Most people know the story of the boy who was rescuing sea stars that had washed up on a beach by throwing them back into the ocean. When a man scoffed to the boy that his efforts didn’t make a difference since he couldn’t save all of them, the boy tossed another sea star back into the ocean and replied, “It made a difference to that one.” The little-known ending to the story is that the boy was sued by the Southern Poverty Law Center for violating the Constitution’s Equal Protection clause.
Sadly, this is only a slight exaggeration. Earlier this week, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a federal lawsuit contending that Alabama’s new scholarship tax credit program violates the Equal Protection clause and harms the low-income students attending failing public schools whom the law is intended to help:
[SPLC] President Richard Cohen said the new Alabama Accountability Act will take millions away from public schools and will make the failing schools worse than they are now. He said the law was promoted by Republican Gov. Robert Bentley as giving students a way out of failing schools.
“It’s a lie. Our clients do not have a way out of the failing schools that they are in,” he said.
The Montgomery-based law center sued on the opening day of classes for most public schools in Alabama. The suit focuses on a part of the law that allows families with children in Alabama’s 78 failing public schools to move them to a non-failing public school or to a private school that participates in the program. They can get a state tax credit of about $3,500 annually to help cover private school costs.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of eight plaintiffs who say that they can’t afford to go to private schools and that the non-failing public schools are not accessible. The lawsuit raises equal protection issues.
One of the eight plaintiffs, Mariah Russaw, said she couldn’t afford the transportation costs even if her 12-year-old grandson, J.R., could leave Barbour County Junior High School in Clayton. All junior highs in the Barbour County school system are on the failing list. The nearest non-failing public school is 19 miles away in Pike County. The nearest private school is about 30 miles away, but it is not participating in the program.
The 62-year-old grandmother said it wouldn’t matter if the private school were participating. “I cannot afford to transport him to another school,” she said.
In short, SPLC argues that if the law can’t rescue every child from a failing school, then it shouldn’t be allowed to rescue any child. Not only would this line of reasoning hobble almost every government effort to incrementally address any problem, but the argument also rests on a misunderstanding of the status quo and the law’s likely impact.
The SPLC lawsuit claims that the law “creates two classes of students assigned to failing schools – those who can escape because of their parents’ income or where they live and those, like the Plaintiffs here, who cannot.” In fact, those two classes of students already exist. In our existing education system, low-income families are trapped in failing schools while wealthier families can afford either to live in districts with better public schools or to send their children to private school. The scholarship tax credit program is too limited to solve all the existing inequities, but it moves more students out of the first category and into the second. In other words, by expanding opportunities to low-income families, it makes an already unequal education system more equal.
Moreover, there is no evidence the program does harm to students who remain in public schools. The SPLC claims that the failing public schools are “likely to deteriorate further as their funding is continually diminished” as a result of students fleeing from those schools. But a mere assertion that harm is “likely” doesn’t cut it. Had the SPLC consulted the research literature instead of their fevered imaginations, they would have discovered that 22 of 23 studies of school choice programs found that they have positive impact on public school performance. The last study found no visible impact.
In other words, the increased choice and competition help both the students who participate in the program and those students who remain in their assigned public schools. Striking down the program would thus make matters worse for the litigants and other families like them, not better. Expanding the program would improve outcomes even further. If the SPLC is truly motivated by a desire to help low-income families, it should drop its lawsuit and join the effort to expand educational options. There are lots of sea stars left on the beach and they could use a hand.
Patrick J. Michaels
The Current Wisdom is a series of monthly articles in which Patrick J. Michaels, director of the Center for the Study of Science, reviews interesting items on global warming in the scientific literature that may not have received the media attention that they deserved, or have been misinterpreted in the popular press.
Could President Obama have picked a worse time to announce his Climate Action Plan?
Global warming has been stuck in neutral for more than a decade and a half, scientists are increasingly suggesting that future climate change projections are overblown, and now, arguably the greatest threat from global warming—a large and rapid sea level rise (SLR)—has been shown overly lurid (SOL; what did you think I meant?).
You hardly need an “action plan” when there is so little “action” worth responding to.
As I frequently discuss the lack of warming and the decreases in the estimates of future climate change, I’ll focus here on new scientific findings concerning the potential for future sea level rise, interspersing a little travelogue.
Projections of a large sea-level rise this century depend on rapid ice loss from Greenland and/or Antarctica. Yes, as ocean waters warm, they expand, but this expansion-induced rise is pretty well constrained and limited to being about 6 inches plus or minus a couple of inches by century’s end. And the contribution from melting glaciers/ice in other parts of the world (not counting Greenland and Antarctica) is even smaller, maybe 2-4 inches. So that adds up to about 8-12 inches of sea level rise by the year 2100—not much different than that which has already occurred over the past century. This is hardly catastrophic.
So getting a good handle on the contributions from Antarctica and Greenland is essential if you want to develop a reasonable expectation for the future. Lacking a good handle leads to unreasonable projections.
Here is an example of the latter.
A breathless passage from the book version of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth:
I flew over Greenland in 2005 and saw for myself the pools of meltwater covering large expanses on top of the ice. …These pools have always been known to occur, but the difference now is that there are many more of them covering a far larger area of ice. …In Greenland, as in the Antarctic Peninsula, this meltwater is now believed to keep sinking all the way down to the bottom, cutting deep crevasses and vertical tunnels that scientists call “moulins.”
When water reaches the bottom of the ice, it lubricates the surface of the bedrock and destabilizes the ice mass, raising fears that the ice mass will slide more quickly towards the ocean.
…If Greenland melted or broke up and slipped into the sea—or if half of Greenland and half of Antarctica melted or broke up and slipped into the sea, sea levels worldwide would increase by between 18 and 20 feet.
Tony Blair’s advisor, David King, is among the scientists who have been warning about potential consequences of large changes in these ice shelves. At a 2004 conference in Berlin, he said: THE MAPS OF THE WORLD WILL HAVE TO BE REDRAWN. [all caps in original]
Gore went on to include page after page of now and then maps of the world’s major cities after a sea level rise of 20 feet (of course, assuming no adaptive measures put in place).
But Gore’s disaster mechanism has been shown to be impotent and ineffective. In fact, a collection of recent papers published in the peer-reviewed scientific literature basically dispels all myths foretelling a large sea level rise this century coming from ice loss on Greenland. Recent research on Antarctica largely does the same.
