Christopher A. Preble
It is good to know that President Obama is opposed to sending U.S. troops into Iraq, though hardly surprising. (I was shocked to hear a reporter ask the president after his remarks if he was reluctant to do so. How could he not be?)
As Chuck Todd noted today on MSNBC, and here, 59 percent of Americans believe that the war in Iraq was not worth it. Does anyone seriously believe that a well-crafted Obama sales pitch could convince a majority of Americans to change their minds? I don’t.
Among the many maddening aspects of this story—and there are many—I’m most frustrated by the claim that the United States should have left a residual force in Iraq after 2011. There are actually three problems with this claim. First, it is NOT a partisan issue. Bush attempted to negotiate a deal that would have left forces in Iraq, and failed. Obama tried, and failed. The claim that one or the other failed because he didn’t try hard enough is just foolish. A sufficient number of Iraqis didn’t want U.S. troops to stay there (albeit for different reasons) that the failure to achieve a status of forces agreement (SOFA) can hardly be blamed on either Bush or Obama for a lack of effort.
So what these people are really saying is that we should have left U.S. troops in Iraq without a SOFA, in the face of Iraqi opposition. We are told that the troops left behind wouldn’t be engaged in combat, so they really wouldn’t have been in danger. That is what Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said on MSNBC just after the president’s statement. I think this ignores that the U.S. presence was a source of violent resistance in the first place, so it is hard to see how U.S. troops wouldn’t have been subject to at least the risk of regular attacks.
Besides, SOFAs do not protect U.S. troops from security threats, but rather from the vagaries of foreign justice systems. So it is easy to see how a peaceful, non-threatening, U.S. military operation–e.g., a roadblock searching for bad guys–can turn south in a hurry. Maybe a husband and wife fail to stop at the roadblock, and they are shot. Maybe they are killed. Without a SOFA that extends standard legal protections to U.S. servicemen, the troops manning that roadblock would be subject to Iraqi justice, forced to stand accused of murder before Iraqi judges. Is that really what Senator McCain and others want? We don’t leave U.S. forces in foreign countries without a SOFA for a reason.
Lastly, the claim that a residual force would have convinced Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to govern better/more inclusively, and that a residual force today might do the same (although McCain allowed today that Maliki might simply need to be replaced; by whom he did not say) ignores that a far larger force, including some of the largest concentrations of U.S. troops in 2008 and 2009, did NOT convince Maliki to cut deals with his political opponents and stab his political supporters in the back. So why would anyone think that a smaller force would have succeeded, or would succeed now?
The breakup of Iraq that many predicted before the war may now be happening. Maybe the country will be partitioned—an idea that previously was ridiculed. Maybe the Iraqi military will turn things around and crush the insurgency. I don’t know whether any of these things will happen. But I will go out on a limb and predict that the U.S. military won’t be sorting out these things. And for that, we should all be grateful.
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.”
A week ago, the White House released a report on the health consequences of global warming that was meant to supplement and reinforce the heath benefit claims made during the roll-out of new Environmental Protection Agency regulations aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants.
Those claims, which border on the bizarre, were met with a great deal of pushback—and deservingly so.
The supplemental White House report didn’t make things better. Take for example, how they handle extreme heat events and heat-related mortality.
To say that we are disappointed with how the White House/EPA presents the data on heat-related mortality is an understatement. No matter how many times we point out—through official means, op-eds, blogs posts, etc.—that they are mishandling the data to such an extent that they present the opposite conclusion from that reached in the scientific literature, it never gets better.
In fact, it seems to be getting worse.
Below the jump, in its entirety, is the section on heat waves from the new White House report, The Health Impacts of Climate Change on Americans:
Figure 1. Observed U.S. temperature change (source: White House report).
Notice that there is not a single study cited that links changes in heat waves to changes in heat-related mortality. Instead, it is strongly implied that increasing heat will lead to increasing deaths. We can’t think that any reader would reach the opposite conclusion given the White House discussion and presentation. And yet, that is precisely the case that scientific study after scientific study finds. Despite rising heat, fewer American’s die from heat-related causes (when properly adjusted, of course, for population increases and changes in age stricture).
But such information is nowhere to be found in the White House report. Instead, the section on extreme heat events shows a map of temperature trends across the United States and then goes on to say that extreme heat causes death, leading the readers to a false conclusion.
Here is a similar but more complete presentation from a scientific study looking at trends in temperature and trends in heat-related mortality across the United States.
