White House guidelines are only in their draft form and are open for public comment. We won’t miss the opportunity to insert our two-cents’ worth (and probably a lot more).

Tim Lynch

Yesterday, the attorneys general of Nebraska and Oklahoma filed a complaint in United States Supreme Court. Nebraska and Oklahoma want the U.S. Supreme Court to declare Colorado’s Amendment 64, which legalized marijuana for adults, unconstitutional.

The gist of the complaint is that federal law prohibits possession of marijuana and that Colorado law “conflicts with and stands as an obstacle to the full purposes and objectives of” the federal government. Thus, the argument runs, Colorado’s Amendment 64 violates the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution and should be declared invalid. Unlike, say, Maine or Hawaii, Nebraska and Oklahoma border Colorado and claim that they suffer substantial and irreparable harm from Colorado’s new policy on marijuana. (Some residents of Nebraska and Oklahoma would rather drive across the border and buy weed legally in a store rather than engage in a criminal black market transaction closer to home. This cross-border activity upsets the authorities in both states, prompting the lawsuit).

Will the Supreme Court accept this case for review? That’s impossible to predict. However, the constitutional argument being advanced by Nebraska and Oklahoma is weak and so would likely fail. Just because the federal government enacts a law against marijuana, it does not follow that all the states have to enact laws against marijuana. And just because the federal police (FBI and DEA) have grown accustomed to having state and local police conduct marijuana raids and arrests, it does not follow that the local authorities can stop doing that. So long as the local police are not arresting or threatening to arrests federal agents for trying to enforce the federal law, there is no “conflict.” Thus, the Supremacy Clause does not come into play.

Here is an excerpt from a Cato paper by Robert Mikos on this subject:

The American Constitution divides governmental power between the federal government and several state governments. In the event of a conflict between federal law and state law, the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution (Article VI, Clause 2) makes it clear that state policies are subordinate to federal policies. There are, however, important limitations to the doctrine of federal supremacy.

First, there must be a valid constitutional basis for the federal policy in question. The powers of the federal government are limited and enumerated, and the president and Congress must always respect the boundary lines that the Constitution created.

Second, even in the areas where federal authorities may enact law, they may not use the states as instruments of federal governance. This anticommandeering limitation upon federal power is often overlooked, but the Supreme Court will enforce that principle in appropriate cases.

Using medical marijuana as a case study, I examine how the anticommandeering principle protects the states’ prerogative to legalize activity that Congress bans. The federal government has banned marijuana outright, and for years federal officials have lobbied against local efforts to legalize medical use of the drug. However, an ever-growing number of states have adopted legalization measures. I explain why these state laws, and most related regulations, have not been—and cannot be—preempted by Congress.

Jim Harper

George Clooney has now joined North Korea’s UN ambassador Ja Song Nam in bandying charges of “terrorism” against a foe. North Korea’s emissary in New York complained in July that the production of Sony’s film, The Interview, was “the most undisguised sponsoring of terrorism as well as an act of war.”

So, too, according to Clooney, was the threat leveled by unknown persons against theaters that might show the film: “Then, to turn around and threaten to blow people up and kill people, and just by that threat alone we change what we do for a living, that’s the actual definition of terrorism,” he said.

We don’t know more about the definition, but the ambassador and Mr. Clooney do teach us about usage. “Terrorism” is a debased, all-puropose charge anyone can use against anyone. There is a special variant of the word in which the results of an action provide conclusive evidence of the motive behind it. Because U.S. theaters yanked The Interview from their Christmas day schedules, Clooney can plausibly call the threat “terrorism.” Had most people, like me, assumed the threat to be an idle prank, it would not have been terrorism.

I remain unpersuaded of a North Korean connection or anyone’s meaningful capacity or willingness to attack theaters. The most proximate cause of The Interview’s cancelation, it seems to me, is risk aversion on the part of theater owners’ lawyers. They apparently concluded that an attack could be a forseeable cause of death and injury, for which owners could be liable. (Go ahead, reformers. Call trial lawyers “terrorists.”)

Subject matter expert Paddy Hillyard, a Professor of Sociology at Queen’s University, Belfast, eschews the term “terrorism,” for reasons he articulated in a 2010 Cato Unbound. He particpated in Cato’s study of terrorism and counterterrorism (conference, forum, book). I’m one of many who don’t believe that “cyberterrorism” even exists.

The greatest risk in all this is that loose talk of terrorism and “cyberwar” lead nations closer to actual war. Having failed to secure its systems, Sony has certainly lost a lot of money and reputation, but for actual damage to life and limb, you ain’t seen nothing like real war. It is not within well-drawn boundaries of U.S. national security interests to avenge wrongs to U.S. subsidiaries of Japanese corporations. Governments in the U.S. should respond to the Sony hack with nothing more than ordinary policing and diplomacy.

Daniel J. Mitchell

Like a lot of libertarians and small-government conservatives, I’m prone to pessimism. How can you be cheerful, after all, when you look at what’s been happening in our lifetimes.

New entitlement programs, adopted by politicians from all parties, are further adding to the long-run spending crisis.

The federal budget has become much bigger, luring millions of additional people into government dependency.

The tax code has become even more corrupt and complex, with more than 4,600 changes just between 2001 and 2012 according to a withering report from outgoing Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.

And let’s not forget the essential insight of “public choice” economics, which tells us that politicians care first and foremost about their own interests rather than the national interest. So what’s their incentive to address these problems, particularly if there’s some way to sweep them under the rug and let future generations bear the burden?

And if you think I’m being unduly negative about political incentives and fiscal responsibility, consider the new report from the European Commission, which found that politicians from EU member nations routinely enact budgets based on “rosy scenarios.” As the EU Observer reported:

EU governments are too optimistic about their economic prospects and their ability to control public spending, leading to them continually missing their budget targets, a European Commission paper has argued. …their growth projections are 0.6 percent higher than the final figure, while governments who promise to cut their deficit by 0.2 percent of GDP, typically tend to increase their gap between revenue and spending by the same amount.

Needless to say, American politicians do the same thing with their forecasts. If you don’t believe me, just look at the way the books were cooked to help impose Obamacare.

But set aside everything I just wrote because now I’m going to tell you that we’re making progress and that it’s actually not that difficult to constructively address America’s fiscal problems.

First, let’s look at how we’ve made progress. I just wrote a piece for The Hill. It’s entitled “Republicans are Winning the Fiscal Fight” and it includes lots of data on what’s been happening over the past five years, including the fact that there’s been no growth in the federal budget.

You should read the entire thing for full context, but here are a few brief excerpts on why the left can’t be feeling very happy right now.

…Democrats presumably can’t be happy that the lion’s share of the Bush tax cuts were made permanent. …revenues are now projected to average only 18 percent of GDP over the next 10 years…a smaller tax burden than we had throughout the Clinton years. And you can’t finance big government in the long run without a lot more revenue. And they definitely can’t be happy that domestic discretionary spending is now below where it was during the Bush years, when measured as a share of GDP. And with sequester-enforced budget caps, it’s quite likely that number will drop even further. …Perhaps even more important, looking forward, is that House Republicans for four consecutive years have approved budget resolutions that assume genuine reform of Medicare and Medicaid. And they’ve won their biggest majority since before World War II, so GOPers can feel reasonably confident that voters (perhaps sobered up by the fiscal disarray in Europe) understand the need to modernize these programs.

By the way, the point about keeping taxes under control is critical. Simply stated, it’s virtually impossible for government to get much bigger without a stream of new revenue (or, in the case of a value-added tax, a river of new revenue).

Let’s now focus on the second issue, which is how we can maintain this progress.

Here’s a chart I put together back in September that showed projected revenue over the next 10 years (blue line). I then showed what happens if spending is left on autopilot and also what happens if policymakers simply restrain spending so that it grows 2 percent annually (gold line), which is actually a bit higher than inflation.

As you can see, it’s very simple to achieve a budget surplus. And we don’t even need the same amount of spending restraint that we enjoyed over the past five years!

The challenge, of course, is that Obama and many other politicians (including quite a few Republicans) don’t want government on a diet. After all, why let government “only” grow 2 percent each year when you can please the lobbyists, bureaucrats, cronyists, contractors, and other insiders by letting spending increase two or three times faster than inflation?

Fiscal probity isn’t easy. Genuine spending restraint not only means saying no to special interests and campaign contributors, it also means picking smart fights. In some cases, Obama and the left may dig in their heels and threaten a partial government shutdown in hopes of getting bigger budgets.

Sometimes such fights are unwise, but there’s a very strong case to be made that the GOP ultimately prevailed in the 1995 and 2013 shutdown battles.

The bottom line, as illustrated by this amusing A.F. Branco cartoon, is that Republicans shouldn’t automatically wilt if there’s a fight over something that really matters - such as a growing burden of government spending.

And it also means not falling back into bad habits. Republicans were profligate big spenders during the Bush years and it’s not easy to stay on the wagon of spending restraint.

This Lisa Benson cartoon is a good illustration of what will happen if GOPers cater too much to special interests.

For more information showing how it is simple to make progress, here’s my video explaining how simple it is to balance the budget with modest spending restraint. It’s several years old, so just keep in mind the chart above as you watch.

Though I hasten to add that the real goal isn’t balancing the budget. I’m far more interested in restoring a limited, constitutionally restrained federal government.

If we do that, fiscal balance is an easy and obvious consequence. In other words, if you deal with the underlying disease of too much government, you automatically eliminate the symptom of red ink.

P.S. Since I mentioned government shutdowns, I should point out some very good cartoons and jokes on that topic. They can be viewed here, here, here, here, and here.

K. William Watson

President Obama made a number of spot-on arguments yesterday for why the United States should end the ineffective trade embargo that has helped impoverish the people of Cuba for over fifty years.  However, the core components of the embargo are statutory law that will require an act of Congress to overturn.  While it’s very encouraging to see the president take a leadership role in pursuit of a good policy, getting Republicans on board is going to be difficult to say the least.