First off, research by Sarah Shannon and 18 co-authors takes direct aim at Gore’s mechanism in their paper “Enhanced basal lubrication and the contribution of the Greenland ice sheet to future sea-level rise.” Here is what they conclude, in direct opposition to Gore’s claims:
Although changes in lubrication generate widespread effects on the flow and form of the ice sheet, they do not affect substantial net mass loss; increase in the ice sheet’s contribution to sea-level rise from basal lubrication is projected by all models to be no more than 5 percent of the contribution from surface mass budget forcing alone.
And “no more than 5 percent” turns out to be, by the year 2100, somewhere between 0 and 3 millimeters, or in English units, a tenth of an inch or less. Some disaster. Certainly “18 to 20 feet” is a lot scarier, but it is just plain wrong.
Another new study looks at (among other things) the sea-level rise effect of the acceleration of the discharge rate of those glaciers across Greenland, which directly empty out into the sea. Heiko Goelzer and fellow researchers found that after an initial bump in the contribution to sea level rise as these glaciers retreat, once they draw back to the grounding line—the point where the outlet glaciers stop floating and instead rest on the bedrock—the loss rate slows dramatically. They conclude that the contribution from dynamical changes to the flow rate of outlet glaciers may contribute between 8 to 18 millimeters of sea level rise by the year 2100. That is about a quarter to three-quarters of an inch. Again, not even close to a disaster.
Here’s your climate news scoop of the day: The highest discharge-volume glacier in the entire Northern Hemisphere—Greenland’s Jakobshavn—has grounded, which is really going to put the kibosh on the Greenlandic myth. Here’s a picture I took from my own Greenland sojourn* earlier this summer. It shows the southern end of Jakobshavn glacier, on June 24.
Looking south along the calving front of the Jakobshavn glacier, June 24, 2013. Photo by Patrick Michaels.
You can see that it is grounded over most of its humongous 10-kilometer face. The calved ice drops off in smaller chunks, dramatically reducing the size of the bergs that will eventually float down the spectacular Ilulissat Icefjord.
A small portion of the glacier was perhaps still floating when I was there, right near the north end, as indicated by a reduction in the height of the calving face, as shown in this photo.
Looking north along the calving front of the Jakobshavn glacier, June 24, 2013. Photo by Patrick Michaels.
As a tidewater glacier, Jakobshavn regularly calves some tremendous icebergs that take a couple of years to make their way down the 35-mile fjord, only to ground on the terminal moraine near Ilulissat (and conveniently located in view of the Hotel Arctic’s live webcam, here). Because the glacier has largely grounded, these bergs are not the giants that they once were (although some sizeable icebergs continue to be produced in the early summer as the floating ice tongues established in the winter break up). Hie thee to Ilulissat! The sooner the better!! Presumably some views through the webcam (which was near my room) will convince you!
(The terminal moraine near Ilulissat dates to the end of the Little Ice Age—meaning that the productive fishery at the mouth of the fjord was probably inaccessible. Farther south, such an expansion of ice no doubt covered much of the Viking pastureland, chasing them to places elsewhere (including North America?)).
A third new study examined the direct contribution of changes in the surface mass balance (SMB) of Greenland (that is, total run off from ice melting minus total gains from enhanced snowfall) to future sea level rise (they did not consider ice loss from glacier speed). In their study “Estimating the Greenland ice sheet surface mass balance contribution to future sea level rise using the regional atmospheric climate model MAR,” Xavier Fettweis and colleagues found that declines in the SMB by the year 2100 led to somewhere between 2 centimeters and 13 centimeters of sea level rise, depending of the carbon dioxide emissions scenario used in their model. That’s somewhere between 1 and 5 inches (and these projections are based on climate models which, according to the latest science, overestimate future warming by some 70 percent).
So adding all of these effects up—basal lubrication, glacial dynamics, and enhanced melting—the total global sea level rise by the end of the 21st century originating from Greenland projected by the latest, greatest scientific studies averages out to be maybe 3 to 4 inches. Ho hum.
Like I said, sea level rise disaster scenarios that are dreamed up by Greenland shedding large volumes of ice (a la Al Gore, Jim Hansen, etc.) are SOL.
Fettweis, X., et al., 2013. Estimating the Greenland ice sheet surface mass balance contribution to future sea level rise using the regional atmospheric climate model MAR. The Cryosphere, 7, 469-489.
Goelzer, H., et al., 2013. Sensitivity of Greenland ice sheet projections to model formulations, Journal of Glaciology, 59, 733-749, doi:10.3189/2013JoG12J182
Shannon, S., et al., 2013. Enhanced basal lubrication and the contribution of the Greenland ice sheet to future sea-level rise. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, doi:10.1073/pnas.1212647110
*Get that ticket to Greenland pronto! Travel hint: the shortest route is through Reykjavik on Iceland Air and then on Air Iceland to Ilullisat. Reserve in advance and you can get a Saga Class (business) seat for pretty cheap compared to the Majors (which will take you all the way to Copenhagen and then backtracking on Air Greenland’s A330 to Kangerlussaq (Sondre Stromfjord) and an additional connection to Ilulissat, i.e. $$$$).
Phew. That was close.
Earlier this month, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said that without a new farm bill to replace the 2008 farm bill, the USDA would not have the authority or the funds to continue paying the $147m per year bribe we had settled with Brazil in 2010 as part of a trade deal. (The fulsome details are available in this blog post, written at the time of the deal, and more about the underlying trade dispute is available in this 2005 policy analysis by Cato Adjunct Scholar Dan Sumner). And without those bribes, Brazil would likely suspend the ceasefire deal and retaliate against U.S. export interests by raising import taxes and suspending its obligations to protect Americans’ intellectual property. So, Mr. Vilsack implied, Congress needs to pass a farm bill now, and include changes to the cotton program that would satisfy the Brazilians and prevent a trade war.
Well stand down, America, because according to some unnamed trade experts quoted by Inside U.S. Trade today [$], Mr. Vilsack’s analysis is not exactly correct. He may even be lying:
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack misconstrued the facts, or was at least misleading, when he claimed last week that the U.S. government will lose the authority on Oct. 1 to continue paying Brazil $147 million annually under a temporary settlement to a World Trade Organization dispute, according to four non-government experts.
The statement, these experts agreed, was clearly aimed at pressuring Congress to pass a new farm bill and thereby resolve the longstanding fight with Brazil over agricultural subsidies…
But a decision on whether to end that authority is clearly within the purview of the administration – not Congress, these experts said. In other words, if the authority is expiring this fall, it is only because the administration has determined internally that it wants it to expire and does not want to continue making the payments, they said…
“In my opinion, if the farm bill were extended again for one year and the Brazilians were OK with another year’s worth of payments and there was an agreement from both sides, Vilsack would have the authority to continue payments,” one Senate aide said. “He and the [administration] just don’t want to and they are using this as leverage” to try and secure passage of a new farm bill, the aide added.
