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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).

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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

INTRODUCTION

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.

 

CONCLUSIONS

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.

 

REFERENCES

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 4.3.0.0).

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 HealthCare.gov 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 HealthCare.gov 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 HealthCare.gov 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 HealthCare.gov 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 HealthCare.gov 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 HealthCare.gov 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.

Julian Sanchez

Back in October, Spain’s parliament passed a horribly ill-advised law at the behest of the Spanish news publishing lobby, the AEDE. Struggling to adapt to the information age in one of Europe’s more troubled economies, the AEDE thought it had hit on a brilliant new revenue source: They got a provision inserted in a new intellectual property law that, starting in January, will force news aggregation sites to pay newspapers for the privilege of linking to their stories.

This never made much sense: News aggregators are a massive source of traffic (and therefore ad revenue) for news sites.  In effect, the law seeks to make it more difficult and costly for anyone to give those sites free advertising.  Indeed, it’s hard to see the point of posting stories online unless you expect people to link to them, and it’s simple enough to automatically prevent search engines from indexing your site’s content if, for some obscure reason, you don’t want people to have an easy means of discovering your content.  But never mind the logic; the law seemed like a foolproof way for ailing news companies to milk a few euros from big tech corporations flush with cash. What could go wrong?

You know how the story ends, right?  Everyone but the newspapers themselves seems to have seen it coming, since something similar had just played out in Germany: Google News, the largest of the aggregators, announced last week that they would be shutting down operations in Spain. Since the company didn’t even show ads on its news site, keeping it open under the new regulations would be an unsustainable, money-losing proposition.

The hilarious coda to the story: The AEDE, which previously complained that news aggregators were “stealing” their work by publishing headlines and tiny snippets of stories, is now begging Spanish regulators to stop Google News from closing. The site’s shuttering, the group complained without irony, “would undoubtedly have a negative impact on citizens and Spanish businesses.” Give them points for chutzpah if nothing else: They’re not even waiting for the blood to dry on the hatchet before bemoaning the loss of their golden eggs.

Nicole Kaeding

Federal employees are generally overpaid. Federal, civilian employees made $81,076 in 2013 in wages, on average, compared to $55,424 in the private sector. Their benefit packages are particularly out of line with the private sector. Total compensation including wages and benefits for federal, civilian employees was $115,524 in 2013, on average, compared to $66,357 in the private sector.

A new study released by the National Bureau of Economic Research finds that the advantages of government employment include more than just higher compensation.  Government jobs are more secure, and employees are more likely to keep their jobs during economic downturns.

The authors of the study, Jason L. Kopelman and Harvey S. Rosen, used data for 800,000 workers from 1984 to 2012 to study the differences in job loss rates between workers in the private and public sectors. They wanted to determine how the differentials changed during recessions. They asked: Are government jobs more secure during recessions?

The results are striking. According to the researchers, “public sector jobs, while not generally recession-proof, do offer more security than private sector jobs, and the advantage widens during recessions. These patterns are present across genders, races, and educational groups.”

The researchers found that private sector workers are 4.2 percent more likely to lose their jobs than federal employees during nonrecession periods. The gap grows during recessions; private workers are 6.5 percent more likely to lose their jobs than federal employees. During the Great Recession, the gap narrowed slightly. Private workers were only 5.3 percent more likely than federal employees to lose their jobs.

The results for state and local government employees are similar. Private sector workers are 4.6 percent more likely than local government employees and 4.7 percent than state government employees to lose their jobs during a recession.

The study does not discuss the causes of the high federal job security, but a number of reasons seem obvious: civil service protections, the strength of federal employee unions, manager unwillingness to fire poor performers, and the greater budget stability in the government than the private sector.

In sum, the new NBER study provides input to the discussion about federal versus private pay. Federal workers received generous compensation packages, but they enjoy other advantages as well, such as higher job security.

Tim Lynch

Today is Bill of Rights Day. So it’s an appropriate time to consider the state of our constitutional safeguards.

Let’s consider each amendment in turn.

The First Amendment says that “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech.” Government officials, however, have insisted that they can gag recipients of “national security letters” and censor broadcast ads in the name of campaign finance reform.

The Second Amendment says the people have the right “to keep and bear arms.” Government officials, however, make it difficult to keep a gun in the home and make it a crime for a citizen to carry a gun for self-protection.

