In an interview with CNN yesterday, outgoing FBI director Robert Mueller offered up words one could characterize as defending mass surveillance of all Americans’ phone calling. Indeed his interview has been portrayed as a defense of such spying, with outlets like NRO’s “The Corner” reporting “Outgoing FBI Chief: ‘Good Chance’ NSA Would Have Prevented ‘Part’ of 9/11.” But Director Mueller spoke much more equivocally than that.
Here’s what he actually said.
CNN: If we had the kind of intelligence that we were collecting through the NSA before September 11th, the kind of intelligence collection that we have now, do you think 9/11 would have been prevented?
MUELLER: I think there’s a good chance we would have prevented at least a part of 9/11. In other words, there were four planes. There were almost 20 — 19 persons involved. I think we would have had a much better chance of identifying those individuals who were contemplating that attack.
CNN: By this mass collection of information?
MUELLER: By the various programs that have been put in place since then. … It’s both the programs (under the Patriot Act) but also the ability to share the information that has made such dramatic change in our ability to identify and stop plots.
Mueller vaguely cited “various programs,” giving them a retroactive chance of preventing “a part of 9/11.” But even this defense of post-9/11 powers is insufficient.
In our 2006 paper, “Effective Counterterrorism and the Limited Role of Predictive Data Mining,” IBM scientist Jeff Jonas and I recounted the ease with which 9/11 attackers Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi could have been found had government investigators pursued them with alacrity. The 9/11 Commission said with respect to al-Mihdhar, “No one was looking for him.” Had they been caught and their associations examined, the 9/11 plot probably could have been rolled up. Sluggish investigation was a permissive factor in the 9/11 attacks, producing tragic results that nobody foresaw.
That absence of foresight is a twin with retrospective assessments like Mueller’s, which fail to account for the fact that nobody knew ahead of 9/11 what devastation might occur. Immediately after the 9/11 attacks, everybody knew what such an attack could cause, and everybody began responding to the problem of terrorism.
Would Patriot Act programs have prevented at least a part of 9/11? Almost certainly not, given pre-9/11 perceptions that terrorism was at the low end of threats to safety and security. A dozen years since 9/11, terrorism is again at the low end of threats to safety and security because of multiplicitous efforts worldwide and among all segments of society. It is not Patriot Act programs and certainly not mass domestic surveillance that make us safe. Even Mueller didn’t defend NSA spying.
I’ve often pointed out that the modern trend in America toward loading more and more legal risks and obligations onto employers tends to have the presumably unintended effect of creating a disincentive to employ people, especially when there is any hint that an employment relationship, even if productive otherwise, might take on elements of conflict.
Don’t just take my word for it. Here’s an item I’ve been meaning to note for a while from the excellent lawyer-blogger Eric B. Meyer of Dilworth Paxson in Philadelphia, who represents employers. It’s no longer brand new but has lost none of its relevance:
In the world of Human Resources, “hire slow, fire fast” generally holds true to avoid just about any lawsuit.
Meyer goes on to describe the case of a nursing assistant at a New Jersey senior living center who was written up for absenteeism, rules violations, and insubordination, and put on a series of supposedly final warnings and a “last chance” agreement.
Which is to say, the employer did not follow the maxim of “fire fast.” HR folks can probably guess what happened next: the worker filed a request under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), a federal law that 1) requires the employer to hold open a vacant job for an absentee under various circumstances and 2) lays out a minefield of ways the employer can incur liability if it then can be construed as having “discouraged” the request or “retaliated” against it. Much of the gamesmanship of employment law develops from doctrines like retaliation: an underlying claim of discriminatory treatment may be hopelessly weak, but retaliation will succeed in keeping the suit going. (When the Supreme Court very slightly narrowed liability for retaliation in this summer’s case of University of Texas Southwestern v. Nassar, the peals of anguish from the legal Left went on for weeks.) In this case the New Jersey senior center stepped on one of the mines: it proceeded to fire the worker based on a last-straw-on-the-camel further offense that others testified would normally not count as a firing matter by itself.
If you’re an employer in some region or industry where employees seldom sue, you may be able to offer lenient discipline policies with multiple chances in hopes of breaking the bad habits of an otherwise wanted employee. States like California and Massachusetts, which have laid out drastic legal consequences for employers whose workers do not get full lunch breaks, are also the states where you are likeliest to find seemingly draconian employer policies of firing or disciplining workers caught doing even a tiny bit of work over lunch.
Most experienced HR people I’ve met seem to find it easy to grasp the legal logic of “Hire Slow, Fire Fast.” Why is it so hard for elected lawmakers to grasp?
Daniel J. Ikenson
This morning, Cato published a new study of mine titled, “Reversing Worrisome Trends: How to Attract and Retain Investment in a Competitive Global Economy.” The thrust of the paper is that, despite still being the world’s premiere destination for foreign direct investment, the U.S. share of the global stock of direct investment fell from 39% in 1999 to 17% today.