Numerous other sources also pointed out that the administration did not gain new authority from Congress when it instituted the payments in 2010, and said there is no reason to believe it would need such an act of Congress now in order to maintain its current ability to pay Brazilian cotton growers. No appropriations legislation has been passed in several years, and this has not affected the payments at all…
Another agriculture industry source also said the secretary’s implication that passage of the farm bill would fix the dispute with Brazil was also misleading. Brazil has continuously criticized the pending farm bill proposals for potentially increasing the level of government support for cotton farmers compared with current levels, and for not making any changes to a WTO-faulted export credit guarantee program also operated by the CCC.
Vilsack also said last week that, due to sequestration, the administration would not be able to pay the full amount to Brazil this year either (Inside U.S. Trade, Aug. 9). Observers also said it was unclear to them whether this was really the case, or if this was an elected choice by the administration designed to increase pressure on Congress. [all emphases added]
So it looks like the mad panic to pass a farm bill is unjustified, at least as far as the Brazil cotton dispute is concerned. Mr. Vilsack, whose agency clearly has a vested interest in the farm bill’s passage given that it justifies the USDA’s very existence, may have been stretching the truth in pursuit of his goal. The USDA can keep paying the bribes whatever happens, and the farm bill proposals under consideration are unlikely to satisfy the Brazilians anyway.
The ideal solution, of course, would be to do away with U.S. cotton supports (and all other agricultural programs) altogether. We could save taxpayers and consumers billions of dollars, and put that $147m to better use. That would be a farm bill worth passing immediately.
I don’t know if it is intentionally being done to promote the Common Core national curriculum standards, or they are honest but failed efforts to objectively describe what the Core is, but recent polling on the Core has been heavily slanted to get pro-Core responses.
Case in point, the newest Education Next public opinion poll, which in the past has offered terrific efforts to compensate for wording in other polls seemingly designed to elicit negative results against school choice. But on Common Core? Just read the question for yourself (#32 on the questionnaire):
As you may know, all states are currently deciding whether or not to adopt the Common Core standards in reading and math. If adopted, these standards would be used to hold the state’s schools accountable for their performance. Do you support or oppose adoption of the Common Core standards in your state?
First and foremost, that “all states are deciding” whether or not to adopt the Core is just incorrect. Some states are contemplating leaving the Common Core, but almost all states decided they would adopt in 2010. Many, of course, did so in a rush to get federal Race to the Top money. Indeed, federal coercion–and the flash adoption it spurred–are two of the biggest objections to the Core, and this question acts like those hugely controversial things simply never happened.
Second, how many people, knowing little else about the Core, are going to oppose something that generically will hold “schools accountable for their performance?” Probably not many. And the fact is the Core does not hold anyone accountable for performance. That would be the role of tests coupled with sanctions, not the Core itself. Core supporters love to bash opponents for attributing to the Core things that do not directly come from it–data mining, squeezing out literature–but seem to have no trouble wrongly attributing positive things directly to it.
It’s no wonder the Education Next pollsters found big support for the Core, but faster rising opposition: Much support likely comes from respondents only knowing what the pollsters tell them, while opposition is almost certainly coming primarily from people who over the last year have become aware of the reality of Core, and don’t like it.
Just as bad as the Education Next poll is the AP-NORC “National Education Survey” that came out a few days ago, though it does furnish one very useful piece of information: more than half of respondents knew “little” or “nothing” about the Core, showing how influential a leading question could be. Unfortunately, then they provided such a question (Q30), saying that “the objective of the Common Core is to provide consistent, clear standards across all states for students in grades K-12.” Who, knowing little to nothing about the Common Core, is going to oppose “consistent, clear standards?” That there is big debate about how consistent and clear they are is in no way indicated in the question, and, not surprisingly, it gets a plurality to say they think the Core will “improve the quality of education.” Perhaps the amazing thing is that it didn’t get a majority to say that.
In the end, whether national standards are a good or bad policy doesn’t have a lot to do with public opinion polls. But wouldn’t it be nice if the polls weren’t obviously slanted toward pro-Core outcomes?
… and you’re not following developments in Fourth Amendment law.
Jeffrey Toobin is the latest to claim that Smith v. Maryland settles the Fourth Amendment issues around the National Security Agency’s acquisition of data about every call made in the United States. He even links to the text of the decision in a recent blog post.
The majority opinion in Smith did say that people don’t have such expecations, but that rationale is weak, and the facts of Smith are inapposite to the present controversy. I think that’s easily gathered from reading the case with awareness of legal currents.
Here’s what happened in Smith:
On March 5, 1976, in Baltimore, Md., Patricia McDonough was robbed. She gave the police a description of the robber and of a 1975 Monte Carlo automobile she had observed near the scene of the crime. After the robbery, McDonough began receiving threatening and obscene phone calls from a man identifying himself as the robber. On one occasion, the caller asked that she step out on her front porch; she did so, and saw the 1975 Monte Carlo she had earlier described to police moving slowly past her home. On March 16, police spotted a man who met McDonough’s description driving a 1975 Monte Carlo in her neighborhood. By tracing the license plate number, police learned that the car was registered in the name of petitioner, Michael Lee Smith.
The next day, the telephone company, at police request, installed a pen register at its central offices to record the numbers dialed from the telephone at petitioner’s home. The police did not get a warrant or court order before having the pen register installed. The register revealed that on March 17 a call was placed from petitioner’s home to McDonough’s phone. On the basis of this and other evidence, the police obtained a warrant to search petitioner’s residence. The search revealed that a page in petitioner’s phone book was turned down to the name and number of Patricia McDonough; the phone book was seized. Petitioner was arrested, and a six-man lineup was held on March 19. McDonough identified petitioner as the man who had robbed her. (citations omitted)
It is not possible to argue honestly that the facts of Smith are anything like the NSA’s bulk data collection. The police had weighty evidence implicating one man. The telephone company voluntarily applied a pen register, collecting analog information about the use of one phone line by that one suspect. I can’t think of a factual situation that could be at a further extreme than NSA’s telephone calling surveillance program.
Apologists for NSA spying have to rest their argument entirely on the Smith Court’s conclusion that there is no “expectation of privacy” in phone dialing information. But this is an unsafe resting place for at least two reasons.