The Third Amendment says soldiers may not be quartered in our homes without the consent of the owners. This safeguard is one of the few that is in fine shape – so we can pause here for a laugh.

The Fourth Amendment says the people have the right to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures. Government officials, however, insist that they can conduct commando-style raids on our homes and treat airline travelers like prison inmates by conducting virtual strip searches.

The Fifth Amendment says that private property shall not be taken “for public use without just compensation.” Government officials, however, insist that they can use eminent domain to take away our property and give it to other private parties who covet it.

The Sixth Amendment says that in criminal prosecutions, the person accused is guaranteed a right to trial by jury. Government officials, however, insist that they can punish people who want to have a trial—“throwing the book” at those who refuse to plead guilty—which explains why 95 percent of the criminal cases never go to trial.

The Seventh Amendment guarantees the right to a jury trial in civil cases where the controversy “shall exceed twenty dollars.” Government officials, however, insist that they can impose draconian fines on people without jury trials.

The Eighth Amendment prohibits cruel and unusual punishments. Government officials, however, insist that a life sentence for a nonviolent drug offense is not cruel.

The Ninth Amendment says that the enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights should not be construed to deny or disparage others “retained by the people.” Government officials, however, insist that they will decide for themselves what rights, if any, will be retained by the people.

The Tenth Amendment says that the powers not delegated to the federal government are reserved to the states, or to the people. Government officials, however, insist that they will decide for themselves what powers they possess, and have extended federal control over health care, crime, education, and other matters the Constitution reserves to the states and the people.

It’s a disturbing snapshot, to be sure, but not one the Framers of the Constitution would have found altogether surprising. They would sometimes refer to written constitutions as mere “parchment barriers,” or what we call “paper tigers.” They nevertheless concluded that having a written constitution was better than having nothing at all.

The key point is this: A free society does not just “happen.” It has to be deliberately created and deliberately maintained. Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. To remind our fellow citizens of their responsibility in that regard, the Cato Institute has distributed more than five million copies of our pocket Constitution. At this time of year, it’ll make a great stocking stuffer.

Let’s enjoy the holidays but let’s also resolve to be more vigilant about defending our Constitution. To learn more about Cato’s work in defense of the Constitution, go here. To support the work of Cato, go here.

Jason Bedrick

Give Rolling Stone credit: when their story on sexual assault at the University of Virginia completely unraveled, they at least had the decency to admit their errors and apologize to their readers. Sadly, the same cannot be said for Florida’s Sun-Sentinel.

A few weeks ago, the Sun-Sentinel ran an error-filled editorial against educational choice. Since then, it has refused to run a retraction or even a correction of its numerous errors, including:

  • Falsely claiming that the legislature enacted a “massive expansion” of the scholarship tax credit law this year;
  • Mistakenly relying on the moot fiscal analysis of a dead bill;
  • Misreading that analysis to report a “deficit” when it actually reports savings;
  • Falsely claiming that a separate fiscal analysis by the legislature’s budget office relied on “information provided by [private] schools.”

That list does not include several additional misleading comparisons and crucial omissions that were also brought to their attention.

Last week, they ran a rebuttal by Doug Tuthill, president of the Step Up for Students scholarship organization. However, they subsequently published a bellicose letter from Wayne Blanton, the executive director of the Florida School Boards Association, which attempts to rebut Tuthill… by repeating the same errors as the Sun-Sentinel editorial.

Blanton opened his letter by accusing Tuthill of “attempting to deceive the public,” but not a single one of Blanton’s accusations has any merit. Indeed, Blanton’s accusation better describes his own letter. Let us address his claims in order.

The Legislature Did Not Expand the Tax Credit This Year

Blanton first engages in a slight-of-hand by accusing Tuthill of claiming something that he did not actually claim:

The ‘massive expansion’ [Tuthill] denies exists refers to a $72 million increase in the program’s funding limit in just the past year.

In fact, Tuthill took issue with the Sen-Sentinel’s erroneous description of “this year’s massive expansion by the Legislature” because there was no such expansion by the legislature this year. The Sun-Sentinel was simply wrong. The tax credit cap automatically increases by 25 percent each year and that provision was added to the law several years ago.

Blanton also bewails the “exorbitant $358 million cap” without informing readers that the cap amounts to less than 1.4 percent of Florida’s total public school spending.

