A Terror Warrior: Wildly and Carelessly Wrong

A few days ago, Nile Gardiner of the Telegraph (U.K.) took Vice President Biden and the Obama Administration to task for abandoning the “War on Terror” metaphor. It’s empty-headed, fear-based pap.

President Obama’s decision to abandon the phrase “war on terror” sends the wrong signal to al-Qaeda and other Islamist terrorists groups. America and her allies are engaged in a long-term global war against a vicious enemy that seeks the free world’s destruction, whether in Afghanistan, Iraq or in the cities of Europe and the United States. This is hardly the time to be engaging in a cynical PR exercise which will only serve to soften America’s image in the eyes of its worst enemies.

The relevant audience is not al Qaeda and terrorists groups. It’s the people near them ideologically and physically. These people are deciding whether or not to join them or support them.

Communicating that the United States is war-mongering and fearful of al Qaeda makes us look bad to these audiences, and it makes al Qaeda look like a worthy opponent of ours. We could do terrorism no better favor than continuing to claim a “war” on terror featuring al Qaeda.

Gardiner also seems to have no grasp - perhaps no awareness that he should have a grasp - of the actual goals and capabilities of al Qaeda or anyone using the name. Most terrorists don’t “seek[] the free world’s destruction.” The ones who say they do just … might … be trying to terrorize! What a concept. They have about the same chance of succeeding as I do of earning $1 billion by publishing this post. Terrorists might occassionally succeed with an attack, but exaggerated fears of terrorism will drive us to do much worse to ourselves year over year than the sporadic attack could ever accomplish.

Is dropping “war on terror” a “cynical PR exercise”? No. It’s a hard-headed, strategically sound PR exercise - again, to bring terrorists’ ideological and physical neighbors toward our side.

Sound counterterrorism strategy thinking was on full display at our recent conference on counterterrorism strategy. Video and audio recordings of every panel are available for download. Perhaps Mr. Gardiner can review the proceedings on his home computer while he launders his shorts.

Government-Funded Comparative-Effectiveness Research: a Fool’s Errand

An article in the San Francisco Chronicle by Victoria Colliver explains:

  1. Why the Left and insurers want the government to fund comparative-effectiveness research (CER),
  2. Why conservatives and the health care industry oppose government-funded CER,
  3. Why the opponents of CER will prevail,
  4. That the Left is going to keep pursuing this fool’s errand anyway, rather than better ways to generate CER, and
  5. Why I want to knock all their heads together.

All that in a rather short article.  Here are the best parts:

“The intent is to use that information to ration care. Why else would you come up with the research to help people choose what provides a lot of value for the money and what doesn’t?” said Michael Cannon, director of health policy studies at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank…

“It is perfectly legitimate for Congress to ration care in government programs,” said Cannon, who believes any government effort to conduct comparative-effectiveness studies will quashed by industry. “That’s exactly why you don’t want government paying for medical care.”

Obama, Transparency and Stimulus

On the campaign trail, Barack Obama promised that bills coming to his desk from Congress would sit for five days so the public could read, analyze and comment on them before he signed them into law. In yesterday’s Cato Daily Podcast, Jim Harper, Cato’s director of information policy studies, discussed Obama’s record on fulfilling that promise.

Of course, Obama’s guarantee to let a bill sit for five days did not include emergency legislation. As for the stimulus bill, should it be considered “emergency legislation?” Harper says no.

A five day difference from the time it goes into effect is very small, especially in regard to the fact that most of the people who are expecting to change their behavior in light of the passage of the bill will be able to do that during the five day pendency of it…it should sit for five days before it gets signed, according to the promise that President Obama made during his campaign.

No Cut-astrophe

The Obama administration is shaping up to be little more than the Office of Doomsayer in Chief, at least in the early going, and it is being obediently assisted by the media. In education, USA Today gave the office a nice boost this morning by reporting on a Center for Reinventing Public Education projection that without a stimulus, states might have to cut their education spending by 18.5 percent over the next three years. And CRPE did not include a projection for local cuts, which researcher Marguerite Roza said were impossible to make.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan seized the moment, stating in the article that the analysis “obviously confirms what we have feared: that there is so much at stake now and we’re really trying to stave off catastrophe.”