First, the Court decided the Smith case wrongly, misapplying the “reasonable expectation of privacy” test, as courts often do. Randy Barnett and I pointed this out in our recent brief to the Supreme Court:
Justice Blackmun inaccurately applied [“reasonable expectation”] doctrine. The question whether a person has an actual (subjective) expectation of privacy is a question of fact, but the Court treated it as an objective question, denying the possibility of such an expectation. (“[I]t is too much to believe that telephone subscribers, under these circumstances, harbor any general expectation that the numbers they dial will remain secret.”) Having misapplied the subjective part of the Katz test, the Court appears also to have botched the objective part. Justice Blackmun marshaled arguments for the position that an expectation of privacy is unreasonable, but made no comparing or contrasting mention of counterarguments. Most likely, he treated the objective part of the Katz test subjectively, universalizing his own opinion as though it were the one true opinion on privacy around telephone dialing information. (citations omitted)
But more importantly, the Supreme Court is moving away from the “reasonable expectation of privacy” test entirely. In major Fourth Amendment decisions like Kyllo (2001) and Jones (2012), the Court did not use the “reasonable expectation of privacy” test to examine scanning of a home with a thermal imager and tracking of a vehicle with a GPS device. (Both require a warrant.) In Jardines, decided last term, the Court did not use the “reasonable expectation of privacy” test in finding that walking a drug-sniffing dog to the front door of a home was a Fourth Amendment search also requiring a warrant. As I said in a blog post about this minor victory for the Fourth Amendment, “Any case is a good case if it declines to use the failed ‘reasonable expectation of privacy’ doctrine.”
So, does Smith dispense with our Fourth Amendment interests in phone dialing information? Here’s what Justice Sotomayor said about that in Jones:
[I]t may be necessary to reconsider the premise that an individual has no reasonable expectation of privacy in information voluntarily disclosed to third parties. This approach is ill suited to the digital age, in which people reveal a great deal of information about themselves to third parties in the course of carrying out mundane tasks…. I would not assume that all information voluntarily disclosed to some member of the public for a limited purpose is, for that reason alone, disentitled to Fourth Amendment protection.
I’m going to do you a favor here: Don’t bet on Smith v. Maryland.
With dead protesters littering the streets of Cairo, Secretary of State John Kerry’s theory that Egypt’s military rulers “were restoring democracy” isn’t looking very good. The dead won’t be able to vote in the new and improved Egypt.
Instead of acting as the regime’s enabler, the Obama administration should cut off foreign “aid.” If there is influence for Washington to exercise, officials should do so quietly and informally.
Unfortunately, U.S. policy toward Egypt has rarely focused on the Egyptian people. The $75 billion in “aid” was largely a payoff to successive dictators and their military Praetorian Guards. Washington worried about “stability,” not democracy.
Hosni Mubarak was finally overthrown in 2011. In last year’s presidential election, the Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi defeated Mubarak’s last prime minister, Ahmed Shafik. The secular liberals were not a factor.
Morsi failed to establish his organization’s democratic bona fides, and especially to reach out to disaffected Egyptians who only reluctantly backed him. But his opponents were little better, while the Mubarak state remained largely intact and undercut him at every turn.
It would have taken extraordinary skill, forbearance, and luck, none of which President Morsi possessed, to have succeeded. Had the opposition simply waited Morsi would have discredited political Islam—democratically. In this way, argued Reuel Marc Gerecht of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies: “The Egyptian military may have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.”
Instead, Morsi’s disparate opponents backed SCAF in staging the July 3 coup: the president removed, his top aides arrested, his movement’s media shuttered and journalists arrested, the president and others charged with fanciful offenses, and his supporters gunned down in the streets.
Certainly it was an odd way to go about “restoring democracy.” David Kramer, Freedom House’s president, cited a “significant decline in most of the country’s democratic institutions” after Morsi’s ouster. What the al-Sisi government actually restored was the old Mubarak structure.
The Brotherhood resisted the military’s demand for abject surrender. After meeting with government officials Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said: “You could tell people were itching for a fight.” Indeed, reported the Washington Post, “Two weeks before the bloody crackdown in Cairo, the Obama administration, working with European and Persian Gulf allies, believed it was close to a deal to have Islamist supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi disband street encampments in return for a pledge of nonviolence from Egypt’s interim authorities. But the military-backed government rejected the deal and ordered its security forces to break up the protests.”
The military government acknowledged over 600 dead, and the toll almost certainly was much higher. Many of the killings appeared to be deliberate, the result of army snipers. Sherif Mansour of the Committee to Protect Journalists decried the “systematic” targeting of the press.
The slaughter in Cairo sparked more violence nationwide, including Brotherhood attacks on government buildings and Coptic churches. Although the army has the near-term advantage, the movement has survived prior attempts at suppression. Moreover, the government is encouraging the rise of a more radical and violent leadership. Al-Qaeda’s head, Ayman al-Zawahiri, was a member of the Brotherhood and imprisoned and tortured during a prior crackdown.
Continuing civil disorder and violence is almost certain. Terrorism is possible. The kind of strife in Iraq after the U.S. invasion and Algeria in the 1990s also is a risk. Of course, in any such conflict there will be little room for liberal and democratic values.
The Obama administration has ignored U.S. law requiring an aid cut-off after a coup because it wanted to preserve its “leverage.” Unfortunately, Washington has consistently demonstrated its impotence in Cairo. Most recently, Washington has been begging the military to promote reconciliation, without evident success.
The carnage in Cairo mimics that in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. To subsidize Cairo today is to underwrite murder. Washington’s best policy is to support neither side and leave this tragic conflict to the Egyptian people.
Occupational licensing laws make it harder and more expensive for people to get jobs or to create innovative businesses that might not fit into to conceptual box designed by last generation’s regulators. Worse, while these laws are supposed to be about protecting consumers against dangerous or inept practitioners, they’re often exploited by existing businesses to bar newcomers from competing against them.
But these problems are nothing compared to “Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity” laws, also called “Certificate of Need” or CON laws. Unlike typical licensing rules, CON laws don’t have anything to do with whether a person is educated or qualified. Instead, they prohibit you from going into business unless you first prove to bureaucrats that a new business is “needed.” And these laws rarely define “need,” or explain how to prove it. Still worse, such laws usually allow existing firms to block a newcomer from staring a competing business. In short, CON laws bar you from going into business until you get permission from your own competitors. (It sounds like something from an Ayn Rand novel, right?)
Last week, Cato adjunct scholar Timothy Sandefur and his colleagues at the Pacific Legal Foundation filed a motion with a federal judge in Kentucky asking the court to strike down that state’s CON law for moving companies. The details are here, and they’re telling.