Figure 2. Annual heat-related mortality rates (excess deaths per standard million population on days in which the decadal-varying threshold apparent temperature (AT) is equaled or exceeded) by city and decade, and long-term trend in summer afternoon AT. Each histogram bar indicates a different decade: from left to right, 1960s–1970s, 1980–1989, and 1990–1998. Decades without histogram bars exhibit no threshold ATs and no heat-related mortality. Decades with gray bars have mortality rates that are statistically significantly different from the decades indicated by black bars. The average excess deaths across all 28 cities is shown at the lower left. AT trends are indicated beneath each city abbreviation (from Davis et al., 2003).
The map in Figure 2 shows trends in summer time apparent temperature (AT)—a combination of heat and humidity—indicated by the small symbol under each city and explained by the right-hand legend. It indicates basically the same thing as the White House map—that summer temperatures are on the rise across the country. But this map also superimposes the trends in heat-related mortality on the trends in temperature (the bar charts for each city).
What it shows is that annual heat-related mortality was on the decline across the United States from the mid-1960s through the late 1990s (the end of the data used in this study). More recent studies confirm that the downward trend in heat-related mortality has continued even in the face of rising temperature (can you say “adaptation”?).
This more complete presentation of the data tells the exact opposite story than the one that the White House (mis)leads you to believe.
You have to ask yourself why the White House finds it necessary to lead you away from the best science in order to drum up support for its energy policies (another example here).
Bobb, J.F., R.D. Peng, M.L. Bell, and F. Dominici. “Heat-Related Mortality and Adaptation in the United States.” Environmental Health Perspectives, 2014. Online at http://dx.doi.org/10.1289/ehp.1307392.
Davis, R.E., P.C. Knappenbergre, P.J. Michaels, and W.M. Novicoff. “Changing Heat-Related Mortality in the United States.” Environmental Health Perspectives 111: 1712–18 (2003).
Kalkstein, L.S., Greene, S., Mills, D.M., and Samenow, J. “An Evaluation of the Progress in Reducing Heat-Related Human Mortality in Major U.S. Cities.” Natural Hazards 56(1): 113-29 (2011).
The Senate voted 93-3 on Wednesday to expand health care spending for veterans. Under the Senate bill, veterans would be able to access health care services from facilities outside the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) system.
The headlines from the last few weeks clearly illustrate the need to reform this massive system, but the Senate’s rushed plan would dramatically increase veterans’ health care spending without tackling needed fundamental reforms.
Just before the vote, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a preliminary estimate of the bill’s costs. Because of the hurried nature of introduction and debate, CBO was not able to fully review and estimate costs.
CBO says that the new program would increase spending by $35 billion over 10 years. But that doesn’t tell the full story. CBO expects initial set-up of the new program would take several years with veteran enrollment ramping up over time. And the bill just authorizes the new spending until 2016. So it appears that the CBO estimate of $35 billion just includes the cost over the first three years.
Over the longer term, CBO estimates that added annual spending would be $50 billion a year. So if the current bill is enacted and the added spending extended in the future, it would raise federal spending by about $385 billion over the next decade, as illustrated in the chart below the jump.
The $385 billion figure is likely conservative because it assumes that costs stay flat over time. But as more veterans enroll and health care costs increase, the figures could grow larger. CBO says that its estimates are “highly uncertain,” which is one reason why the Senate’s rush to push the bill through was so irresponsible.
The VA is already the fifth largest federal agency. If the new spending is made permanent, VA’s total budget would grow by about one-third and VA health care spending would roughly double.
During debate on Wednesday, several senators raised concern over the dramatic increase in VA spending without any offsetting cuts, but 75 senators swiftly brushed it aside. Allowing any debate about large expansions of government is apparently out of style in the Senate. But what’s needed in the VA is fundamental restructuring, not an ill-planned gusher of new spending.
Political crises are always the most dangerous time for the growth of government. The VA crisis is proving to be no different.
1) In the city of Detroit, more than one violent crime per day now takes place at a gas station. Specifically, reports the Detroit News, “Police have investigated nearly 700 violent crimes at Detroit gas stations during the past year, prompting city officials and citizen patrol groups to try to quell the steady beat of murders, carjackings, shootings and armed robberies.”
2) The Detroit city government does an astoundingly poor job of protecting gas stations, their customers, and pretty much everyone else from crime. It suffers from notoriously poor police response times (58 minutes for serious crimes) and closure rates on crime investigations (8.7 percent rate of solving cases). According to Motor City Muckraker, the Detroit Police Department has quietly discontinued putting out its “Major Crime Summary Report” and instead now puts out a summary report of cases that have resulted in arrests, which is better for its image.