Over the last 20 years, there have been 11 votes in the two houses of Congress seeking to eliminate or amend the Cuba embargo.  In all of those votes, loosening the embargo got majority opposition from Republicans.  According to Cato’s trade votes database, it wasn’t even close.  Republican support for the embargo has ranged from 61% (in support of travel ban) to 91% (in support of import ban) with the average level of support at 77.5%.  Indeed, in 2005 more Republicans voted to withdraw the United States from the World Trade Organization than voted to end the Cuba embargo.

That’s not to say that positive movement on the embargo in a Republican congress is impossible.  There are encouraging signs as well: shifting opinion among Cuban Americans alters the electoral politics of the embargo in favor of opposition; resurgent emphasis on free markets may temper the Republican party’s reflexive love for belligerent foreign policy; and long-time Republican opponents of the embargo will now have renewed energy. 

In practical terms, embargo opponents will need to persuade House leadership to schedule a vote and find enough support in the Senate to overcome an inevitable filibuster from Marco Rubio and others.  It may not be impossible, but there’s a lot of heavy lifting left to do.  Hopefully, the President’s actions will be enough to get the ball rolling toward more reform of this antiquated and harmful policy.

Alex Nowrasteh


Last week I was on an immigration panel discussing my new booklet Open Immigration: Yea & Nay, coauthored with Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies.  The other panelists were Michael Barone, George Will, Andrew McCarthy, and John Fonte.  They all had interesting comments about the booklet and the issue of immigration broadly.  However, I do want to take issue with some comments by John Fonte about the assimilation of immigrants and his view that the United States needs a modern version of the Americanization movement – an early 20th century initiative that sought to assimilate newcomers rapidly into American civic life.  Fonte claims that modern immigrants just aren’t assimilating as well as previous waves of immigrants, especially in their patriotism, because there is no modern equivalent of the Americanization movement to help them. 

During the event, I challenged Fonte’s claims about both the assimilation rates of today’s immigrants as well as the effectiveness of the Americanization Movement.  On the former point, research by Jacob Vigdor and others shows solid and sustained assimilation of immigrants over the generations that is comparable to the assimilation rates of previous immigrant groups.  On the latter point about the effectiveness of the Americanization movement, I mentioned that there were no data available from the early 20th century to confirm or disconfirm that it was responsible for the assimilation of immigrants in those groups.  Fonte countered by saying [2:44:15]: “It’s true we don’t have data on how well assimilation worked, but I think we have plenty of anecdotal evidence that Americanization did help.”  Elsewhere Fonte writes “assimilation of the Ellis Island generation succeeded only because American elites (progressive at the time) insisted upon ‘Americanization.’”  The success of the Americanization movement is an empirical question but there is precious little data from that time period.  There may be some anecdotes available that support his position so I will list some others below that question the effectiveness of the Americanization movement.    

Fonte and I clearly disagree over how successful current immigrant assimilation is in the United States, but this blog will focus on the little-researched and less understood Americanization movement of last century.  Contrary to Fonte’s claims, the Americanization movement had no discernible impacts on immigrant assimilation at best and, at worst, it may have slowed down assimilation.  The Americanization movement was not a benevolent government program that sought to assimilate immigrants into American society so much as it was an avenue for American opponents of immigration to vent their frustrations about immigrants.  Such an atmosphere of hostility could not produce greater assimilation.  The Americanization movement, however, did create an air of government-forced homogeneity similar to the government policies of Russia, Hungary, and Germany that tried to forcibly assimilate ethnic and linguistic minorities with tragic consequences – an experience many immigrants came to America to avoid.  The Americanization movement replaced the tolerant cosmopolitanism (for the most part) that defined America’s experience with immigration up to that point, and represented a low-water mark of American confidence in the assimilationist power of her institutions.  Below I will lay out the history of the Americanization movement, how it worked, and why it was likely ineffective.

History of the Americanization Movement  

The Americanization Movement was a concerted effort during the late 19th and early 20th centuries to help new immigrants settle and assimilate into America’s civic culture with the intent of promoting patriotism and productivity. These efforts primarily took the form of English language classes and courses in American civics but suffered from vague definitions of what “Americanization” meant besides learning the language, being loyal to the United States, and accepting our republican form of government.[i]  The Americanization movement was originally started by non-profit organizations with business support but it eventually grew to include government subsidies, public educational policy changes, and the creation of national holidays.

The arrival of the so-called “new immigrants” in the late nineteenth century prompted the Americanization movement.  As Chart 1 shows, “old immigrants” to the republic had come from the British Isles and northern Europe.  As Chart 2 show, immigrants arriving after 1890 came from Southern and Eastern Europe and were more likely to be Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Jewish – religions that were not as common in late nineteenth-century America.

Chart 1

Immigrants by Region of Origin (1820-1889)

Source: Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, 2011.


Chart 2

Immigrants by Region of Origin (1890-1920)


Source: Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, 2011.


The perception among many Americans at this time was that these old immigrants were quick to assimilate and adopt the values of longer-settled Americans because of their religious, cultural, and racial similarities with native-born Americans.  Catholic Irish and German immigrants prompted the first Nativist movement in the mid-19th century but for the most part the slow but steady assimilation of these old immigrants was still accepted by Americans prior to 1890.  Perceptions of new immigrants started to change as they began to come from more southern, eastern, Catholic, and Jewish parts of Europe.  The rural-settling protestant Swedes and Germans who were out of sight were not a major cause for concern but the urban-settling Catholic Italians, Orthodox Russians, and Jewish Poles were. 

The First-Phase

The early Americanization movement was born out of the movement to restrict lawful immigration.  The first such group was the American Protective Association (APA), started in 1887.  It was quickly followed by the more successful Immigration Restriction League (IRL), which was founded in 1894 by New England nativists.  Its goal was to restrict future immigration and aid new immigrants in assimilating.[ii]  For decades IRL lobbied for restrictions, and the IRL’s Prescott Hall blamed the lobby of “Jews, Jesuits, and Steamships” for delaying the IRL’s legislative agenda.[iii]   The IRL did not teach many immigrants English or civics because lobbying to restrict immigration was a fulltime job.  In this first-phase, calls for assimilation or Americanization were just smokescreens to soften the anti-immigration message of these groups.

The Second-Phase

The second-phase of the Americanization movement was led by civil society, non-profits, and American firms.  After proponents of immigration restrictions started the Americanization movement, better-intentioned non-profits entered the fray and began to focus on actual immigrant assimilation. The Educational Alliance of New York City (EANYC) was founded in 1890 by American Jews to provide night classes and day-time programs in American history, English, biology, preparation for public schools, and practical economic skills like dress-making to newly-arrived Jewish immigrants who settled in New York’s lower East Side.[iv]  In 1906, the Society for Italian Immigrants copied the EANYC’s idea but expanded it to far-flung worksites populated by Italian immigrants.[v]

The North American Civic League for Immigrants (NACLI), created in Boston in 1907, provided rudimentary English courses for immigrants.  Boston had the added benefit of being smaller and logistically cheaper than New York City, and therefore a space for easier experimentation with Americanization programs for immigrants.  NACLI’s founders were conservatives who wanted to protect the status quo by aiding assimilation without resorting to immigration restrictions.[vi]  Unlike other organizations, the NACLI franchised its methods and expanded into New York City and elsewhere along the eastern seaboard.  NACLI’s methods were copied and applied by local groups across the nation. The most notable of these ersatz organizations was the Chicago-based Immigrants Protective League (IPL) formed in 1908.

In 1907 the New York chapter of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) began offering evening classes for immigrants in English, naturalization, and civics.[vii] By 1912, 300 branches of the YMCA had taught over 55,000 immigrants in topics as varied as English, personal hygiene, sanitation, geography, industrial safety, and American government.[viii]  55,000 students was less than 1 percent of the total number of new immigrants who came during those years and an even smaller percent of the total stock of the foreign born living in the United States at the time so it is hard to see how the YMCA’s efforts had much impact on wider assimilation trends.    

After working more closely with the YMCA, the NACLI changed names to the Committee for Immigrants in America (CIA) and began to fund local Americanization programs across the country and develop a curriculum for smaller groups.[ix]  The CIA’s funding was so important for the movement that without it, the Federal Bureau of Education and other government agencies would have been unable to aid immigrants at all – and indeed once they ceased their funding of other groups, the movement died. 

Industrialists like Henry Ford and the numerous Chambers of Commerce also participated in the Americanization movement under the belief that it would increase worker productivity and halt the growing influence of socialism.  Many employers were concerned that significant portions of their workforce were unable to understand basic workplace instructions in English, and to this extent industry’s support of Americanization was purely pragmatic and almost entirely devoted to English language instruction.  Civics education was an afterthought to worker training and would remain so until the wave of socialist and anarchist activity in Europe culminated with the February and October Revolutions in Russia.