There have been 39 applications for new moving licenses since 2007. Those that were not “protested” by existing moving companies were approved without incident. But in 19 cases, existing firms did object. And in all of those cases, one of two things happened: either the applicant gave up and abandoned the application, or the government denied it on the grounds that existing moving services were “adequate.” The state never approved an application that was protested by existing firms, no matter what. In one case, an applicant who’d been working for moving companies for 39 years was denied a license in a decision that declared him fully qualified–but said existing companies didn’t need the competition. No wonder Sandefur calls the law “the Competitor’s Veto.”
Notably, of the 114 “protests” filed against applications for new moving licenses in the past five years, all said that the reason for protesting was that a new moving company would cause competition. None even alleged that the applicant was dangerous or incompetent or dishonest.
Not only is Kentucky’s CON law explicitly designed to protect established companies against entrepreneurs who want to work hard to support themselves, but they’re also incomprehensibly vague. What is a “need”? What qualifies as “adequate”? Nobody knows, and state officials testified under oath that they don’t use any objective standards when making such determinations.
The Bluegrass State, by the way, isn’t the only example of this sort of thing. In an article forthcoming in the George Mason Civil Rights Law Journal, Sandefur demonstrates the same pattern in Missouri, where he challenged the constitutionality of a very similar law. There, too, all of the 110 protests filed against moving license applications were filed by existing firms, and all explicitly said that their only reason for objecting was to avoid competition. (That law was repealed last year.)
The Supreme Court has made clear that licensing requirements must focus on the applicant’s “fitness or capacity to practice the profession,” and it has invalidated CON laws that only protect cartels against competitors. Like those laws, Kentucky’s CON law isn’t about protecting the public. It’s based on fallacious and outdated economic theories that saw competition as wasteful and inefficient. Economists now generally agree that competition is the source of efficiency – and that when government tries to decide what kind of businesses are “needed,” that power will be captured by private interests seeking to benefit themselves at the expense of consumers and entrepreneurs. Here’s hoping the court strikes down the Kentucky anti-competition law and enforce the constitutional right to earn a living.
Daniel J. Mitchell
As regular readers know, one of my great challenges in life is trying to educate policy makers about the Laffer Curve, which is simply a way of illustrating that government won’t collect any revenue if tax rates are zero, but also won’t collect much revenue if tax rates are 100 percent. After all, very few people will be willing to earn and report income if the government steals every penny.
In other words, you can’t estimate changes in tax revenues simply by looking at changes in tax rates. You also have to consider changes in taxable income. Only a fool, for instance, would assume that you can double tax revenue by doubling tax rates.
But how do you explain this to the average person? Or, if you want a bigger challenge, how do you get this point across to a politician?
Over the years, I’ve picked up a few teaching examples that seem to be effective. People are always shocked, for example, when I show them the IRS numbers on how rich people paid a lot more tax when Reagan cut the top tax rate from 70 percent to 28 percent.
And they’re also more likely to understand why class-warfare tax policy won’t work when I show them the IRS data on how upper-income taxpayers have considerable control over the timing, level, and composition of their income.
Perhaps my favorite teaching technique, though, is to ask folks to pretend that they’re running a restaurant and to think about what might happen to their sales if they double the price of hamburgers. Would it make sense to assume that they would get twice as much revenue?
Almost everybody understands that hamburger sales would plummet and that they would likely lose revenue.
Well, great minds (or at least wonky minds) think alike, because the Tax Foundation has released a great video on dynamic scoring and they use donuts to make the same point.The Economics of Tax Reform: Lessons from the Donut Shop
The video suggests that it would be a good idea to modernize the revenue-estimating process.
I fully agree. The Joint Committee on Taxation, which is responsible for revenue estimates on Capitol Hill, is notorious for using antiquated and biased methodology.
I elaborate (and use my hamburger example) in this video I narrated for the Center for Freedom and Prosperity.The Laffer Curve, Part III: Dynamic Scoring
P.S. The Joint Committee on Taxation also is responsible for producing biased estimates of so-called tax expenditures.
P.P.S. Only 15 percent of CPAs (the folks who see first-hand how taxes impact behavior) agree with the Joint Committee on Taxation’s methodology.
In a nation with a strong tradition of holding major political contests in years divisible by the number two, politicos are mostly confined to chirping about distant elections during odd-numbered years. The exceptions in the year following a presidential election are New Jersey and Virginia, which hold their gubernatorial elections. In addition, due to the passing of Senator Frank Lautenberg, New Jersey will hold a special election to the U.S. Senate. In all three elections, one or both of the major candidates have made school choice an issue. That makes sense because school choice is increasingly popular, especially once implemented. Unfortunately, while the candidates should be commended for promoting school choice policies in general, their specifics leave much to be desired.
Last week, the Republican gubernatorial candidate in Virginia, Ken Cuccinelli, unveiled an education plan calling for an expansion of the state’s scholarship tax credit program (or the creation of a separate program) that would direct funds to students currently attending a failing public school. However, what Virginia’s scholarship tax credit program really needs is the policy equivalent of Extreme Home Makeover to remove unnecessary regulations on private schools, shift administration of the program to the Department of Revenue, increase the credit amount, and expand the uses of the scholarships beyond just tuition. As Andrew Coulson has demonstrated, it is the least regulated, most market-like private schools that do the best job of serving families.
In New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie is once again advocating for a scholarship tax credit program, just as he had promised in 2009. Thus far, Christie has not fulfilled his promise. While Christie has repeatedly included a tax credit program in his proposed budgets, he has also repeatedly signed budgets lacking such programs. Certainly Christie faces a hostile legislature on this issue, but he has proven capable of getting his top priorities through. Private school choice does not appear to be one of them. That said, recognizing the need for competition, Christie did implement a modest public school choice law and has helped transform some traditional district schools into charter schools. It’s certainly possible that if reelected, he might spend his enhanced political capital on finally enacting private school choice. Color me skeptical, but if the latest polls are any indication, voters will give Christie the opportunity to finally keep his promise.
In the New Jersey Senate race, both candidates have declared their support for school choice. Indeed, the issue has become somewhat of a political football, with former mayor Steve Lonegan accusing Mayor Cory Booker of not being sufficiently pro-school choice:
“It is time for Cory Booker to man up and say once and for all whether he will support school vouchers if he is elected to the U.S. Senate or will he join President Obama in shutting down school voucher programs…Cory had seven years to give low-income students in Newark a chance at receiving a quality education. Instead, he has offered platitudes and vague statements.”
