Archives: November, 2009

Wednesday Links

  • Drop the neocons: “Republicans should take this opportunity to return to their traditional noninterventionist roots and throw their neoconservative wing under the bus.”
  • John Samples on the national impact of this week’s elections: “The evidence suggests the Obama administration might be on the same path that led the Clinton presidency to the election of 1994. But there is an important difference: In 1994, the public had some faith in the alternative to Clinton and the Democrats in Congress.”

Report to DoD: Data Mining Won’t Catch Terrorism

Via Secrecy News, “JASON”—a unit of defense contractor the MITRE Corporation—has reported to the Department of Defense on the weakness of data mining for predicting or discovering inchoate terrorist attacks.

“[I]t is simply not possible to validate (evaluate) predictive models of rare events that have not occurred, and unvalidated models cannot be relied upon,” says the report.

In December 2006, Jeff Jonas and I published a paper making the case that predictive modeling won’t discover rare events like terrorism. The paper, Effective Counterterrorism and the Limited Role of Predictive Data Mining, was featured prominently in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing early the next year.

Privacy gives way to appropriate security measures, as the Fourth Amendment suggests, where it approves “reasonable” searches and seizures. Given the incapacity of data mining to catch terrorism and the massive data collection required to “mine” for terrorism, data mining for terrorism is a wrongful invasion of Americans’ privacy—and a waste of time.

CBS News Reports on Prospects for Drug Policy Reform

CBS News has a good report out on recent developments in drug policy, including extensive coverage of the Cato report, Drug Decriminalization in Portugal. Here’s an excerpt:

Portugal’s case is important, Greenwald says, because it provides hard evidence that removes the debate from the realm of speculation.

“If you’re the first state to do it, there’s really no way you can point to evidence of what will or will not happen. … It’s just theory and it’s very abstract,” he said. “The more examples that arise and the more that you can prove that the sky doesn’t fall in,” he said, the more politically feasible drug liberalization will become in the U.S.

So far, Portugal has largely flown under the radar, even in drug policy circles. But Greenwald says that, six months after his paper was released, he’s getting more invitations than ever to present it. In August, New York Times columnist Nick Kristof cited it in a column praising Webb’s reform push.

Read the whole thing.  For more Cato scholarship on drug policy, go here.

Cato Health Care Expert Michael Cannon to Debate Rep. DeLauro (D-CT) Online at 2pm EST Today

Cato director of health policy studies Michael F. Cannon will participate in a live online chat today at the New Haven Register. The event starts at 2pm EST and will last for an hour.

We encourage you to submit questions once the event has started. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) will participate in the chat alongside Cannon.

One Year Later

This morning, Politico’s Arena asks:

“Election 09: What’s the message?”

My response:

A note on NY 23, then to the larger message in yesterday’s returns. Already this morning we’re seeing an effort to spin the NY 23 outcome as a warning to Republicans and a hopeful sign for Democrats. Yet the striking thing about that outcome is how close a third-party candidate came in the face of opposition from the Republican establishment. And the ultimate outcome can doubtless be explained simply by absentee ballots, plus voters unaware of the last-minute developments in the race.

Thus, given those factors, the NY 23 outcome is perfectly consistent with returns in the rest of the country. (In fact, Conservative and Republican votes in that race total more than 50 percent.) And the message will not be lost on blue-dog Democrats. If the internal inconsistencies of ObamaCare did not trouble those Democrats before yesterday, they surely must now. The silence coming from the White House last night spoke volumes.

Hail, Bloomberg, Magister Populi

New York mayor Michael Bloomberg has been elected to a third term, despite the two-term limits that New Yorkers voted for twice. His biggest challenge was persuading the City Council to overrule the voters, but he managed that trick thanks to his absolute mastery of money and politics in the Big Apple. And on election day, even his $100 million campaign barely overcame popular anger over the repeal of term limits.

Personally, I wish the Council had just given Bloomberg another term. Don’t get rid of term limits. Just do like the Romans used to do in an emergency. Name Bloomberg “dictator,” an extraconstitutional position with extraordinary authority but limited duration. Then you keep the rules, you just make an exception. And I’m sure Bloomberg would be willing to be addressed as Dictator for the duration of the emergency powers.