Union violence was another major reason why businesses supported immigrant assimilation.  A violent strike broke out in 1912 in Lawrence, Massachusetts, a major manufacturing city with immigrants from 51 countries.  The strike occurred because worker income decreased in the city after the state of Massachusetts limited working hours, but many Americans and Progressives decided to blame supposedly dysfunctional immigrant assimilation instead of the misguided economic regulations.[x]  Indications that some of the workers had socialist and extreme left-wing political ties further spooked many Americans, prompting support for assimilation programs[xi] despite indications that most were not politically radical.[xii]

The Third-Phase

The Third-Phase of the Americanization movement was dominated by the local, state, and federal governments.  New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, California, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island set up state organizations to study immigration and aid in assimilation.  The first goal of the bureaus was to subsidize immigrant assimilation through language and civics classes.  The second goal was to educate immigrants on how to use American institutions like the courts and police. These state bureaus encouraged immigrants to trust American legal institutions – a goal eagerly sought by local and state governments.[xiii]

Public schools at the state and local level also joined the Americanization effort by mandating civics classes for all students and English classes for immigrants.  In the first decade of the twentieth century, the cities of New York, Chicago, Detroit, Rochester, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Buffalo, Cincinnati, and Boston began offering special night classes for immigrants.[xiv]  In 1907, New Jersey was the first state government to support night classes in English and civics for immigrants, a program followed by other states.[xv]  Around this time, compulsory civics classes, display of the American flag, and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance became mandatory in virtually all schools in the United States with the exceptions of the states of Vermont, Oklahoma, Iowa, and Wyoming.  Naturalization celebrations accompanied with public ceremonies began to be held in Philadelphia in 1915, and July 4th of that year was known as Americanization Day in many communities across the country.[xvi] 

The United States military also got involved in the Americanization movement as it mobilized for World War I.  When the United States entered World War I in 1917 and enacted the draft, it became clear that the immigrant service members needed instruction in the English language to ensure that they could follow basic military commands.  The military was also worried that German and Austrian immigrants might have sympathy for their home countries in any military conflict, presumably presenting a national defense issue.  The military created groups like the National Security League and the Council on National Defense to provide immigrants with English instruction – primarily in the form of military commands – during the First World War. 

The military’s efforts were paralleled by civilian government agencies like the Foreign Language Information Bureau, the National Committee of Patriotic Literature, the National Security League, the American Defense Society, and others that stuffed the mailboxes of immigrant households and filled the airwaves with patriotic pro-assimilation programs.[xvii]  Women’s clubs associated with those groups took it upon themselves to travel to immigrant homes and, in a friendly tone, try to educate the inhabitants about the benefits of Americanizing.  One popular and possibly apocryphal story illustrated how these societies were mostly pushing against an open door.  On one such trip, the women’s club knocked on the door of a tenement occupied by a Bohemian immigrant who asked that the women come back next week. They protested by saying, “What!  You mean that you … want to put off your entrance into American life?”  “No, no!,” the Bohemian replied.”  We’re perfectly willing to be Americanized.  Why, we never turn any of them away.  But there’s nobody home but me.  The boys volunteered, my man’s working on munitions, and all the rest are out selling Liberty bonds.  I don’t want you to get mad, but can’t you come back next week?”[xviii]  

The National Americanization Committee (NAC) looked toward German-Americans as the face of its Americanization efforts, promoting the son of U.S. Civil War Union general Franz Sigel to the president of the Friends of German Democracy – a group devoted to spreading patriotic ideals amongst German-Americans.[xix]   The military scaled back its Americanization program after World War I ended, but the non-military government agencies were not dissolved.

The Federal Bureau of Education (FBE) was the chief civil government agency involved with the Americanization movement during the 1910s.  FBE developed civics and English curriculum from those provided by the NAC, the CIA, and other key groups in civil society.  The Bureau of Naturalization (BN) provided similar services by coordinating with the public school system.  Despite lobbying by the BN, no additional agencies were created to oversee immigrant assimilation.  Although the BN was a government agency, almost all of its material was borrowed from private groups and much of its funding came from donations.  The failure to create an additional agency doomed the BN to failure when the non-profits removed their funding.

The Effects of the Americanization Movement and Its End

Shortly after the end of World War I, BN’s position in the Americanization movement faded along with the rest of the movement.  The public had become apathetic toward Americanization of immigrants while the immigrants themselves, the supposed beneficiaries of these efforts, had begun to more openly express resentment over mistreatment and insults by Americanizers – even to the point that some Americanizers were worried that their efforts were backfiring and delaying assimilation.[xx]  The patronizing attitudes of many Americanizers, who were often overtly nationalistic and hostile to immigration, turned many immigrants off to Americanization – often stunting what would have been a natural assimilation process.  Instead of Americanization relying on the “attractive power and the sweet reasonableness of the thing itself,” as commissioner of education P.P. Claxton said, it took a tone of forcefulness.[xxi]  That tone commanded and cajoled immigrants to abandon entirely their Old World loyalties, customs, and memories by using high-pressure steamroller tactics.[xxii]     

Many Americanization programs existed to serve American immigration restrictionists and were backfiring in their efforts to assimilate immigrants.  As historian John Higham explained, the Americanization movement had two aspects to it.  The first drew its support from folks who genuinely wanted to aid in the assimilation of immigrants by catering to their needs.  The second was often an imperious demand for total national conformity that appealed greatly to one segment of the American public but produced small results when it came to assimilation.[xxiii]

Immigrant writers from many different ethnic groups claimed that Americanization programs disrupted the natural assimilation process and bred resentment against patriotism in immigrant communities.[xxiv]  In the years 1919-1920, the height of the Americanization movement, editorials in many foreign-language presses in the United States expressed their disapproval.  These editorials almost always acknowledged the importance of assimilation, of learning English, and of learning about American civics, but they objected to the harsh tone of national superiority that was prevalent among the most extreme Americanizers.[xxv] 

As one Polish-language newspaper expressed in 1919, “Under the present conditions foreigners are likely to take out naturalization papers simply in order to be left unmolested [by Americanizers].  This is a foolish movement which creates hypocrisy.”[xxvi]  A publication in the same paper wrote that Americanization “smacks decidedly of Prussianism, and it is not at all in accordance with American ideals of freedom.”[xxvii]  A Russian newspaper in Pennsylvania in 1919 wrote:

Many Americanization Committees only exist on paper.  They make much noise, get themselves in newspapers, but do not do much good.  They mostly laugh at the poor foreigners.  If Americans want to help the immigrants, they must meet them with love.  The immigrant is by no means stupid.  He feels the patronizing attitude the American [Americanizers] adopts towards him, and therefore never opens his soul.[xxviii]

Another Russian newspaper in New York in the same year complained that “Americanization expects no contribution from those who are to be assimilated.  It is based on the certitude that America is rich in everything and is in need of nothing new.”[xxix] An Italian newspaper in Pennsylvania in 1920 wrote, “Americanization is an ugly word.  Today it means to proselytize by making the foreign-born forget his mother country and mother tongue.”[xxx]  In the same year, a Slovak periodical in Pittsburgh complained that “[t]here is a mistaken notion among some well-meaning people that the foreign-born would be better Americans if they understood the Constitution of the United States … the average American native does not know it either, and yet he has some very clear conceptions of right and wrong.” 

Americanizers also became worried that their efforts were backfiring.  Carol Aronovici of the California State Commission of Immigration and Housing wrote that “the spectacle of the rabid and ignorant Americanization efforts was disheartening” to immigrants and reminded many of them of the negative experiences they had with homogenizing and discriminatory policies in their home countries. [xxxi]   Magyarization in Hungary and the persecution of Poles and Jews in the Russian Empire were particularly vivid examples.[xxxii]  Americanizer Frances Kellor, whom Higham described as “half reformer, half nationalist”[xxxiii] wrote that “alien baiting” and “repressive measures” by many in the Americanization movement blunted its effectiveness.  In 1920, she summarized the situation thusly:

Now that the war is over we are discovering that while it has cemented new friendships among races, and has promoted cooperation between some natives and foreign-born Americans, it has just as definitely created new racial antagonisms and brought about new misunderstandings between individuals.  The American, influenced as he is by the spread of Bolshevism and by the prevalence of unrest, as well as by some spectacular evidences of disloyalty among some aliens during the war, leans more and more toward repression and intolerance of differences.  The immigrant is sensitive to this change and, as he is constantly receiving messages from abroad urging him to return home, he is becoming less friendly toward America.  For this reason, assimilation measures, which might have been undertaken with ease and success before the war, now yield but little result, even with greater effort.[xxxiv] 

By the early 1920s, a revived Ku Klux Klan became popular and began to clamor for immigration restrictions.  They began to use “Americanization” as an argument to keep out Eastern and Southern European immigrants – claiming that Americanization meant turning over power to the “not de-Americanized average citizens of the old stock,” according to Imperial Wizard Hiram Wesley Evans.[xxxv]  Reducing the new stock of immigrants was essential to the KKK’s Americanization platform.  The word “Americanization” had become tainted. 

In the midst of this change and worries over the failings of Americanization, the NAC and other organizations disbanded, depriving the BN and other government agencies of funds that Congress did not replace.  Compared to the joyful fanfare that came with the birth of the Americanization movement, its death was silent and not mourned.    

Some Americanization successor groups continued after the larger movement subsided. The Immigrants Protective League (IPL), still based in Chicago, reorganized itself several times over the following century and is currently known as the Heartland Alliance.  Some smaller groups like the International Institute of Los Angeles, founded by the Young Christian Women’s Association (YCWA) in 1914, have managed to weather the years, but their goals have changed.  These new groups are general immigrant aid groups and concern themselves more with providing charity to low-income immigrant households and offering pro bono or cheap legal services.

The more lasting effects of the Americanization movement were reforms in educational curricula on the state and local levels, the creation of new American holidays, and the adoption of citizenship ceremonies meant to inspire patriotism.  Part of the push to celebrate Columbus Day during the 1890s, around the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ landing in the New World, was to provide a nationalistic holiday that would appeal to new immigrant groups from Southern Europe, particularly Italy, while providing an opportunity to teach civics to immigrants.  Colorado was the first state to make Columbus Day a holiday in 1905, followed by the federal government in 1934.  Interestingly, Columbus Day was in direct competition with another proto-holiday in the 1890s that was intended to celebrate Leif Erikson as the first European discoverer of the New World.  Columbus Day won out in part because “Leif Erikson Day” was intended to exclude Catholics and other groups that the holiday’s proponents thought were un-American.