This downward trend is attributable to two broad factors. First, developing economies – many of which have achieved greater political stability, sustained economic growth, improved infrastructure and higher-quality worker skill sets – are now viable options for pulling in the kinds of FDI that was once untenable in those locales. Second, a deteriorating business and investment climate in the United States – owing to burgeoning, burdensome, and uncertain regulations; an antiquated, punitive corporate tax system; incoherent immigration, energy, and trade policies; a wayward tort system; cronyism and perceptions thereof; and other perverse incentives and disincentives of policy have pushed investment away.
The first trend should be welcomed and embraced; the second must be reversed. From the study:
Unlike ever before, the world’s producers have a wealth of options when it comes to where and how they organize product development, production, assembly, distribution, and other functions on the continuum from product conception to consumption. As businesses look to the most productive combinations of labor and capital, to the most efficient production processes, and to the best ways of getting products and services to market, perceptions about the business environment can be determinative. In a global economy, “offshoring” is an inevitable consequence of competition. And policy improvement should be the broad, beneficial result.
The capacity of the United States to continue to be a magnet for both foreign and domestic investment is largely a function of its advantages, many of which are shaped by public policy. Considerations of taxes, regulations, trade openness, access to skilled workers, infrastructure, energy policy, and dozens of other policy matters factor into decisions about whether, where, and how much to invest. It should be of major concern that inward FDI has been erratic and relatively downward trending in recent years, but why that is the case should not be a mystery. U.S. scores on a variety of renowned business surveys and investment indices measuring policy and perceptions of policy suggest that the U.S. business environment is becoming increasingly less hospitable.
Although some policymakers recognize the need for reform, others seem to be impervious to the investment-repelling effects of some of the laws and regulations they create. Some see the shale gas and oil booms as more than sufficient for overcoming policy shortcomings and attracting the necessary investment. The most naive consider “American” companies to be tethered to the U.S. economy and obligated to invest and hire in the United States, regardless of the quality of the business and policy environments. They fail to appreciate that increasingly transnational U.S.-based businesses are not obligated to invest, produce, or hire in the United States.
It is the responsibility of policymakers, however, to create an environment that is more attractive to prospective investors. Current laws, regulations, and other conditions affecting the U.S. business environment are conspiring to deter inward investment and to encourage companies to offshore operations that could otherwise be performed competitively in the United States.
A proper accounting of these policies, followed by implementation of reforms to remedy shortcomings, will be necessary if the United States is going to compete effectively for the investment required to fuel economic growth and higher living standards.
Details, charts, and analysis, and citations are all included here.
Paul C. "Chip" Knappenberger and Patrick J. Michaels
Global Science Report is a weekly 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.”
The U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is nearing the final stages of its Fifth Assessment Report (AR5)—the latest, greatest version of its assessment of the science of climate change. Information is leaking out, with some regularity, as to what the final report will contain (why it is secretive in the first place is beyond us).
A few weeks ago, The Economist reported on some of the information from the new IPCC report that was leaked. The key piece of information concerned the IPCC’s assessment of the equilibrium climate sensitivity—how much the earth’s average surface temperature increases as a result of a doubling of the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration. As we have been reporting, the research now dominating the scientific literature indicates that the equilibrium climate sensitivity is around 2.0°C. This value is about 40% lower than the average climate sensitivity value of the climate models used by the IPCC to make their future projections of climate change, including among other projections, those for temperature and sea level rise. The Economist suggested that the IPCC was going to lower their assessed value for the equilibrium climate change based on the mountain of evidence from the literature, but gave no indication whether the IPCC was also going to, accordingly, lower all the projections made throughout their report.
The IPCC has three options:
1. Round-file the entire AR5 as it now stands and start again.
2. Release the current AR5 with a statement that indicates that all the climate change and impacts described within are likely overestimated by around 50%, or
3. Do nothing and mislead policymakers and the rest of the world.
We’re betting on door number 3.
In its article earlier this week reporting on its own acquired leaked information from the IPCC AR5 report, the New York Times basically proved us right.
The Times article, written by global warming enthusiast Justin Gillis, was spun to play up the perceived horrors from the AR5—that humans have caused the majority of the temperature rise since 1950 (failing to mention that the observed rise is only about 75 percent the value that it was supposed to be according to the IPCC, that the warming rate has been declining, or new studies which suggest that decreased aerosol emissions have played a significant role in the observed warming), that the sea level rise was possibly going to be large, dramatic, and dangerous (despite a plethora of new scientific findings to the contrary, see our latest Current Wisdom for example), that climate change was leading to more and more extreme weather (ignoring that climate change was probably averting more extreme weather than it was creating), and that human-caused greenhouse gas emissions were going to push temperatures rapidly upwards (brushing aside the plethora of new scientific evidence that the future temperature rise will continue to be less than expected, just as it has been for the past 50 years).
[As an aside, you can tell right from the start that an article about anthropogenic climate change resulting from human emissions of carbon dioxide is going to alarmist if it is accompanied by a picture of a smokestack spewing out water vapor (or anything else for that matter—after all, carbon dioxide is an odorless, colorless gas). You know that it is going to be completely over the top if the picture of the smokestack spewing water vapor is backlit by the sun, a geometry which makes the water vapor emissions appear black and thus dirty and foreboding. The Times article includes both tricks.]