Instead, Bloomberg used his money and connections to get the Council to allow all the city officeholders to serve three terms, instead of the two that the people had twice voted for.

He said it was because of the financial crisis – just as Rudolph Giuliani had suggested that the city shouldn’t elect a new mayor in the aftermath of 9/11. Of course, as Nicole Gelinas of the Manhattan Institute has shown, New York’s revenues rose 41 percent between 2000 and 2007, while spending increased even faster, so it’s not clear why he’s the man you need in a financial crisis.

But the plutocrat mayor used his personal wealth – and the city’s tax dollars – to pressure people to support his bid to stay in office. Last year the New York Times reported:

The mayor and his top aides have asked leaders of organizations that receive his largess to express their support for his third-term bid by testifying during public hearings and by personally appealing to undecided members of the City Council. …

The requests have put the groups in an unusual and uncomfortable position, several employees of the groups said. City Hall has not made any explicit threats, they said, but city officials have extraordinary leverage over the groups’ finances. Many have received hundreds of thousands of dollars from Mr. Bloomberg’s philanthropic giving and millions of dollars from city contracts overseen by his staff.

Sounds like a lot of overlap between his personal philanthropy and the city’s own spending, and the Times doesn’t seem to find anything odd about that aspect of the story. And then the New York Post found that the mayor’s tax-funded “slush fund” was being enlisted in the campaign, too:

Mayor Bloomberg showered cash on key City Council members with the power to kill a term-limits extension bill in the last year.

Members of the council’s Government Operations Committee have received millions from Hizzoner’s slush fund, a once-secret pot of taxpayer money the mayor doles out to favored lawmakers for their pet causes….

Five members of the committee secured $3.1 million from the $5.3 million stash in Bloomberg’s 2008 budget. Only three other council members received funds from the mayor in the last year.

And the New York Daily News noted that everyone working for Bloomberg at the City Council hearings is on Mayor Mike’s payroll one way or another:

There was the mayor’s legal counsel and the city’s corporation counsel, both paid with tax dollars, testifying that Bloomberg can and should get another term.

There were aides from the mayor’s Community Assistance Unit, who rounded up pro-Bloomberg speakers from the community and religious and civic groups they work with all day long – many of which thrive on city grants.

There were the dozens of “Ready, Willing and Able” guys from the Doe Fund, which gets funding from the city – and used its vans to bring people to the hearing.

That’s why – to return to my Roman theme – union boss Dennis Rivera came to praise Bloomberg, not to bury him, at a recent campaign event. Hail Bloomberg, Magister Populi, Magister Urbi.

Immigrants Respond to Economic Incentives

As I blogged here, I got my green card in April – and am now counting down the days till I can naturalize (five years from the green card, though you can apply three months before that and processing takes a year or so).  Because of my various travails over the years that led to that fortunate day this spring, I’ve learned quite a bit about immigration, both as a matter of policy and as a matter of law.  Indeed, both before joining Cato and ever since, it’s been an area in which I’ve been writing and speaking – and I appreciate very much the synergy this work has had with my colleagues in the trade and immigration shop.

One oped I had in National Review Online dealt with H-1Bs, the temporary visas for highly skilled workers to work in the United States.  One of the problems with H-1Bs is that they provide no path to a green card (meaning permanent residence) or citizenship – so just as hard-working, tax-paying professionals gain expertise in a particular American company or industry, just as they grow roots in an American community, they have to leave.  Nevertheless, there have long been more H-1B applicants than available visas.  The last few years, the annual 65,000 quota has been oversubscribed on the very first day of eligibility for each fiscal year!

Well, not any more.  As this recent article points out, the recession has impacted our immigration system as well: “A coveted visa program that feeds skilled workers to top-tier U.S. technology companies and universities [the H-1B program] is on track to leave thousands of spots unfilled for the first time since 2003, a sign of how the weak economy has eroded employment even among highly trained professionals.”

This is just another indication that the free movement of goods, money, and people, will regulate even such perceived social ills as “foreigners taking American jobs.”  There’s simply no need for “U.S. citizen only” provisions in (so-called) stimulus bills, or (further) immigration restrictions during bad economic times.

In other words, even foreigners respond to market incentives.

For more on Cato’s work on immigration policy, go here.