The Americanization movement was brief, its efforts unevenly applied, and there is no actual evidence that it sped up civic and political assimilation.  As John J. Miller wrote: “[t]here is no way to judge with any precision the effect that the Americanization movement has on immigrant assimilation, or what would have happened in its absence.”  In the absence of empirical evidence supporting the effectiveness of the Americanization movement, its supporters should be agnostic instead of calling for its revival.  There are plenty of anecdotes that the Americanization Movement slowed assimilation by creating resentment among the immigrants who were the intended beneficiaries.  Given the brief history of the Americanization movement and its small long-term reforms like mandatory recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance in classrooms, it is unlikely that it was responsible for the civic and political assimilation of immigrants 100 years ago. 

The Americanization movement served the interests of those who used it as a platform to complain about immigrants.  If such an Americanization program were recreated today, it would be captured by either similar opponents of immigration or by left-wing groups who support a leftist multicultural vison of America – certainly an outcome that would horrify John Fonte and other modern proponents of Americanization.  There is little basis to assume that a revived program similar to it would speed up the civic and political assimilation of immigrants today and, rather, would likely slow it down. 

The Americanization and assimilation of immigrants and their descendants is very important.  So important, in fact, that we should not trust this vital task to incompetent government agencies but rather to the assimilationist culture and institutions of civil society that have successfully assimilated every previous group of immigrants and continue to do so today.  The Americanization and assimilation machine is not broken so let’s not break it with an ill-considered “fix” by reviving an ineffective 100-year old model.  

[i] John J. Miller, The Unmaking of Americans: How Multiculturalism Has Undermined America’s Assimilation Ethic,” The Free Press, New York, NY 1998, p. 52.  

[ii] Edward George Hartmann, The Movement to Americanize the Immigrant, Columbia University Press, New York, NY 1948, p. 23.

[iii] Aristide R. Zolberg, A Nation By Design, Russell Sage Foundation, New York, NY 2006, p. 216.

[iv] Edward George Hartmann, The Movement to Americanize the Immigrant, Columbia University Press, New York, NY 1948, pp. 25-26.

[v] Ibid., p. 27.

[vi] John Higham, Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism 1860-1925, Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, New Jersey 1955, p. 240.

[vii] Miller, pp. 54-55.  

[viii] Hartmann, p. 29 and Miller, p. 55.  

[ix] Hartmann, p. 97.

[x] Miller, p. 43.  

[xi] Ibid., p. 44.  

[xii] Miller, pp. 49-50.  

[xiii] Hartmann, p. 70.

[xiv] Ibid., p. 24. 

[xv] Ibid., p. 36.

[xvi] Ibid., p. 111.

[xvii] Higham, p. 245.

[xviii] Ibid., p. 246.

[xix] Hartmann, pp. 205-206.

[xx] Ibid., pp. 252-253.

[xxi] Miller, p. 86. 

[xxii] Higham, p. 247.

[xxiii] Ibid., pp. 237-238.

[xxiv] Hartmann, pp. 255-256.

[xxv] Ibid., p. 258.

[xxvi] Ibid., p. 256.

[xxvii] Ibid.

[xxviii] Ibid., p. 258.

[xxix] Ibid., p. 257.

[xxx] Ibid.

[xxxi] Ibid., pp. 254-255.

[xxxii] Ibid.

[xxxiii] Higham, p. 239.

[xxxiv] Hartmann, pp. 259-260.

[xxxv] Miller, pp. 78-79.  



Doug Bandow

President Barack Obama used negotiations over a couple of imprisoned Americans to refashion the entire U.S.-Cuba relationship. He aims to reopen the embassy, relax trade and travel restrictions, and improve communication systems.

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida charged the administration with appeasement because the president proposed to treat Cuba like the U.S. treats other repressive states. But President Obama only suggested that government officials talk to one another. And that peoples visit and trade with one another.

More than a half century ago Fidel Castro took power in Havana. In the midst of the Cold War the Kennedy administration feared that Cuba would serve as an advanced base for the Soviet Union. Having tried and failed to overthrow the regime militarily, Washington saw an economic embargo as the next best option.

But that didn’t work either. Even after the Soviet Union collapsed and Moscow ended subsidies for Cuba, sanctions achieved nothing.

Today Cuba’s Communist system continues to stagger along. The only certainty is that economic sanctions have failed.

Failed to bring down the regime. Failed to liberalize the system. Failed to free political prisoners. Failed to achieve much of anything useful.

After more than 50 years.

But that should surprise no one. Sanctions are most likely to work if they are universal and narrowly focused. For instance, the Institute for International Economics found that economic sanctions did best with limited objectives, such as “modest” policy change.

Similarly, a Government Accountability Office review noted that “sanctions are more effective in achieving such modest goals as upholding international norms and deterring future objectionable actions” than in forcing major changes, such as committing political suicide. As long as Washington demands that Cuba release political prisoners, return property, and hold free elections sanctions will be the lesser evil.

Yet for a half century Washington has insisted that the Castros dismantle their Communist dictatorship. A great goal. But until Havana’s Gorbachev appears, it ain’t going to happen, whatever sanctions the U.S. imposes.

The embargo also is advanced as moral recompense, punishing the Communist revolutionaries who oppressed the Cuban people and stole their property. Of course, the same could be said of most every other government, including democratic ones and America’s own.

Moreover, those in charge don’t seem to notice the alleged punishment. General embargoes hurt average folks far more than elites, who are most able to manipulate the system.

In fact, the embargo has provided the regime with a wonderful excuse for its failings. The Castros always could point to Yanqui Imperialism as the cause of the Cuban people’s travails. Many regime opponents, such as Elizardo Sanchez Santa Cruz, who I met on my (legal) trip a decade ago, criticized U.S. policy.

As I point out in Forbes online, “perhaps the worst consequence of the embargo, however, was helping to turn a murderous windbag into a towering international figure. Fidel Castro never much mattered, but he became a symbol of resistance to America because Washington focused attention on him. Ignoring him and flooding his island with tourists and businessmen would have denied him his global podium and claim of victimhood.”

Encouraging travel and trade would promote regime change better than all the money spent on Radio Marti. One shouldn’t oversell the political impact of commerce. But it’s hard to name a dictatorship anywhere ended by isolation. And if the latter policy hasn’t worked for 50 years in Cuba, it’s time to try something else.

There are plenty of good reasons to criticize President Obama on foreign policy. However, he’s got Cuba policy right.

Long ago it was evident that the embargo had failed and deserved to be repealed. (And that America’s embassy should be reopened, as the president also proposed.) If conservative Republicans believe in recognizing reality and getting results, as they claim, they should back trade and engagement with Cuba.

Paul C. "Chip" Knappenberger and Patrick J. Michaels

Global Science Report is a feature from the Center for the Study of Science, where we highlight one or two important new items in the scientific literature or the popular media. For broader and more technical perspectives, consult our monthly “Current Wisdom.”

Pat Michaels is in San Francisco this week attending the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) and presenting a poster detailing the widening mismatch between observations of the earth’s temperature and climate model projections of its behavior. Since most global warming concern (including that behind regulatory action) stems from the projections of climate models as to how the earth’s temperature will evolve as we emit greenhouse gases into the atmosphere (as a result of burning fossil fuels to produce energy), it is important to keep a tab on how the model projections are faring when compared with reality. That they are faring not very well should be more widely known—Pat will spread the word while there.

We don’t want those of you who are unable to attend the conference to think you are missing out on anything, so we have reformatted our poster presentation to fit this blog format (it is available in its original format here).


Quantifying the Lack of Consistency between Climate Model Projections and Observations of the Evolution of the Earth’s Average Surface Temperature since the Mid-20th Century

Patrick J. Michaels, Center for the Study of Science, Cato Institute, Washington DC

Paul C. Knappenberger, Center for the Study of Science, Cato Institute, Washington DC


Recent climate change literature has been dominated by studies which show that the equilibrium climate sensitivity is better constrained than the latest estimates from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the U.S. National Climate Assessment (NCA) and that the best estimate of the climate sensitivity is considerably lower than the climate model ensemble average. From the recent literature, the central estimate of the equilibrium climate sensitivity is ~2°C, while the climate model average is ~3.2°C, or an equilibrium climate sensitivity that is some 40% lower than the model average.

To the extent that the recent literature produces a more accurate estimate of the equilibrium climate sensitivity than does the climate model average, it means that the projections of future climate change given by both the IPCC and NCA are, by default, some 40% too large (too rapid) and the associated (and described) impacts are gross overestimates.

CAPTION: Climate sensitivity estimates from new research beginning in 2011 (colored), compared with the assessed range given in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) and the collection of climate models used in the IPCC AR5. The “likely” (greater than a 66% likelihood of occurrence) range in the IPCC Assessment is indicated by the gray bar. The arrows indicate the 5 to 95 percent confidence bounds for each estimate along with the best estimate (median of each probability density function; or the mean of multiple estimates; colored vertical line). Ring et al. (2012) present four estimates of the climate sensitivity and the red box encompasses those estimates. The right-hand side of the IPCC AR5 range is actually the 90% upper bound (the IPCC does not actually state the value for the upper 95 percent confidence bound of their estimate). Spencer and Braswell (2013) produce a single ECS value best-matched to ocean heat content observations and internal radiative forcing. The mean climate sensitivity (3.2°C) of the climate models used in the IPCC AR5 60% greater than the mean of recent estimates (2.0°C).


A quantitative test of climate model performance can be made by comparing the range of model projections against observations of the evolution of the global average surface temperature since the mid-20th century. Here, we perform such a comparison on a collection of 108 model runs comprising the ensemble used in the IPCC’s 5th Scientific Assessment and find that the observed global average temperature evolution for trend lengths (with a few exceptions) since 1980 is less than 97.5% of the model distribution, meaning that the observed trends are significantly different from the average trend simulated by climate models. For periods approaching 40 years in length, the observed trend lies outside of (below) the range that includes 95% of all climate model simulations.