So if Justin Gillis’s New York Times article is any indication of the actual contents of the upcoming Fifth Assessment Report from the IPCC, or how its contents are going to be spun, it should be plainly obvious that our Option #3 is going to be the chosen course—“ Do nothing and mislead policymakers and the rest of the world.”
We can’t say we are surprised.
But neither can we say that that the IPCC’s new results will be published without a huge groundswell of pushback from those who won’t be fooled by the IPCC’s misassessment of the current state of climate science.
Stay tuned for the fallout from this mushroom.
Superabundant federal student aid has done a huge amount to get us into our bankrupting college mess. To get us out, today President Obama will propose, essentially, “soft” price controls. But they will likely leave the root problem intact while, if anything, adding new kinds of woe.
On his college bus tour, President Obama will propose that Washington start publishing ratings of schools based on such measures as average tuition, graduation rates, debt and earnings of graduates, and the percentage of a college’s students who are low-income. The ratings would also “compare colleges with similar missions.” Ultimately, the president will propose that the availability of aid be partly conditioned on the new ratings.
Let’s be clear: The price of college is almost certainly far higher than it should be, fueled largely by federal aid that essentially tells colleges “charge whatever you want – we’ll give students the money.” That’s a major reason that average, inflation-adjusted prices have more than doubled in the last 30 years. And it is good that the president, and many others, are essentially acknowledging the inflationary reality of aid. But will price controls help or hurt?
Perhaps the first question is, will the controls actually lower prices? As I’ve pointed out before, there is abundant, readily available data about colleges, earnings, etc., and it seems to have little effect on college consumption. Why? Many reasons, but there are almost certainly two major ones. First, the Feds will give almost any student almost any amount of money needed to pursue any major. That eliminates the terrific service that private lenders, who need to take decent risks, would provide: telling people when their college decisions are unrealistic, and not giving them the rope to financially hang themselves. The other big problem is that soundbite-driven politicians love to tell everyone they need to go to college, both driving credential inflation – a degree is often considered an essential even if it has no bearing on the skills one needs for a specific job – and pushing people into expensive degree programs because they think they are necessary to prosper.
Publishing data – and the president promises a “Datapalooza” – simply isn’t likely to help much if aid remains. But what about conditioning receipt of aid on a school’s rating? That might control prices, but it depends on the specifics of the withholding. In particular, what triggers sanctions – for instance, what constitutes raising prices too high, too fast – and what is the punishment per, say, unit of inflation? Alas, while he suggests conditioning Pell Grant and loan terms and amounts on the ratings, the president ultimately punts on these crucial matters, saying that he will convene lots of hearings to work out lots of details, and a final decision won’t be made until 2018.
At least in the near future, then, federal price controls won’t likely exert big, downward pressure on college costs. And despite the huge problem of tuition hyperinflation, that is probably a good thing.
Looking at the ratings criteria, it is pretty clear that private colleges – which can’t keep sticker prices artificially low by taking taxpayer dough upfront – will look disproportionately bad. That may be mitigated somewhat if private institutions are compared only to other private institutions, but even if that is the initial format how long will it be kept? And will for-profit schools – which primarily seek to furnish education for “gainful employment” – be compared to community colleges, which have a similar mission but are much more heavily subsidized upfront? (And which, according to federal data, appear to perform significantly worse than for-profit schools?)
There are also serious problems with making debt and earnings the ultimate end points for judging success or failure. First, on what time frame do you base earnings? One year after graduation? Five years? Ten years? And what about people who are happy to take on debt to study subjects that aren’t highly remunerative but are nonetheless rewarding? As long as the borrowers pay those debts off, why should Washington decide that the institutions are less worthy choices than other schools? Of course the answer is that the Feds are paying, but it is the paying that is the problem, and using that power to “manage” higher education only compounds the ills. Finally, collecting big data, as we all now know, opens us all up for invasions of privacy, as well as empowering even more intrusive federal management to decide who should major in what and where they should do it. Indeed, there are serious cradle-to-grave implications for all of this when coupled with the data collection driven by Race to the Top and other federal education laws.
Finally, there is the problem of judging schools based on how many low-income students they enroll. The unfortunate, but pretty well documented reality is that many low-income people enter higher education, incur big costs, but disproportionately don’t finish. This is no doubt a function of many things – bad K-12 schools, a greater need to work while in college, disproportionately attending weak institutions – but encouraging schools to simply enroll more low-income students won’t solve these problems. And conditioning aid amounts on graduation rates for such students won’t ultimately help. Yes, graduation rates might go up, but colleges could easily pass students along, or push them into easier majors, or do other things that keep the schools out of trouble while giving out largely worthless degrees.
Thanks in large part to federal aid, the price of college has risen astronomically, kneecapping students and taxpayers. Price controls will only mask the root problem while creating new pains of their own. Only phasing out student aid – eliminating the root problem – will get us the higher education system we need.