3) The city council’s response? It’s to load new legal burdens on the gas stations, specifically by way of “a recent ordinance requiring owners to install security cameras by Aug. 31.” While some stations say they’re already doing that, Auday Arabo, the head of a dealer association, says the requirement “would present a financial hardship for many station owners”: “Is this what government is supposed to do? Mandate you become the surveillance company for the government?”
That’s certainly what Detroit seems to be doing. Strange how when governments fail utterly at their claimed core function of preventing violence, they so often can be found muscling into entirely new areas of coercion at the same time.
The programs, regulations, and laws that define most federal activities are so numerous and complex that it strangles effective governance. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is no exception. During the Hurricane Katrina disaster, DHS officials were in a fog of confusion, overwhelmed by events and all the complicated emergency rules and procedures.
A key marker of excess bureaucracy is the generous use of acronyms. In government, acronyms are used to identify the building blocks of bureaucracies, such as agencies, committees, programs, job titles, procedures, rules, and systems.
Recently, I’ve looked at aid-to-state programs run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which is part of DHS. Acronyms abound at FEMA. To get a sense of the bureaucracy, I looked for acronyms in this 84-page Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) for one of FEMA’s many aid programs.
Below is a list of all the bureaucratic structures that were capitalized and had acronyms in this document for one program. Actually, I left out some common acronyms that many people already know, including OMB, FBI, CDC, CBP, EIN, DOT, EMS, IED, FTE, MSA, DOL, GIS, FCC, TDD, and NIST. So the list below mainly includes specialized acronyms that workers in this policy area would need to know. Many of the acronyms refer to government structures that have their own lengthy documents full of acronyms.
H.L. Mencken said “The true bureaucrat is a man of really remarkable talents. He writes a kind of English that is unknown elsewhere in the world, and he has an almost infinite capacity for forming complicated and unworkable rules.”
DHS must be full of “true bureaucrats” because by the time I read to the end of this document, I had counted 113 acronyms. That is an impressive achievement in True Bureaucratic Excellence (TBE).
Bureaucratic Structures with Acronyms in the FOA for the HSGP
Homeland Security Grant Program (HSGP)
State Homeland Security Program (SHSP)
Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI)
Operation Stonegarden (OPSG)
Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (THIRA)
State Preparedness Report (SPR)
National Preparedness Report (NPR)
Information Bulletin (IB)
Investment Justification (IJ)
State Administrative Agency (SAA)
Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC)
National Incident Management System (NIMS)
Federal Emergency Response Official (FERO)
Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS)
Comprehensive Preparedness Guide (CPG)
Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act (PKEMRA)
Law Enforcement Terrorism Prevention Activity (LETPA)
Environmental Planning and Historic Preservation (EHP)
Border Patrol (BP)
Federal Financial Report (FFR)
Biannual Strategy Implementation Report (BSIR)
Initial Strategy Implementation Plan (ISIP)
Strategic Implementation Plan (SIP)
Planning, Organization, Equipment, Training, and Exercises (POETE)
Grants Program Directorate (GPD)
Grant Adjustment Notice (GAN)
Centralized Scheduling and Information Desk (CSID)
Unified Reporting Tool (URT)
Data Universal Numbering System (DUNS)
System for Award Management (SAM)
Grant Reporting Tool (GRT)
Statewide Communication Interoperable Plan (SCIP)
Statewide Interoperability Coordinator (SWIC)
Statewide Interoperability Governance Board (SIGB)
State Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (HIRA)
Critical Operational Capability (COC)
Enabling Capability (EC)
Information Sharing Environment (ISE)
Training and Exercise Plan (TEP)
Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP)
Training and Exercise Planning Workshop (TEPW)
National Exercise Scheduling System (NEXS)
After Action Report/Improvement Plan (AAR/IP)
Public Health Emergency Preparedness (PHEP)
Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR)
Hospital Preparedness Program (HPP)
Senior Advisory Committee (SAC)
Port Security Grant Program (PSGP)
Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP)
Transit Security Grant Program (TSGP)
Area Maritime Security Committee (AMSC)
Regional Transportation Security Working Group (RTSWG)
Homeland Security Advisor (HSA)
Emergency Management Agency (EMA)
Emergency Medical Services for Children (EMSC)
Cities Readiness Initiative (CRI)