Scholarship Recipients Are Low-Income

Next, after noting that the legislature raised the income eligibility ceiling to include a family-of-four earning $62,000 per year (260 percent of the federal poverty line), Blanton snarkily comments “that doesn’t sound like ‘Florida’s poorest schoolchildren’” – a phrase Tuthill had used to describe the scholarship recipients.

Here, Blanton ignores two crucial facts. First, the law specifies that low-income students take priority. Second, the average household income of scholarship families was only $24,067 this year, just 4.5 percent above the poverty line. That certainly does qualify as “Florida’s poorest schoolchildren.”

The Scholarship Tax Credit Law Saves Money

Blanton then makes the same error as the Sun-Sentinel by misreading the legislature’s moot fiscal analysis regarding a dead bill:

And, in terms of saving the state money, apparently Tuthill is unaware of the Legislature’s own analysis showing that, if left unchecked, the program soon will create a financial deficit for the state.

In reality, the report found that “under both current and proposed law, the [Florida Education Finance Program] savings from the program are expected to exceed the revenue losses due to tax credits through FY 2018-19, though the net savings are expected to be lower as a result.” Florida’s scholarship tax credit law would save less money had the legislation passed (which it did not), but the state would still save money. Nowhere in that analysis does the legislature’s report state, as Blanton claims it does, that it will “create a financial deficit.”

Scholarship Students Perform Well Academically

Blanton further claims that there is “absolutely no way to measure whether these voucher [sic] schools are providing the high quality education guaranteed by our state constitution.”

In fact, Florida’s scholarship students take nationally norm-referenced exams and perform about average nationally, despite being among the most disadvantaged students. Moreover, previous apples-to-apples comparisons with Florida’s public schools students showed that the scholarship students performed as well or better.

The Sun-Sentinel Should Correct the Record

Not only has the Sun-Sentinel refused to correct its errors, it has compounded them by running a second op-ed full of the same errors. The first time was sloppy journalism. The second time is even less forgivable.

The Sun-Sentinel now owes its readers two retractions and a plethora of corrections. But since the editors of the Sun-Sentinel have displayed—at best—a careless disregard for the truth, readers shouldn’t hold their breath.

Ilya Shapiro

If you ask reasonably informed consumers of news media what the year’s big Supreme Court case was, most would probably say Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, that case where “five white men” (in Harry Reid’s description) decided that corporations can deny women access to birth control. But, as I’ve said elsewhere, what was at stake in Hobby Lobby has nothing to do with the power of big business, the freedom to use any kind of legal contraceptive, or how to balance religious liberty against other constitutional considerations. Much like Citizens United (which struck down restrictions on corporate political speech without touching campaign contribution limits) and Shelby County (which struck down Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act because it was based on obsolete voting data that didn’t reflect current realities as constitutionally required), Hobby Lobby is doomed to be misunderstood.

The case was actually a rather straightforward question of statutory interpretation regarding whether the government was justified in this particular case in overriding religious liberties. The Supreme Court evaluated that question and ruled 5-4 that closely held corporations can’t be forced to pay for all of their employees’ contraceptives if doing so would violate their religious beliefs. There was no constitutional decision, no expansion of corporate rights, and no weighing of religion versus the right to use birth control.

That’s it. Nobody has been denied access to contraceptives and there’s now more freedom for all Americans to live their lives how they want, without checking their conscience at the office door. The contraceptive mandate fell because it was a rights-busting government compulsion that lacked sufficient justification.

That the Hobby Lobby dissenters and their media chorus made so much noise over this case is evidence of a larger process whereby the government foments needless social clashes by expanding its control over areas of life we used to think of as being “public” yet not governmental. The government thus uses private voluntary institutions as agents in its social-engineering project. These are places that are beyond the intimacies of the home but still far removed from the state: churches, charities, social clubs, small businesses, and even “public” corporations (which are nevertheless part of the “private” sector).

Where Alexis de Tocqueville celebrated the civil society that proliferated in the young American republic, the Age of Obama has heralded an ever-growing administrative state that aims to standardize “the Life of Julia” from cradle to grave. Through an ever-growing list of mandates, regulations, and assorted other devices, the government is pushing aside the “little platoons” that made this country what it was. We can call this tide of national collectivism overtaking the presumptive primacy of individual liberty and voluntarism the “Hobbylobbification of America.”