The attack is somewhat disingenuous since a voucher program would have to be enacted at the state level, not the local level. Some commentators see the attack as an effort to drive a wedge between Booker and his base to dampen support on election day, though Booker’s support for vouchers didn’t hurt him in the primary. What’s not clear is how either candidate’s support for school choice will translate into policy in the Senate. Supporting the Washington, D.C. voucher program is certainly laudable, but pushing for a national voucher program would be misguided.
In summary, it is encouraging that the popularity of school choice programs has translated into greater political support, but this year’s elections don’t offer much for school choice advocates to get excited about.
A new essay at Downsizing Government focuses on infrastructure investment. The essay discusses problems with federal infrastructure spending and the advantages of privatizing infrastructure to the full extent possible.
Unfortunately, the current administration’s infrastructure policy has been mainly focused on increasing spending on misguided activities such as high-speed rail. But here are some of the problems with such a federal-led approach to infrastructure:
- Investment is misallocated. Federal investments are often based on political pork-barrel factors rather than actual marketplace demands. Amtrak investment, for example, has long been spread around to low-population areas where passenger rail makes little economic sense. Most of Amtrak’s financial losses come from long-distance routes through rural areas that account for only a small fraction of all riders. Every lawmaker wants an Amtrak route through their state, so investment gets misallocated away from where it is really needed, such as the Northeast corridor.
- Infrastructure is utilized inefficiently. Government infrastructure is often utilized inefficiently because supply and demand are not balanced by market prices. The vast water infrastructure operated by the Bureau of Reclamation, for example, greatly underprices irrigation water in western United States. The result is wasted resources, harm to the environment, and a looming water crisis in many areas in the West.
- Investment is mismanaged. Federal agencies don’t have the strong incentives that businesses do to ensure that infrastructure projects are constructed and operated efficiently. Federal highway, energy, airport, and air traffic control projects, for example, have often experienced large cost overruns. The Big Dig in Boston—which was two-thirds funded by the federal government—exploded in cost to five times the original estimate. And over much of the last century, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation were known for spending on boondoggle projects, distorting their analyses, harming the environment, and spending on projects to further private interests rather than the general public interest.
- Mistakes are replicated across the nation. Perhaps the biggest problem with federal intervention in infrastructure is that when Washington makes mistakes it replicates them across the nation. High-rise public housing projects, for example, were a terrible idea that federal funding helped spread nationwide. Federal subsidies for light-rail projects have biased cities to opt for these expensive systems, even though they are generally less efficient and flexible than bus systems. High-speed rail represents another federal effort to induce the states to spend money on uneconomical infrastructure.
- Burdensome regulations. A final problem with federal infrastructure spending is that it usually comes part and parcel with piles of regulations. Federal Davis-Bacon labor rules, for example, raise the cost of building state and local infrastructure. In general, federal regulations impose one-size-fits-all solutions on the states even though the states may have diverse infrastructure needs.
Many policymakers are concerned that America have top-notch infrastructure to compete in the global economy. But the best way forward is for the federal government to cut subsidies and to devolve control over infrastructure to state and local governments. To meet demands for new infrastructure capacity, the states should innovate with privatization.
America’s entrepreneurs are looking for new opportunities. So let’s give them a crack at improving the nation’s infrastructure by reducing federal subsidies and regulations that deter private investment in airports, highways, and many other facilities.
For more, see www.downsizinggovernment.org/infrastructure-investment.
Today’s Washington Post reports that the National Security Agency violated the rules on domestic surveillance thousands of time a year since Congress granted the agency broader surveillance powers in 2008. Note this revelation did not come to light because of forthright disclosure from the professionals that run the agency, the congressional oversight committees, or the FISA court. Rather, whistleblower Edward Snowden provided this information to the Post. The U.S. government has made it clear that it wants Snowden locked away in a prison cell incommunicado.
A loss of the expectation of privacy in communications is a loss of something personal and intimate, and it will have broader implications. That is the view of Nat Hentoff, the great journalist and civil libertarian. He is 88 now and on fire on the issue of privacy. “The media has awakened,” he told me. “Congress has awakened, to some extent.” Both are beginning to realize “that there are particular constitutional liberty rights that [Americans] have that distinguish them from all other people, and one of them is privacy”…
He wonders if Americans know who they are compared to what the Constitution says they are.
Mr. Hentoff’s second point: An entrenched surveillance state will change and distort the balance that allows free government to function successfully. Broad and intrusive surveillance will, definitively, put government in charge. But a republic only works, Mr. Hentoff notes, if public officials know that they—and the government itself—answer to the citizens. It doesn’t work, and is distorted, if the citizens must answer to the government. And that will happen more and more if the government knows—and you know—that the government has something, or some things, on you. “The bad thing is you no longer have the one thing we’re supposed to have as Americans living in a self-governing republic,” Mr. Hentoff said. “The people we elect are not your bosses, they are responsible to us.” They must answer to us. But if they increasingly control our privacy, “suddenly they’re in charge if they know what you’re thinking.”
This is a shift in the democratic dynamic. “If we don’t have free speech then what can we do if the people who govern us have no respect for us, may indeed make life difficult for us, and in fact belittle us?”
More thoughts from Nat Hentoff here.
As early as next week, the California State Senate could vote on S.B. 397, a hitherto little-noticed bill that approves “enhanced drivers’ licenses” in California. The bill’s ostensible purpose is to bring California’s licenses up to the standards set by the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), which mandated the use of a passport or “enhanced driver’s license” for sea and land crossings in 2008 within continental North America and the Caribbean. (Air travel still requires the use of a passport.) WHTI was and still is a paragon of costly overreaction to terrorism.
What’s “enhanced” about an “enhanced driver’s license”? It contains a radio frequency identification (RFID) chip, which in turn contains a personal identification number. Think of it as your Department of Homeland Security tracking number. The RFID chip broadcasts the information to any receiver that properly interrogates it. At the Canadian and Mexican border, this in theory allows for quicker transit and passage through EDL-specific “Ready Lanes.” The receiver pulls up information held in a DHS database, including identity data, the bearer’s picture, and signature. (Unsurprisingly, the bill reserves the right for the state to include other information in the future, should it deem it to be necessary.) At the border and beyond, it allows pretty much anyone to figure out your comings and goings.
Using RFID in identity documents was identified as a no-no by DHS’s privacy advisory committee in 2006. That doesn’t seem to have stopped the agency from moving forward with it. If S.B. 397 passes, EDLs in California would become legal but optional, as they currently are in New York, Michigan, Vermont, and Washington State. Given the government’s propensity for turning optional pilot programs into permanent mandatory programs (witness the current debate over the 17-year-old E-Verify “pilot progam”), it’s not difficult to imagine a time when the EDL programs cease to be optional—and when EDLs contain information well beyond a picture, a signature, and citizenship status. The government also tends to expand programs far beyond their original purposes.