CAPTION: The annual average global surface temperatures from 108 individual CMIP5 climate model runs forced with historical (+ RCP45 since 2006) forcings were obtained from the KNMI Climate Explorer website. Linear trends were computed through the global temperatures from each run, ending in 2014 and beginning each year from 1951 through 2005. The trends for each period (ranging in length from 10 to 64 years) were averaged across all model runs (black dots).  The range containing 90 percent (thin black lines), and 95 percent (dotted black lines) of trends from the 108 model runs is indicated. The observed linear trends for the same periods were calculated from the annual average global surface temperature record compiled by the U.K. Hadley Center (HadCRUT4) (colored dots) (the value for 2014 was the 10-mon, January through October, average). Observed trend values which were less than or equal to the 2.5th percentile of the model trend distribution were colored red; observed trend values which were between the 2.5th and the 5th percentile of the model trend distribution were colored yellow; and observed trend values greater than the 5th percentile of the model trend distribution were colored green.


CAPTION: Distribution of 20-yr temperature trends (top) and 30-yr temperature trends (right) from 108 climate model runs during the period ending in 2014 (blue bars). The observed 20-yr temperature trend (bottom) and 30-yr temperature trend (right) over the same intervals are indicated by the arrows colored to match the designations described in the previous figure.



We conclude that at the global scale, this suite of climate models has failed.  Treating them as mathematical hypotheses, which they are, means that it is the duty of scientists to reject their predictions in lieu of those with a lower climate sensitivity.

It is impossible to present reliable future projections from a collection of climate models which generally cannot simulate observed change. As a consequence, we recommend that unless/until the collection of climate models can be demonstrated to accurately capture observed characteristics of known climate changes, policymakers should avoid basing any decisions upon projections made from them. Further, those policies which have already be established using projections from these climate models should be revisited. Assessments which suffer from the inclusion of unreliable climate model projections include those produced by the IPCC and the U.S. Global Climate Change Research Program (including their most recent National Climate Assessment). Policies which are based upon such assessments include those established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency pertaining to the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act.



Aldrin, M., et al., 2012. Bayesian estimation of climate sensitivity based on a simple climate model fitted to observations of hemispheric temperature and global ocean heat content. Environmetrics, doi: 10.1002/env.2140.

Annan, J.D., and J.C Hargreaves, 2011. On the genera­tion and interpretation of probabilistic estimates of climate sensitivity. Climatic Change, 104, 324-436.

Hargreaves, J.C., et al., 2012. Can the Last Glacial Maximum constrain climate sensitivity? Geophysical Research Letters, 39, L24702, doi: 10.1029/2012GL053872

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2013. Climate Change 20013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Final Draft Accepted in the 12th Session of Working Group I and the 36th Session of the IPCC on 26 September 2013 in Stockholm, Sweden.

Lewis, N. 2013. An objective Bayesian, improved approach for applying optimal fingerprint techniques to estimate climate sensitivity. Journal of Climate, doi: 10.1175/JCLI-D-12-00473.1.

Lewis, N. and J.A. Curry, C., 2014. The implications for climate sensitivity of AR5 focring and heat uptake estimates. Climate Dynamics, 10.1007/s00382-014-2342-y.

Lindzen, R.S., and Y-S. Choi, 2011. On the observational determination of climate sensitivity and its implica­tions. Asia-Pacific Journal of Atmospheric Science, 47, 377-390.

Loehle, C., 2014. A minimal model for estimating climate sensitivity. Ecological Modelling, 276, 80-84.

Masters, T., 2013. Observational estimates of climate sensitivity from changes in the rate of ocean heat uptake and comparison to CMIP5  models. Climate Dynamics, doi:101007/s00382-013-1770-4

Michaels, P.J., et al., 2002. Revised 21st century temperature projections. Climate Research, 23, 1-9.

Morice, C.P. et al. 2012. Quantifying uncertainties in global and regional temperature change using an ensemble of observational estimates: The HadCRUT4 dataset. Journal of Geophysical Research, 117, D08101, doi:10.1029/2011JD017187 (and updates, current version

Otto, A., et al., 2013. Energy budget constraints on climate response. Nature Geoscience, 6, 415-416.

Ring, M.J., et al., 2012. Causes of the global warming observed since the 19th century. Atmospheric and Climate Sciences, 2, 401-415, doi: 10.4236/acs.2012.24035.

Schmittner,  A., et al. 2011. Climate sensitivity estimat­ed from temperature reconstructions of the Last Glacial Maximum. Science, 334, 1385-1388, doi: 10.1126/science.1203513.

Skeie,  R. B., et al., 2014. A lower and more constrained estimate of climate sensitivity using updated observations and detailed radiative forcing time series. Earth System Dynamics, 5, 139–175.

Spencer, R. W., and W. D. Braswell, 2013. The role of ENSO in global ocean temperature changes during 1955-2011 simulated with a 1D climate model. Asia-Pacific Journal of Atmospheric Science, doi:10.1007/s13143-014-0011-z.

van Hateren, J.H., 2012. A fractal climate response function can simulate global average temperature trends of the modern era and the past millennium. Climate Dynamics,  doi: 10.1007/s00382-012-1375-3.

Michael F. Cannon

The Obama administration is boasting that 2.5 million Americans have selected health insurance plans for 2015 through the Exchanges it operates in 36 states under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and that they are well on their way to enrolling 9.1 million Americans in Exchange coverage next year. But there’s a problem. The administration is not warning ObamaCare enrollees about significant risks associated with their coverage. By mid-2015, 5 million enrollees could see their tax liabilities increase by thousands of dollars. Their premiums could increase by 300 percent or more. Their health plans could be cancelled without any replacement plans available. Today, the U.S. Senate leadership – incoming Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX), Conference Chairman John Thune (R-SD), Policy Committee Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY), and Conference Vice Chairman Roy Blunt (R-MO) – wrote Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew and Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell to demand the administration inform consumers about those risks.

First, some background.

  • The PPACA directs states to establish health-insurance Exchanges and requires the federal government to establish Exchanges in states that fail to do so.
  • The statute authorizes subsidies (nominally, “tax credits”) to certain taxpayers who purchase Exchange coverage. Those subsidies transfer much of the cost of ObamaCare’s many regulations and  mandates from the premium payer to the taxpayer. For the average recipient, Exchange subsidies cover 76 percent of their premium.
  • But there’s a catch. The law only authorizes those subsidies “through an Exchange established by the State.” The PPACA nowhere authorizes subsidies through federally established Exchanges. This makes the law’s Exchanges operate like its Medicaid expansion: if states cooperate with implementation, their residents get subsidies; if not, their residents get no subsidies.
  • Confounding expectations, 36 states refused or otherwise failed to establish Exchanges. This should have meant that Exchange subsidies would not be available in two-thirds of the country, and that many more Americans would face the full cost of the PPACA’s very expensive coverage.
  • Yet the Obama administration unilaterally decided to offer Exchange subsidies through federal Exchanges despite the lack of any statutory authorization. Because those (illegal) subsidies trigger (illegal) penalties against both individuals and employers under the PPACA’s mandates, the administration soon found itself in court.
  • Two federal courts have found the subsidies the administration is issuing to 5 million enrollees through are illegal. The Supreme Court has agreed to resolve the issue. It has granted certiorari in King v. Burwell. Oral arguments will likely occur in February or March, with a ruling due by June.
  • If the Supreme Court agrees with those lower courts that the subsidies the administration is issuing through are illegal, the repercussions for enrollees could be significant. Their subsidies would disappear. The PPACA would require them to repay the IRS whatever subsidies they already received in 2015 and 2014, which could top $10,000 for many enrollees near the poverty level. Their insurance payments would quadruple, on average. Households near the poverty level would see even larger increases. Their plans could be cancelled, and they may not be able to find replacement coverage.
  • The Obama administration knows it is exposing enrollees to these risks. But it is not telling them.

Cue the senators:

It is imperative that people understand this risk as they contemplate signing up for coverage.

On December 9, 2014, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Marilyn Tavenner testified that the administration does not plan to inform federal exchange enrollees that they could face much higher tax bills and higher premiums next year should the Court find that the IRS was improperly providing the tax credits. Without this information, many families could turn down more-secure coverage options (e.g., through a different employer) in favor of less-secure Obamacare coverage. We urge you to reconsider this position and to ensure that these Americans have all available information as they make decisions about health insurance coverage next year.

At the same time, the Obama administration is taking care of insurance companies:

Furthermore, while the Administration has decided not to inform people about the potential ramifications of King, the administration has protected insurers, at their request, from a ruling that strikes down the IRS rule. According to an October report, at the request of insurers, the contracts between CMS and insurers “include a new clause assuring issuers that they may pull out of the contracts, subject to state laws, should federal subsidies cease to flow. … The language in the clause says that CMS acknowledges that the issuer has developed its products for the FFM ‘based on the assumption that (advanced payment tax credits) and (cost-sharing reduction payments) will be available to qualifying (e)nrollees.’” In the House hearing, Administrator Tavenner testified that CMS negotiated these contracts with insurers over the summer and that every contract has the same clause. It is troubling that the administration decided to protect insurers from a King ruling that restricts the law’s tax credits to state exchanges while at the same time failed to inform people enrolled or considering enrolling in federal exchanges of the potential consequences of such a decision.

The senators end by demanding the administration be honest and transparent with the public and particularly enrollees:

Given the enormity of the financial stakes involved, we request that you use your department’s fiscal year (FY) 2016 budget submission to inform Congress of how the Administration plans to respond to a possible ruling in King that recognizes that the IRS’s rule is at odds with the law. We also urge you to inform all current federal exchange enrollees and all visitors to about the King suit and how a ruling against the administration could affect them. Finally, please provide information on any actions that the Administration is preparing to ensure that people inappropriately subjected to Obamacare’s individual and employer mandates and associated tax penalties are not punished further.

Recall that President Obama promised his health care law would rein in the worst insurance-industry abuses. Like when insurance companies sell you a plan without clearly disclosing all relevant risks. Or when they enroll you at one rate and then later jack up your premiums. Or when they out of nowhere cancel your coverage.