For more on all this, read my recently published book – Religious Liberties for Corporations? Hobby Lobby, the Affordable Care Act, and the Constitution – where my co-author David Gans and I debate all sorts of interesting issues. Perhaps most curious is that I minimize the significance of the ruling or its precedential value, while David says it’s really, really big (and really, really bad). That’s an unusual inversion in Supreme Court commentary; typically the winning side trumpets its victory while the losers try to explain why the decision really doesn’t mean that much. (If you’re curious about any of this, come to our book forum/debate this Tuesday, or watch online.)

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.

In this issue of You Ought To Have A Look, we feature the work of Martin Hoerling and his research team at the Physical Science Division (PSD) of NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory—a place where scientists live and breathe atmospheric dynamics and a rare government facility that puts science before hype when it comes to anthropogenic climate change.

It is pretty obvious by now that whenever severe weather strikes—rain, snow, heat, cold, flood, drought, etc.—someone will proclaim the events are “consistent with” expectations of global warming from human emissions of greenhouse gases.

Harder to find (at least on TV) are folks who pooh-pooh such notions and instead point out that nature is a noisy place and a definitive study linking such-and-such weather event to human climate modifications does not exist.

In truth, the science of severe weather is a messy, muddy place, not at all the simple, clean “science is settled” description preferred by climate alarmists and regulation seekers.

Hoerling is one scientist who does conjure some press coverage when describing the general lack of human fingerprint on all manner of extreme weather events. While most others hand-wave the science, Hoerling and his team actually put the historical observations and the behavioral expectations from climate models directly to the test.

Take, for example, the ongoing California drought. There are all manner of folks calling the drought conditions there “historic” and “epic” and the “worst in 1,200 years” and, of course, pointing the finger directly at humans. Even President Obama has gotten in on the act.

Not so fast say Hoerling’s team, in this case, led by Richard Seager. They decided to look at just what the expectations of California drought should be under an increasing greenhouse effect—expectations, in this case, defined by the very climate models making the future climate projections and upon which the case for catastrophic climate change (and equally catastrophic regulations) are founded. Their findings caught the attention of Seth Borenstein, science writer for the Associated Press, who highlighted them in an article earlier this week—an article that raised awareness of Seager and Hoerling’s findings.

Borenstein’s article was headlined “Don’t Blame Man-made Global Warming for the Devastating California Drought, a New Federal Report Says” and began:

A report issued Monday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said natural variations—mostly a La Niña weather oscillation—were the primary drivers behind the drought that has now stretched to three years.

Here are some additional highlights from the report itself (with emphasis added):

The current drought is not part of a long-term change in California precipitation, which exhibits no appreciable trend since 1895. Key oceanic features that caused precipitation inhibiting atmospheric ridging off the West Coast during 2011–14 were symptomatic of natural internal atmosphere-ocean variability.

Model simulations indicate that human-induced climate change increases California precipitation in mid-winter, with a low-pressure circulation anomaly over the North Pacific, opposite to conditions of the last three winters. The same model simulations indicate a decrease in spring precipitation over California. However, precipitation deficits observed during the past three years are an order of magnitude greater than the model-simulated changes related to human-induced forcing. Nonetheless, record-setting high temperature that accompanied this recent drought was likely made more extreme because of human-induced global warming.

Basically, aside from perhaps an added bit of warming, human-caused climate change played no role in the drought. In fact, climate models indicate almost the opposite set of occurrences (i.e., more winter precipitation).

This is but one of the Hoerling and team studies that burst warmie bubbles.

Here are a few more that you ought to have a look at:

Great Russian Heatwave of 2010:

We conclude that the intense 2010 Russian heat wave was mainly due to natural internal atmospheric variability. Slowly varying boundary conditions [that is, slowly increasing the greenhouse effect] that could have provided predictability and the potential for early warning did not appear to play an appreciable role in this event.

Great Plains Drought of 2012:

Climate simulations and empirical analysis suggest that neither the effects of ocean surface temperatures nor changes in greenhouse gas concentrations produced a substantial summertime dry signal over the central Great Plains during 2012.

In each case, the real expectations that the events are “consistent with” human-caused climate change are slim to none (despite the headlining media coverage to the contrary).

That’s the science. You ought to have a look!