Here we go again…

For one thing, predicting budget shortfalls is hardly an exact science. Moreover, unreported by USA Today, the CRPE analysis is based on the assumption that states will cut spending in all areas equally in response to revenue shortfalls. But in few states does anyone wield the kind of political power that the education establishment brings to bear.

Suppose, though, that total per-pupil expenditures – consisting of local, state, and federal dough – were to decrease by 18.5 percent. (Obviously, the feds aren’t going to cut funding, but let’s pretend that some sense somehow wafted into Washington and caught the pols by surprise.) Where would that put us? On par with Depression era funding? Modern day Sri Lanka or Zimbabwe?

Try again.

Unfortunately, the latest per-pupil funding data the federal government has is from the 2004-05 school year, which is likely lower than what was spent this year. But let’s use it anyway, if for no other reason than to give the Chicken Littles every benefit of the doubt. In 2004-05, the average per-pupil expenditure in the United States was $11,470. Reduce that by 18.5 percent, and you’re spending $9,348.

At what year does that put us? Adjusted for inflation, right about at 1996-97 – hardly major time travel! And compared to other industrialized nations? Still in the top six, nearly tied with Denmark, and that is comparing our average for elementary and secondary schooling with just secondary schooling –- the more expensive level – for everyone else.

Considering all of this along with the evidence that I have laid out previously showing the almost complete disconnect between spending and performance, as well as the massive bloat in the system, and such a cut shouldn’t be called a “catastrophe.” It should be called “why the hell didn’t we make such a cut years ago?”

Stimulus Agreement Means Lower Long-Run Growth

News reports indicate there is some sort of final deal on the so-called stimulus. Some of the politicians are acting as if this massive spending bill is “fiscally responsible” merely because the total amount of money is fractionally smaller than the House and Senate proposals. Ironically, as Veronique de Rugy explains for reason.com, even the Congressional Budget Office, which relies on a deeply-flawed Keynesian economic model, is warning that bigger government will hurt the economy’s long-run performance.

In a report to Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) writes in plain English—well, economic language—that the Senate bill would eventually cause not a stimulus but a recession in “the longer run.” …On the CBO’s The Director’s Blog, Elmendorf explains why the Senate legislation would eventually reduce economic output:

The principal channel for this effect is that the legislation would result in an increase in government debt. To the extent that people hold their wealth in the form of government bonds rather than in a form that can be used to finance private investment, the increased government debt would tend to ‘crowd out’ private investment—thus reducing the stock of private capital and the long-term potential output of the economy.

The Senate might have done something straightforward, like cutting the corporate income tax or cutting the payroll tax that all workers pay. Instead, most of the provisions are tax credits, many of which are refundable. In other words, individuals and businesses need to pay their taxes up front and then will get money back from the government. These sorts of programs, aimed incentivizing investment, are better understood as spending programs disguised as “tax cuts.”

And here is one more thing to consider: There is absolutely no evidence that any stimulus package in the past 80 years has goosed economic activity—not FDR’s during the Great Depression, not Japan’s during the 1990s, and not George W. Bush’s in 2001 and 2008. If anything, the economic evidence suggests that such spending packages actually intensified and prolonged misery.

The Congressional Budget Office is right, albeit for reasons other than the ones generated by its garbage-in-garbage-out model. Bigger government hurts economic efficiency by diverting resources from the productive sector of the economy, and it does not matter whether government spending is financed by taxes or borrowing.

Una Hora de SCHIP

HITN’s Destination Casa Blanca has posted their hour-long program – featuring yours truly – on the State Children’s Health Insurance Program expansion that President Obama just signed into law (the utter lack of evidence of effectiveness notwithstanding).

During the program, I shatter the myths that SCHIP is for low-income children, that it’s a cost-effective way of improving children’s health, etc.

I guess we know what you’ll be doing for the next hour.