(Cross-posted at Darwin’s Fool.)

Chris Edwards

One the best U.S. senators of recent decades is leaving. No one has spotlighted the ongoing waste in federal spending more than Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. In his farewell address, he advised his colleagues: “Your whole goal is to protect the United States of America, its Constitution and its liberties … it’s not to provide benefits for your state.” As if to underline Coburn’s point, the Washington Post yesterday described how Senator Roger Wicker helped pour $349 million down the drain on an unused NASA facility in his home state of Mississippi.

One of Coburn’s strategies has been to use his expert staff to write investigative reports on federal activities. The huge collection of reports his staff has produced is remarkable. Each one is a big fat indictment of malfunctioning government.

Seeing this stream of high-quality and fun-to-read reports over the years has made wonder what the staffs of the other 99 senators do with their time. Every senator ought to be using his taxpayer-funded staff to try to save taxpayer money. Every senator ought to be digging into the giant $3.6 trillion spending empire that they have collectively created and trying to cut out some of the fat.

Coburn’s final report released last week is another impressive document. Coming in at 320 pages, Tax Decoder digs through the massive federal tax code and highlights hundreds of special deals, carve-outs, and illogical breaks. Tax Decoder’s findings are too voluminous to summarize here, and even seasoned tax wonks will find interesting stuff that they did not know.

Consider the chapter on nonprofit organizations, which spans 42 pages and is buttressed by 462 endnotes. This part of the tax code is a complex mess rife with abuse. Coburn’s staff found that Lady Gaga’s charity raised $2.6 million and handed out just $5,000 one year in benefits, while spending the rest on salaries, promotions, and parties. The Kanye West Foundation spent $572,383 one year, but not a dime on charity.The Cancer Fund for America raised $80 million, but handed out just $890,000 to cancer patients.

While the GAO—an arm of Congress—investigates federal activities, its reports are usually dry and timid. The agency’s role is not to upset its political masters. Similarly, most members of Congress don’t want to upset their colleagues, and so they shy away from criticizing wasteful spending directed to any state, not just their own. It’s easier for them to follow the herd, play the game, grab benefits, and hopefully cruise to safe reelection. Many outside groups and reporters do a great job investigating the government, but senators are in a uniquely powerful and privileged position to lead the charge. 

That’s why Senator Coburn and his staff filled a void with their reports. They uncovered idiocy in the budget, and they informed the public with the juicy details. Many members of Congress say that the government spends too much, but they shy away from specifics. But now that Tom Coburn is going, which members are willing to step up to the plate?   

Juan Carlos Hidalgo

President Obama’s announcement to overhaul U.S. policy toward Cuba is historic. Given the ossified status of the relationship between both nations—frozen in time for decades despite the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War—Washington’s engagement is significant and welcome.

Obama’s announced measures—a spy swap, loosening of travel and economic restrictions, and launching of discussions to re-establish full diplomatic relations—go as far as the president can go without congressional authorization. Since the passing of the Helms-Burton Act in 1996, the lifting of the most important economic sanctions, particularly the trade embargo and travel ban, requires the approval of Congress. Unlike previous ad hoc measures toward Cuba, the economic measures announced by the president represent meaningful policy change, and they seem to closely follow the recommendations put forward by the Cuba Study Group in a white paper last year.

As part of the deal, Cuba released U.S. contractor Alan Gross after five years of imprisonment. Gross was arrested while working to expand Internet access for Havana’s Jewish community, an act that the Cuban authorities deemed to be “undermining the state.”

The president’s move should be uncontroversial. U.S. policy toward Cuba has been a blatant failure. It has not brought about democracy to the island and instead provided Havana with an excuse to portray itself as the victim of U.S. aggression. It has also served as the scapegoat for the dilapidated state of Cuba’s economy. Moreover, according to government reports, the embargo has also become somewhat of a U.S. security liability itself.

As for the economic measures, they are significant in symbolism, yet limited in their likely impact as long as Cuba retains its failed communist economic system. The 114th Congress should pick where the president left off and move to fully end the trade embargo and lift the travel ban on Cuba.


Doug Bandow

In the midst of negotiations to avoid another government shutdown, Congress rammed through new sanctions against Russia as part of the misnamed “Ukraine Freedom Support Act of 2014.”

Congress appears determined to turn an adversary into an enemy and encourage retaliation against more significant American interests. Observed my colleague Emma Ashford: “the provisions in this bill will make it all the more difficult to find a negotiated settlement to the Ukraine crisis, or to find a way to salvage any form of productive U.S.-Russia relationship.”

Last year, the corrupt but elected Viktor Yanukovich was ousted by protests backed by rabid and sometimes violent nationalists. The United States and Europe flaunted their support for the opposition. Indeed, American officials openly discussed who should take power after his ouster.

Russian President Vladimir Putin still was not justified in dismembering Ukraine, but America would have reacted badly had Moscow helped overthrow a Washington-friendly government in Mexico.

Ukraine’s fate is not a serious security interest for the United States. The conflict raises humanitarian concerns, but no different than those elsewhere around the globe.

Kiev’s status matters more to Europe, largely for economic reasons. If the European Union and its members want to confront Russia over Ukraine, they should do so—without Washington’s involvement.

Of course, President Putin is an unpleasant autocrat who doesn’t much like America. But Russia is not the Soviet Union. Like the old Russian Empire, Moscow today wants respect and border security.

Washington has no reason to deny the first or challenge the second. Yet from expansion of NATO, to dismemberment of Serbia, to treatment of Georgia and Ukraine as allies, the United States and Europe have increased Moscow’s insecurity.

Now Russia believes that it must prevent a united Ukraine from aligning with the West (no doubt, Putin also appreciates the popularity boost from his actions). So far, Moscow perceives its interests in Ukraine to outweigh the cost of sanctions. Congress can keep upping the ante, but Ukraine always will matter much more to Russia than to the United States.

A hostile government in Washington funding anti-Putin groups in Moscow can only be seen by Russian authorities as an attempt to overthrow their government. Upping aid to Kiev will work little better since Ukraine is a financial black hole.

Washington cannot afford to take on another bankrupt client state. Let Europe, with far greater hope of economic gain from future trade and investment, do so.

Military assistance to Ukraine is worse. It is only likely to fuel a fire which the allies cannot quench. Moscow can always trump any escalation by Ukraine.

Of course, Ukrainians nevertheless may decide that war is worth the price. Then they should proceed without the United States.

The legislation also restricts the ability of the Obama administration to negotiate. A diplomatic solution might be unsatisfying, but a compromise agreement is the best outcome achievable.

The outlines of a settlement are clear: Peace agreement policed by outside observers; end to military action by Kiev and Moscow; independent Ukraine;a federal system with regional autonomy; commercial relations with all countries; military relations with none. Congress appears determined to make compromise impossible.

Republican legislators, in particular, lack the slightest shame or self-awareness. These avowed critics of social engineering at home believe the U.S. government can remake foreign societies abroad.

The most likely outcome of their deluded handiwork is a new Cold War without the ideological component.

As I noted in Forbes: “The United States desperately needs foreign policy leadership. That is, leaders willing to set priorities and able to distinguish between vital and minor interests. Leaders willing to eschew cheap attempts to win votes and focus on advancing Americans’ welfare. Leaders willing to acknowledge their failings and America’s limitations. Leaders who obviously don’t exist in the White House or Congress today.”

Alex Nowrasteh

One popular argument against a legalization, or amnesty, of unlawful immigrants is that it will merely incentivize future unlawful immigration.  Unlawful immigrants will be more likely to break immigration laws because they will eventually be legalized anyway, so why bother to attempt to enter legally (ignoring the fact that almost none of them could have entered legally)?  This claim is taken at face value because the stock of unlawful immigration eventually increased in the decades after the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) that amnestied roughly 2.7 million.

However, that doesn’t prove that IRCA was responsible for the increase in the stock of unlawful immigrants.  The stock of unlawful immigrants may have been increasing at a steady rate prior to the amnesty and that rate may have just continued after the amnesty.  Measuring the flows of unlawful immigrants is the best way to gauge whether the 1986 Reagan amnesty incentivized further unlawful immigration.  If the flows increased after IRCA, then the amnesty likely incentivized more unlawful immigration.  The number of annual apprehensions of unlawful immigrants on the Southwest border is a good way to approximate for these cross-border flows.

It’s perfectly reasonable to think that an amnesty of unlawful immigrants could increase their numbers in the future.  There are at least two ways this could occur.  The first is through knowledge of an imminent amnesty.  If foreigners thought Congress was about to grant legal status to large numbers of unlawful immigrants, then some of those foreigners may rush the border on the chance that they would be included.  Legislators were aware of this problem, which was why IRCA did not apply to unlawful immigrants who entered on January 1st 1982 or after.  IRCA had been debated for years before passage and Congress did not want to grant amnesty to unlawful immigrants who entered merely because they heard of the amnesty.  To prevent such a rush, subsequent immigration reform bills have all had a cutoff date for legalization prior to Congressional debate on the matter. 

Even with the cutoff date, some recent unlawful immigrants would still be able to legalize due to fraud or administrative oversights.  An unlawful immigrant who rushes the border to take advantage of an imminent amnesty still has a greater chance of being legalized than he did before, so legalization might be the marginal benefit that convinces him to try.  This theory of a rush of unlawful immigrants prior to an imminent amnesty is not controversial.

A bolder claim is that IRCA incentivized the unlawful immigration that followed its passage.  As this theory goes, the benefits of immigrating illegally are higher because they assume that at some point in the future they will be legalized just like the previous waves of unlawful migrants were (there were also small amnesties in 1929, 1958, and 1965).   