Californians should not walk—they should run away from “enhanced” driver’s licenses.
The post 3 Reasons Why It’s Hard for Young People to Find Jobs appeared first on Republican Liberty Caucus of South Carolina.
In 2011, the Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Paletta reported on the rapid growth in individuals applying for and receiving Social Security disability benefits. Paletta found that Puerto Rico had become a particularly easy place to obtain benefits. Officials with the Social Security Administration (SSA) absurdly claimed that nothing was amiss.
It looks like the SSA is about to get some egg on its face.
Yesterday, Paletta reported that federal investigators, including the FBI, raided doctors’ offices in Puerto Rico as part of a widening probe into disability fraud on the island. A doctor’s opinion that an individual is suffering from a disability is naturally quite helpful in convincing examiners and judges that benefits are warranted. Investigators are apparently looking into whether Puerto Rican doctors are being paid to document that applicants are disabled. From the article:
In 2006, just 36% of initial applicants in Puerto Rico were awarded benefits. In December 2010, the award rate had jumped to 69%. By 2010, nine of the top 10 U.S. ZIP Codes for workers receiving disability benefits were on the island.
At the time, SSA officials said the high number of recipients and the high award rate was due to the island’s weak economy and a lack of adequate health care for workers.
The program is overseen by the Social Security Administration in Baltimore, but each state and territory is responsible for performing an initial screening to determine eligibility. Social Security officials said in 2011 that Puerto Rico had rigorous standards and a virtually nonexistent error rate.
The characteristics of Puerto Rico’s beneficiaries differed from other areas. In addition to the large clusters in certain zip codes, federal data showed that 33.3% of Puerto Rican beneficiaries qualified because of “mood disorders,” a rate that is at least 10 percentage points higher than any U.S. state.
Disability examiners and federal judges say mental disorders are harder to measure and often rely on medical opinions issued by doctors to make a determination.
SSDI was designed as a way to provide benefits for people who can’t work because of mental or physical health problems, and Americans can qualify for benefits because of ailments ranging from severe back pain to terminal cancer.
A lifetime of benefits, including access to Medicare, can cost the government about $300,000 a person.
As I noted in my recent paper on the growing cost of Social Security Disability Insurance, the SSA’s inspector general says that “fraud is an inherent risk in SSA’s disability programs.” But as my paper explains, the problems with the program go way beyond outright fraud:
Given the subjective and convoluted nature of determining SSDI eligibility, it’s likely that erroneous and unjustified payments are far larger in volume than just outright fraud. The huge, complex, and difficult-to-audit system is a perfect breeding ground for awarding and continuing benefits to people who shouldn’t be on the disability rolls.
Andrew J. Coulson
We support getting publicly funded schools public accountability…. No exceptions, no excuses, no special treatment.
Thus spake John Johnson, spokesman for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, on the subject of a new bill his agency co-wrote with Republican legislators. Among other things, the bill would allow the DPI to kick private schools out of the state’s voucher program if it rates them perennial failures.
Here’s the thing: way back in… August of 2013, (a.k.a., “this month”), the head of a state department of instruction was forced to resign because, while in that same post in another state, he had personally revised his department’s ranking of a school run by a major political donor. State officials and agencies, contrary to the implicit assumption of “accountability” mavens, are not all wise, objective, beneficent philosopher-kings. They are people–and organizations made up of people–who have political and personal vested interests that do not always align with those of the families they nominally serve.
Fortunately, over the course of human history, a system evolved which tends to align the interests of producers and consumers more effectively than any other. It is the free enterprise system, in which producers must compete for the privilege of serving each and every customer, and consumers have the freedom to easily choose from among many competing providers. Let schools do their best to serve families and let families choose their schools: let the chips fall where they may. Some schools will succeed, others will fail. Those that succeed, grow. Those that fail are prevented from continuing to ill-serve families. It is a system that works not simply in theory, but in practice, as I found when I surveyed the worldwide within-country research comparing alternative school systems. The least regulated, most market-like education systems most consistently outperform state school systems, such as we have in the United States.
School choice advocates want all families to have access to that system, but not all policies appear equally capable of accomplishing that goal. When I compared the red tape that vouchers and tax credits impose on private schools, I discovered that vouchers, but not tax credits, impose a large and statistically highly significant extra burden of regulation. It’s not hard to see why: Wisconsin DPI spokesman Johnson has a point. Public strings always follow public funding, at least in K-12 education. When you force people to pay for something under threat of incarceration, which is what tax funding does, people want a say in how that money is used. It doesn’t matter that regulations frequently fail to accomplish their stated aims or are even counterproductive to them. People still want that perception of control and they will vote and even lobby for the rules and regulations to obtain it.
The likely reason that education tax credits add little regulation to private schools is that no one is forced to pay for private schooling under a tax credit program. Participation is voluntary, and those who participate get to choose which school or which scholarship granting organization receives their money. There is no coercion to support any particular kind of schooling that they may object to, so there is no pressure to try to regulate that kind of schooling out of the program.
That is a virtue that vouchers and state-funded Education “Savings” Accounts (ESAs) both lack.
Perhaps, as I recently wrote in the Washington Times, a new body of evidence will accumulate in the coming years that will cast doubt on the regulatory pattern that now seems to divide tax credits from state-funded school choice programs. Or perhaps further evidence will bolster that pattern. Either way, collecting additional evidence on this point should be a priority for education policy analysts. The more the better.
But in the meantime, we have to make policy with the evidence we have. And, today, publicly funded school choice programs seem likely to induce the suffocation by regulation of private schools.
Voucher/ESA advocates: what say you?
The ongoing events in Egypt are an unspeakable human tragedy. With yesterday’s death toll of 525 and rising violence in major Egyptian cities, the chances of a return towards anything resembling normalcy are very slim. The Muslim Brotherhood deserves a significant portion of the blame-–mostly for its complete failure in governing the country prior to the coup and also because their willful effort to be seen as martyrs in the aftermath of the military takeover. However, it is the military junta running the country that is now the single biggest factor driving the country towards a catastrophe.
The fact that the military has shut down the normal political process and proceeded with an extensive crackdown both against the leadership of the Brotherhood and its supporters, has created incentives for the rise in politically motivated violence and, potentially, terrorism. Princeton University economist Alan Krueger–author of What Makes A Terrorist, a book investigating the factors fostering political violence and terrorism–argued that
[t]errorists and their organisations seek to make a political statement; terrorists arise when there are severe political grievances with no alternatives for pursing those grievances.