K. William Watson

While government intervention often makes people’s lives worse, it can sometimes have aesthetically valuable side effects. For example, ancient pyramids are true marvels of human engineering, feudal despotism, and slave labor. Also, I’ll admit I’ve always enjoyed the iconic image of 1950s American cars in Cuba, which exist today because Cubans largely have been forbidden from buying new cars for over half a century.

A more modern consequence of big government causing cool things to happen is the existence of the Airbus Beluga Super Transporter. The Beluga exists because Airbus manufactures different parts of its planes in different European countries. Why does it do this? Subsidies! Lots of subsidies.

Airbus is based in France, where most of its planes are assembled. But the company is also subsidized by the United Kingdom, Germany, and Spain, and they each get at least one factory that makes some airplane component. In order to transport giant airplane parts like fuselages and wings from country to country, Airbus has designed a plane for the sole purpose of carrying plane parts between its factories.

 


I think it’s pretty cool looking. It’s also absurd. When your business model involves flying airplane parts around Europe in an airplane, it’s very possible you are inadequately concerned about efficiency.

To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with international supply chains.  In today’s globalized economy, it is not at all uncommon for manufacturing activity to be spread across multiple countries, particularly for complex or high-tech products. Today’s automobiles, regardless of their brand, contain a varied mix of foreign and domestic-made parts. An iPhone may be assembled in China, but its components were made in Korea and Japan, and its software was designed in California. Lots of factors go into deciding where to source manufacturing components, and when other factors outweigh transportation costs, global supply chains are born.

Perhaps, then, the Airbus Beluga would still exist in a free market, but I doubt it. The curious part of Airbus’s operations is not the fact of transportation, but the method. You may think it’s only natural that an airplane maker, when devising a logistical scheme for its supply chain, would gravitate toward air shipments. However, despite all the subsidies at home, Airbus has also set up factories in China and Alabama, where they somehow manage to send parts the same unexciting way all profit-maximizing global companies do—by sea.

 

Emma Ashford

While Washington focused yesterday on the prospect of yet another government shutdown, both House and Senate quickly and quietly passed bills which increase sanctions on Russia and authorize the sale of defensive arms to Ukraine.  S.2828 passed mid-afternoon by voice vote, while H.R. 5859 was passed without objection at 10:25pm last night, on a largely empty House floor. Indeed, the House resolution had been introduced only that day, giving members no time to review or debate the merits of a bill which has major foreign policy implications.

The bill requires the imposition of further sanctions on Russia, particularly on Rosboronexport, Russia’s main weapons exporter, as well as increasing licensing requirements for the sale of oil extraction technology to Russia. Any Russian company exporting weapons to Syria is also liable for sanctions. In addition, the bill contained a contingency, requiring the President to sanction Gazprom in the event that it interferes with the delivery of gas supplies to NATO members or to Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova. The bill also takes aim at Russia more broadly, directing the President to hold Russia accountable for its violations of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, and to consider whether it remains in U.S. interests to remain a party to this treaty.

Significantly, the bill authorizes the president to make available defensive weapons, services and training to Ukraine, including anti-tank weapons, crew weapons and ammunition, counter-artillery radar, tactical troop-operated surveillance drones, and command and communications equipment. It  also includes additional aid for Ukraine, earmarked to help Ukraine loosen its reliance on Russian energy, and strengthen civil society. Other funds go to increasing Russian-language broadcasting in Eastern Europe by Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, in order to ‘counter Russian propaganda.’

S.2828 and H.R. 5859, which are reportedly identical, will likely be signed into law, although President Obama expressed concern on Thursday that further sanctions on Russia could prove counterproductive. While the bill stops short of some of the more extreme proposals found in various failed congressional bills (i.e., the Russian Aggression Prevention Act of 2014), it will have serious ramifications for U.S.-Russian relations. Up to this point, the White House has resisted arming Ukraine, fearing escalation of the conflict. But this bill will make it extremely difficult for the White House to continue this policy.

Arming Ukraine will escalate tensions with Russia, but it will do little to help the Ukrainian army - which is corrupt and in dire need of reform - to combat the insurgency in its Eastern regions. The bill ties the hands of diplomats, requiring that Russia ceases “ordering, controlling… directing, supporting or financing” any acts or groups which undermine Ukrainian sovereignty before sanctions can be lifted. The INF treaty stipulation is also dangerous, raising tensions, and increasing the possibility that both Russia and the U.S. could withdraw from the treaty.

Unfortunately, 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. No wonder congress didn’t want to debate it openly.  

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