This academic paper by Pia M. Orrenius and Madeline Zavodny analyzed the apprehensions of unlawful immigrants prior to IRCA’s passage and a decade after to see if there was a marked increase in apprehensions.  After the amnesty went into effect, apprehensions dropped significantly and then rebounded by the mid-1990s.  They concluded that apprehensions returned to their pre-IRCA trend line and IRCA neither increased nor reduced the pace of unlawful immigration.  This other working paper analyzed apprehensions data from 1977-2000 and found that IRCA was associated with a decline in apprehensions. 

Many studies attempted to find how IRCA affected flows of unlawful immigrants immediately after the amnesty went into effect.  They are of limited long-term use but worth mentioning.  In 1990, Woodrow and Passel also found that IRCA did not affect the annual number of unlawful immigrants compared to the years prior to the amnesty.  Two other studies found small temporary declines in the flow of unauthorized immigrants.  This paper, based on surveys of Mexican migrants from seven communities in Mexico from 1987-1989, found that there was no consistent change in the probability of an unauthorized immigrant making his or her first trip to the United States as a result of IRCA. 

One possible reason why post-IRCA apprehensions were steady is that increased border security under IRCA might have stopped circular migrant flows across the border – by locking unlawful migrants inside of the United States.  Without IRCA, many of them otherwise would have left and likely returned in the future and been apprehended, thus increasing those numbers.  Because IRCA increased the risks and costs of crossing the border due to a surge in border security, the stock of unlawful immigrants rose while the annual flows moderated.  The evidence for this is that the apprehensions of women and children increased after IRCA, likely because they were coming north to reunite with their husbands and fathers who were working in the United States.  In other words, by increasing border security or the benefits of settlement through an amnesty, IRCA may have incentivized unlawful immigrants to settle permanently in the United States rather than migrating temporarily for work.  IRCA may not have affected apprehensions very much but it likely changed settlement patterns.

Below is the data of annual apprehensions on the Southwest border.

Source: Customs and Border Protection  

The pre-IRCA annual flows of unauthorized immigrants peaked in 1986.

Source: Customs and Border Protection    

Post-IRCA, the annual flows of apprehended unlawful immigrants on the Southwest border declined before rising again around the dotcom bubble and then crashed along with the housing sector.  Does not look like IRCA caused a sustained increase in unauthorized immigrant flows.


Source: Customs and Border Protection   

 An imminent amnesty may temporarily increase the flow of unlawful immigrants.  Legalization or amnesty bills try to account for that by excluding recent unauthorized immigrants from the legalizations.  However, there isn’t any good evidence that amnesties increase the flows of unlawful immigrants after the amnesty goes into effect.  Economic and demographic factors played a much larger role in influencing the decision to immigrate rather than the 1986 amnesty.  Ironically, IRCA likely produced to a longer settled unlawful immigrant population that subsequent increases in border security and the 3/10 year bars reinforced.


Matthew Feeney

The recent tragic siege in Sydney has, perhaps unexpectedly, put Uber’s surge pricing system back in the headlines. Some considered the fact that Uber would allow for surge pricing to take effect amid a hostage crisis to be outrageous and insensitive. Yet, surge pricing ensures that Uber drivers will be on the road at times of peak demand and that the passengers who want an Uber ride the most will get one. Uber’s surge pricing system might seem strange and at times extortionate, but it merely puts on display basic economic forces that are at play all the time which most of us never question, and it should not be abandoned at times of high demand or in emergencies.

It is important to remember that surge pricing automatically kicks in thanks to Uber’s price algorithm. There was no Uber employee who decided to impose surge pricing amid a hostage crisis. Uber claimed that it kept surge pricing in place in order to get drivers on the road amid the crisis. Uber has no control over when drivers decide to log into its app, it can only provide financial incentives. Without surge pricing in effect there may well have been fewer drivers willing to get passengers out of Sydney’s Central Business District (CBD), the site of the siege. Uber responded to criticism of its surge pricing by making trips from the CBD free while keeping the surge rate high. Uber also claimed that it was refunding fares for passengers who left the CBD and were charged while surge pricing was in effect. Despite these steps, it should not be forgotten that the criticism Uber initially faced for surge pricing in Sydney was misplaced. Those who did not want to pay Uber’s elevated fares had other means of public transportation by which to leave the CBD.

Uber surge pricing is ordinary supply and demand economics at work. Given that Uber drivers drive at their own convenience it should not be a surprise that they are more likely to get on the road and meet demand at busy times if they can expect higher-than-average earnings. Many of Uber’s rideshare drivers use Uber on a part-time basis. Unsurprisingly, drivers who work more than one job or who have worked a full week may be reluctant to drive on weekends or late into the evening. Uber wants to keep the number of “zeroes” (a term used to describe Uber users who open the app and see no available cars) to a minimum. But, when Uber brought surge prices down to 3x from 6x in east coast cities on New Years Eve in 2012 zeroes were “popping everywhere.”

What is great about a pricing system like Uber’s surge pricing is that it allows users who want an Uber ride the most to have it. Prices are a great way of communicating customer preferences. When you buy a coffee for $3.00, you are telling the market that you value the coffee more than you value $3.00. Likewise, someone who is willing to spend $100 getting home in the early hours of a busy Saturday is signaling that he values the ride home more than he values $100. Many people would not be willing to pay the $100, opting to wait for the surge to end or to find alternative transport home.

At this point some readers might be thinking: “Well yes, Matthew, but many Uber passengers are perhaps not in their most rational state of mind at 2am on a Saturday.” I don’t dispute that. Perhaps one of the best recent examples of someone regretting an Uber ride during surge pricing is the 26-year old Baltimore-based woman who spent $362.57 on an Uber ride home in the early hours of November 1 (her birthday) after “a few drinks.” While some might think this fare is extortionate, it is worth remembering that Uber requires that users first accept that surge pricing is in effect and then enter in the amount of the surge before they request a ride. Uber’s app also allows users to estimate a fare before requesting a ride. Uber does not have a responsibility to make sure that you make good decisions after “a few drinks” in the early hours of a busy Saturday. Once you have accepted that surge pricing is in effect and entered the amount of the surge in the app you have no one to blame but yourself when you wake up with less money in your checking account than you were expecting.

Of course, an argument could be made that surge pricing is reasonable during times of predictable high demand (such as New Year’s and rainy Saturday evenings) but not during a crisis like the one that recently occurred in Sydney. In July, Uber announced that in U.S. cities surge pricing would be capped during disasters. In the wake of the news from Sydney Uber may implement a similar policy in Australia.

Those who are complaining about Uber’s surge pricing system ought to consider the following: given that Uber drivers are setting their own schedules and respond predictably to financial incentives it might not be that strange that having an Uber car driven to your location, which is close to the site of a terrorist attack, can cost more than an ordinary Uber ride.

David Boaz

The Washington Post reports:

As far as sales manager Brian Ward knows, Rep. Andy Harris has never shopped at Capitol Hill Bikes. But if the Maryland Republican congressman wanted to, he’d find a black and white picture of himself taped on the door with a message in bold type: NOT WELCOME.

To many in the District, Harris is a public enemy — the force behind language added to the massive federal government spending bill intended to block D.C. from legalizing marijuana despite local voters overwhelmingly approving it on the November ballot.

The move so infuriated District residents that someone has started a “Blacklist Andy Harris” tumblr asking local businesses not to serve Harris:

“My fellow Washingtonians, Rep. Andy Harris doesn’t give a d— about District residents or our rights, so let’s blacklist him! We can generate and distribute signs/stickers/posters with his face, words like “Persona non Grata” (or something similar), and ask local businesses to display them.”

I support these District of Columbia businesses’ right to refuse service to Representative Harris. Now I know there are people who would say to these small businesses, “Open a business to serve the public? You have an obligation to serve everyone.” But I say that Capitol Hill Bikes should be free to refuse service to Andy Harris, and Republicans and anti-drug activists should be free to refuse to patronize Capitol Hill Bikes. Every contract is an agreement voluntarily entered into on both sides, and no one should be forced to enter into contracts. Thus I support the right of D.C. businesses to refuse to serve those would-be customers who offend their conscience, just as I support the right (though not the rightness) of bakers, photographers, and innkeepers not to participate in gay weddings.

Ted Galen Carpenter

News stories in the West contend that Russia’s increasingly aggressive behavior is causing the Baltic states and other NATO members in Eastern Europe to become far more serious about national defense.  There is no doubt that tensions in the region are on the rise, including a surge of  incidents involving NATO intercepts of Russian military aircraft operating over the Baltic Sea.  The new congressional approval of military aid to Ukraine may well increase the already alarming level of animosity between NATO and Russia. 

But the notion that the Baltic republics have embarked on serious programs to boost their defense capabilities in light of Moscow’s menacing behavior is vastly overstated.  The military spending of those three countries has merely moved from minuscule to meager.  Although all NATO members pledged after the Alliance’s summit meeting in 2006 to spend a minimum of two percent of gross domestic product (GDP) on defense, few members have actually done so.  Indeed, eight years later, only the United States, Britain, Greece, and Estonia among the 28 member states fulfill that commitment

And Estonia barely met that standard.

All three Baltic governments are going to great lengths to highlight their alleged seriousness about defense, but the actual data fail to support the propaganda.  Amid much fanfare, Estonia plans to boost its military spending from 2.0 percent of GDP to…. wait for it, 2.05 percent!  Lithuania intends to raise its budget next year from 0.89 percent to 1.01 percent.  And Latvian leaders solemnly pledge that their country will spend no less than 1 percent—up from the current 0.91 percent.