Baseline Assessment and Security Enhancement (BASE)
National Capital Region (NCR)
Community Emergency Response Team (CERT)
Integrated Planning Team (IPT)
Emergency Systems for Advance Registration (ESAR)
Volunteer Health Professional (VHP)
Metropolitian Medical Response System (MMRS)
Cyber Security Framework (CSF)
Citizens Corps Program (CCP)
Core Capabilities Tool (CCT)
National Terrorism Advisory System (NTAS)
National Emergency Communications Plan (NECP)
Logistic Management Directorate (LMD)
Operational Pack (OPack)
Western Hemispheres Travel Initiative (WHTI)
Driver’s License Security Grant Program (DLSGP)
National Infrastructure Protection Plan (NIPP)
High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA)
National Crime Information Center (NCIC)
Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS)
Fusion Liaison Officers (FLO)
National Disaster Recovery Framework (NDRF)
National Emergency Family Registry and Locator System (NEFRLS)
National Emergency Medical Services Information System (NEMSIS)
Regional Resiliency Assessment Program (RRAP)
Communications Assets and Mapping (CASM)
Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network (NPSBN)
National Counter-IED Capabilities Analysis Database (NCCAD)
Multi-Jurisdictional IED Security Planning (MJIEDSP)
Corrective Action Plan (CAP)
Continuity of Operations/Continuity of Government (COOP/COG)
Medical Reserve Corps (MRC)
Volunteers in Public Service (VIPS)
National Preparedness Directorate (NPD)
Technical Assistance (TA)
Authorized Equipment List (AEL)
Center for Domestic Preparedness (CDP)
Critical Infrastructure Protection (CIP)
Field Intelligence Group (FIG)
Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTF)
Office of Emergency Communications (OEC)
Personnel Reimbursement for Intelligence Cooperation and Enhancement (PRICE)
Bomb-Making Materials Awareness Program (BMAP)
Responder Training Development Center (RTDC)
National Training and Education Division (NTED)
National Domestic Preparedness Consortium (NDPC)
Rural Domestic Preparedness Consortium (RDPC)
Emergency Management Institute (EMI)
Point of Contact (POC)
Single Point of Contact (SPOC)
Training Point of Contact (TPOC)
Maritime Security Risk Analysis Model (MSRAM)
Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC)
Urban Area Working Groups (UAWG)
Emergency Operation Plan (EOP)
Tactical Interoperable Communications Plan (TICP)
When I’m out at trade events, people in the trade world often ask me, as a Cato person, what the tea party thinks of free trade (libertarians are unfamiliar to many of my friends in the trade world, and I’m their only link to such views, so they come to me with anything vaguely related to these issues). I usually say something along the lines of: it’s complicated and nuanced, there are a range of views, and that I’m still trying to find out myself!
Dave Brat, who is associated with the tea party, just made headlines by defeating House Majority leader Eric Cantor in a Republican primary. I was thinking about ways to ask him his views on trade, but then Chuck Todd beat me to it (starts at 4:02 of the video):
Chuck Todd: Let me ask you about trade agreements. There’s a couple of big ones likely to come for you to vote on…A big one with Europe, and a big one with Asia. In general, what are your views of trade agreements, are you open to big free trade agreements or not?
Dave Brat: Yeah, I’m a free trader. After World War II, the GATT brought tariffs roughly from 50% down to about 4% or less today. And that’s been good for European trade with us. We set up our arch-enemies Japan and Germany after the war, started trading with them, and it enriched all of us. I have a win-win positive view about relationships with other countries that respect the rule of law. So we have to move forward on that front.
A couple noteworthy things about this response.
First, he doesn’t leave much doubt about his view that free trade, in the form of lower tariffs, is good. That’s not too surprising, given his background as an economics professor. (Although on immigration, his economics fails him.)
Second, he focuses his discussion on tariffs. But trade agreements go far beyond tariffs these days. What does he think about provisions in trade agreements that strengthen intellectual property protection, set binding labor and environment rules, and allow foreign investors to sue governments in international tribunals? I’m curious about his take on the nuances of today’s trade agreements. The question from Chuck Todd does refer to the trade talks with Europe and Asia, which have all these new rules in them, so you could take his response to mean he is fine with everything that might be in the Pacific and European trade agreements under negotiation. But I wouldn’t be sure until he gets asked more directly.
And third, he does note that these views apply to “countries that respect the rule of law.” I’d like to know who he thinks fits that description and who does not.