This account describes perfectly the escalation of violence in Egypt after the military coup. Unfortunately, it is not clear that there is an easy way back. Ideally, one would hope that the Egyptian secular liberals engage with the Brotherhood, that the military relinquish its hold to power, lift the curfew, and renounce further repression, and that the Brotherhood and its various factions steer away from violence. Yet the probability of the simultaneous occurrence of all these events is rather small.
It is important to stress that the West has been complicit in the build-up of the current situation. Without a continual inflow of US military assistance (roughly $70 billion since the country’s independence), the Egyptian military would have hardly grown to be the unaccountable and opaque organization it is, controlling a large part of the Egyptian economy and effectively calling the shots in Egypt’s politics.
Alas, the behavior of Western policymakers in the aftermath of the coup has been equally embarrassing – notwithstanding the cancellation of joint military exercises with Egypt that President Obama announced today. Douglas Carswell, a member of the UK’s House of Commons, wrote an excellent blog post on the subject yesterday. He concludes by saying that
[b]y equivocating about the overthrow of Morsi (the US State Department won’t even call it a coup), Western governments seem to be doing all they can to validate the Brotherhood’s script. The more that we buddy up to the generals in Cairo, the further we legitimise the world view of people like Morsi.
Where is the principled opposition to military takeovers in London and Washington? Where is the condemnation of the treatment of Egypt’s democratically elected leader? Where is the loud, and uncompromising condemnation of this morning’s killings?
Perhaps this is what happens when we leave it to career diplomats to determine foreign policy. Equivocation and drift. It does not do us – or Egypt – any favours.
Christopher A. Preble
President Obama’s statement regarding Egypt was decent, as such things go, but reveals the very limited influence that the United States has, and can have, over what transpires inside of that country–or any other, for that matter. American politicians seem incapable of admitting such things, and Obama went about as far as I’ve heard recently.
It is too convenient for the president’s critics to accuse him of failing to halt the violence, just as they blamed him for not preventing the coup, or, before that, of not (somehow) preventing the election of Mohamed Morsi. President McCain or Romney likely would have heard the same thing. Whenever anything bad happens, anywhere in the world, Uncle Sam gets blamed, including by people who want Uncle Sam to do more. The presumption among that group is that more effort, more speeches, more intervention, would have worked, or will work in the future. I’m generally skeptical that that is true, and I’m especially skeptical in this instance.
The one concrete step that Obama could have taken, and should have taken, is a suspension of U.S. aid to Egypt. I’ve heard the arguments against an aid cutoff: The aid supposedly gives us leverage because the Egyptian economy is a basketcase and an aid cutoff will harm the most vulnerable in Egyptian society. Another argument says that the money withdrawn will be replaced by the aid of others, including people we don’t like–this will supposedly give them great influence. Thus, we can’t cede this opportunity to others, so we must persist in pretending that the coup wasn’t a coup, because if the Obama administration ever admitted that it was, it would be required by law to cut off aid.
But a counter argument is in order. The Egyptian economy is indeed a basketcase, but arguably because of U.S. aid. More accurately, the economy is a mess because of some really foolish policies adopted by the Egyptian government over the years, policies effectively abetted by U.S. support. Do those who oppose an aid cutoff believe that the Egyptian government will reverse its harmful economic policies if the aid continues, but are less likely to do so if it continues unabated?
Similarly, one could logically argue that we have only limited influence over events on the ground in Egypt, while also claiming that our aid gives us that influence. But does it follow, then, that an aid cutoff will reduce minimal influence to zero influence? So what if it did? The truth is that the United States, as the most powerful country in the world, has some influence over countries that receive no U.S. foreign aid, and, sometimes, little influence over countries that receive a lot.
In the end, the absurdity of the U.S. position in Egypt is revealed by the fact that both sides direct their ire at the United States, a point that Obama made in his statement today. We are, once again, damned, no matter what we do. Which seems like a pretty good argument for doing less.
Secretary of State John Kerry originally refused to characterize the coup in Egypt as a coup. Rather, he effectively endorsed the new military regime: “In effect, they were restoring democracy.”
Too bad the hundreds shot dead on Cairo streets won’t be able to vote in the new restored democracy. Washington needs to “reset” relations with Egypt.
As I wrote here, here, and here, there never was any doubt that the Egyptian military had staged a coup, and that it was essential for Washington to distance itself from the coming disaster. President Mohamed Morsi was no friend of liberty, but the army had no excuse for destroying democracy. Morsi did not control the military, police, or courts: he wasn’t much of a dictator-to-be!
The bloody crackdown in Egypt has clarified events. The military staged a coup. The civilian regime created by Gen. Abdul-Fattah al-Sisi was a façade. The secular liberals who hoped to ride into power atop army tanks sold their nation’s future for a mess of pottage. The military’s attempt to destroy the Muslim Brotherhood guarantees a violent future, likely including terrorism and perhaps ending in civil war. Despite having dumped $75 billion worth of “aid” into Cairo’s coffers over the years, Washington has no “leverage.”
Yet the Obama administration continues to mouth meaningless platitudes. Among the gems from Secretary of State John Kerry: “The promise of the 2011 revolution has simply never been fully realized.” The outcome “will be shaped in the hours ahead, in the days ahead.” The Egyptian government should “respect basic human rights including freedom of peaceful assembly and due process under the law.” The state of emergency “should end as soon as possible.” “The only sustainable path for either side is one toward a political solution.” And my personal favorite: despite the bloodshed, “I am convinced that that path is in fact still open.”
To limit future blowback after having blessed the coup and resulting military government, the administration must comply with U.S. law, which requires ending aid to any nation after military ouster of a democratically-elected government. Despite Barack Obama morphing into Bill Clinton by quibbling over the definition of “is,” even administration lawyers reportedly concluded that the statute applied to Egypt. Now the administration will look like an apologist for murder if it fails to act.
If the administration fails to follow the law and good sense, then Congress should step in. Although the Senate rejected a recent proposal by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) to end aid to Egypt, events have proved him right. Both chambers should vote to end money for a military regime which appears determined to wreck a nation. The president might veto an aid cut-off, but Congress could vote to override.
Foreign aid does not promote economic development, nor does it buy political leverage. In Egypt, all those decades of “foreign assistance” have achieved is to successively identify the U.S. with two army-backed dictators, an unpopular Islamist president, and a brutal military regime. Washington should say no more and leave Egypt’s tragic future to be decided by the Egyptians.