The alarmist rhetoric of the Baltic republics about the danger of Russian aggression is not matched by their actions.  Given the security situation in the region, spending even 2 percent of GDP on defense, to say nothing of devoting 1 percent or less, is pathetic.  No one believes that the small Baltic states could repel a Russian invasion on their own, but it is not too much to expect that they would build military capabilities sufficient to slow an advance and raise the costs to Moscow in blood and treasure.  Such a commitment, however, would require military outlays at three to five times current levels.  There is no indication that the Baltic governments intend to boost spending to anything close to that

The geographic vulnerability of the Baltic states, combined with their continuing military weakness, should underscore to U.S. leaders that such “allies” are strategic liabilities, not assets.  Washington is drifting into confrontation with a nuclear-armed Russia over countries that have little economic or strategic relevance to the American republic.  U.S. officials need to consider carefully whether it makes sense for this country to incur such risks on behalf of so-called allies that seem unwilling even to make serious efforts on behalf of their own defense.  It is a stretch to argue that the United States should care so much about the defense of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania that we must be willing to risk war, but it is preposterous to argue that we should care more about their defense than they do.  Yet that appears to be the current situation.    

Nicole Kaeding

Over the weekend, the Senate approved the $1.1 trillion Cromnibus spending package, which funds parts of the government through September 2015.

The ink isn’t even dry on this spending bill, and already big spenders in Congress are gearing up to increase next year’s spending above agreed upon limits. The Wall Street Journal describes the situation:

After four years of a divided Congress, Republicans will take full control of both chambers in January with hopes of passing individual spending bills under an orderly process rarely seen in recent years. But complicating their task will be the return of the across-the-board spending cuts known as the “sequester” birthed out of the 2011 debt-ceiling deal, which set caps on spending for the next decade.

A two-year bipartisan budget deal brokered by Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray (D., Wash.) and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) eased those cuts for fiscal years 2014 and 2015. But the $1.1 trillion bill passed over the weekend, which will fund most of the government through September 2015, marks the final stretch of that agreement.

In fiscal 2016 the cuts return in full force. Lawmakers broadly agree the reductions inflict blunt pain on the federal budget. But Democrats and Republicans are at odds about how to mitigate them in a dispute likely to grow in intensity during the coming months.

How big are the cuts? The Wall Street Journal continues:

For fiscal 2016, which begins Oct. 1, funding for discretionary spending—the chunk of the federal government that Congress must approve each year—will stay relatively flat. The cap on military spending will rise slightly, to $523 billion from $521 billion, while the cap on nondefense discretionary spending will fall slightly to $492.3 billion from $492.4 billion. Democrats note the government’s purchasing power is diminished when inflation is taken into account.

Yes, you read that right. The budget “cuts” that will “inflict blunt pain”  will increase spending by about $2 billion.

Those figures also ignore two large categories of federal spending. The first, the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) slush fund, funds military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and is not subject to the Budget Control Act spending limits. In the most recent Cromnibus, OCO was allocated $64 billion.

Second, it ignores the biggest source of federal spending, entitlement programs. In fiscal year 2016 the government will spend $2.5 trillion on entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, ObamaCare, and food stamps. According to the CBO, entitlement spending is expected to rise $188 billion in 2016.

So while most discretionary spending is roughly frozen for 2016, the federal spending juggernaut rolls on in entitlement spending. Members of Congress are so used to the increases thatthe threat of just holding some spending constant strikes fear into many of them. Spenders cry foul and warn of a crisis befalling the country if a freeze is allowed to take effect, but little happened following the sequester cuts of 2013.

The incoming Republican Congress should ignore the big-spending voices and abide by the Budget Control Act. Arguably the biggest policy win in the last three years for Republicans was getting President Obama and Democrats to agree to these capped spending levels to limit the growth of the discretionary part of the budget. They should not use their new majorities to undo their own handiwork and ramp up federal spending.

Doug Bandow

MAE LA REFUGEE CAMP, THAILAND—Trees give way to primitive wooden homes in the rolling hills approaching Mae La refugee camp on Thailand’s border with Burma.  The largest camp in Thailand, Mae La, holds 50,000 refugees. 

Three years ago Burma’s ruling generals yielded authority to a nominally civilian leadership and initiated a series of ceasefires with various ethnic groups.  The resulting peace is real but imperfect. 

Today there are as many as 150,000 refugees in ten Thai camps.  Overcrowded Mae La was established three decades ago when many assumed that their stay would be short.

Residents are barred from even leaving the camps without official permission.  Education is difficult.  People’s lives, futures, and dreams are all confined by fences and armed guards.

Perhaps worse, sustenance is provided and work prohibited.  This has discouraged independence, enterprise, and entrepreneurship. 

With the changes in Burma serious discussions about closing the camps have begun.  In July Thailand’s military junta declared its objective to repatriate all refugees by 2015.

Mae La refugees I talked to wanted to return, but worried about security.  NGOs observe that a national political settlement has yet to be implemented.   

No doubt the concern over repatriation is genuine, but there also is a strong financial incentive for some groups to oppose the return of refugees.  My friend Jim Jacobson, president of the humanitarian group Christian Freedom International (CFI), observed that “a lot of people benefit from the camps.  A lot of government aid goes through the camps and trickles out.”

Ironically, the supposed direct beneficiaries suffer the most.  A survey by a French medical NGO found that half of adult camp residents suffered from some mental health problem.  Another consequence, say those who work with refugees, is a loss of self-sufficiency and growth of short-term thinking. 

Jim Jacobson’s CFI has supported health clinics, orphanages, and churches.  CFI runs a school—formally the Huai Kalok Bible Institute—in Mae Sot.  Karen students receive academic and vocational training, learn to work with computers and livestock, study theology, and more.  He noted that students from the camps are less self-reliant and demonstrate less initiative than those from outside.

While the peace is incomplete, as camp advocates warn, the improvement is dramatic.  When I last visited in 2006, any trek into Burma was fraught with danger.  The Burmese military routinely attacked villages and killed residents, the refugees fleeing into Thailand. 

Today Huai Kalok students go back and spend time in their villages.  Indeed, said Jacobson, “we are seeing real change coming.  The Karen are putting down roots.” 

Last month I visited a small village called Wallay, in which new farm equipment was visible, as well as a rudimentary saw mill.  “Imagine if a couple hundred thousand people returned to villages like this,” argued Jacobson. 

The local pastor agreed that Burmese coming home would spur development.  An official with the Karen National Union feared return would be premature, but even he acknowledged the lack of conflict.

Last month when I asked HBI students about their lives, none of them cited violence.  Most of the students wrote of hearing about the school and wanting to learn.  Many of their families still live in Burma.

In 2006 I asked students the same question.  Almost all had lost parents and homes while fleeing the Burmese military. 

Repatriation also would spur reconstruction.  New homes and villages must be built.  The sooner the Karen, with aid from groups like CFI, go back and start working, the sooner they will be able to recreate communities. 

“The ceasefire is not perfect,” admitted Jacobson, “but it has created new opportunities.”  New development and growth are evident in some Karen areas.  Coming back despite the uncertainty would be “better than being human debris at a refugee camp.”

As I wrote in American Spectator:  “It is time to start planning for the return of refugees to Burma.  Only then will people who have suffered through so much be able to prepare for a better future.”

Walter Olson

There’s a new legal attack under way against firearms, as the press reports

Ten families touched by the Newtown massacre filed a wrongful death lawsuit Monday against companies that made, distributed and sold the Bushmaster AR-15 rifle that Adam Lanza used to kill 20 children and six staffers at Sandy Hook Elementary two years ago. The suit argues that the gun is a military assault weapon that never should have been on the general market.

Jacob Sullum at Reason has more details, especially on the arbitrary nature of the epithet “assault weapons,” often uncritically repeated in the press. 

In 2005 Congress enacted the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) specifically to put an end to product liability suits over guns that had been made and sold in accordance with law. The courts have generally enforced it as written – even the Ninth Circuit’s famously liberal Judge Stephen Reinhardt agreed that it was constitutional – which has mostly, if not entirely, led to the dismissal of such lawsuits. The new Connecticut suit seeks to reopen the question by stretching beyond recognition a narrow exception in the law allowing businesses to be sued over “negligent entrustment.” (The firearm used by the Newtown killer had been lawfully sold long previously to his mother.)

Last year I wrote a piece entitled “Six Myths About the Law That Bans Gun Lawsuits” for the Power Line blog, pointing out that the PLCAA for the most part codified the common law treatment of gun liability as it had stood for centuries, thus advancing both a constitutional liberty and the legitimate freedom of interstate commerce against efforts to obtain a radical change in doctrine. I also noted that PLCAA probably make little ultimate difference in the Sandy Hook case because claims against gun makers and distributors over that massacre would probably not have succeeded anyway. And I rebutted a notion that came to be promoted years later, that the law was somehow not meant to reach privately filed liability suits:

A Washington Post report in January [2013] claimed the law poses “unexpected hurdles” to victims of recent mass shootings, whose lawyers are supposedly “surprised” at its pre-emptive effect. At the time Congress passed the law, the Post concedes, big-city mayors had filed a wave of lawsuits on novel theories demanding (for example) that courts begin treating gun sales as a “public nuisance” . “But over the past eight years, the legal shield has increasingly been used to block a different stripe of legal action.” The Post’s implication that Congress intended to restrict only municipal suits, and not tort suits on behalf of individuals, is false. Lawmakers debated the question and chose to include both. One reason is that anti-gun strategists were actively employing individual as well as municipal suits in their nearly successful effort to bury gun makers under the costs of legal defense. An editorial complaining that the law banned both kinds of suits appeared on June 2, 2005 in (yes) the Washington Post.

Let’s not forget that the relatively shallow pockets of gun-related businesses was part and parcel of the abusive strategy of the politicians and lawyers promoting the suits back then: 

because gunmakers were too thinly capitalized to withstand the costs of years of legal defense, it was thought they’d fold their hands and yield to “gun control through litigation” (explicitly couched as an end run against a then-Republican Congress resistant to gun control proposals). …the suits eventually reached judges and were generally thrown out, but not before imposing huge and uncompensated costs on many small companies that had violated no laws. Some were bankrupted.

We may hope that the courts are alive to the ongoing importance of PLCAA, and willing, as appropriate, to apply the tool of sanctions against legal strategists and campaigners who would seek to circumvent its provisions in the name of ideological grandstanding, profit, or revenge.