Government Workers More Satisfied with Retirement, Health Insurance, and Vacation Benefits

A recent Gallup poll finds that government employees are considerably more satisfied than their private sector counterparts with their compensation fringe benefits–namely government retirement plans (+25), health insurance benefits (+23), and vacation time (+17).

The poll compared satisfaction with 13 different job aspects for both government and nongovernment employees, ranging from stress on the job, flexibility, recognition, salary, relations with coworkers and bosses, etc. In 9 of the 13 characteristics, government and private sector workers reported similar levels of satisfaction (all above 60%) with job stress, recognition, flexibility, safety, salary, hours, promotion opportunities and job security. 

More Buzz About RICO-Ing Climate Skeptics

In June I took note of Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse’s (D-R.I.) op-ed “urg[ing] the U.S. Department of Justice to consider filing a racketeering suit against the oil and coal industries for having promoted wrongful thinking on climate change, with the activities of ‘conservative policy’ groups an apparent target of the investigation as well.” I pointed out that this was a significant step toward criminalizing policy differences and using litigation and government enforcement to punish opponents in public debate, and meshed with an existing fishing-expedition investigation of climate-skeptic scholarship by Whitehouse and other Democrats on Capitol Hill. Others had already gone farther than the senator himself, calling for making “climate denial” a “crime against humanity,” holding public trials of fossil fuel executives for having resisted the truth, and so forth. (Gawker: “arrest climate change deniers.”) And I noted a recurring argument – “we did it to the tobacco companies, so there’s no reason we can’t do it here too” that tended to confirm my fears that the federal government set a dangerous precedent back then when it “took the stance that pro-tobacco advocacy could amount to a legal offense.”

Now there are further signs that a concerted campaign is under way. “Letter To President Obama: Investigate Deniers Under RICO” is the headline over a letter from twenty scientists, most at respected institutions, endorsing the Whitehouse idea and calling for the federal government to launch a probe under the racketeering (RICO) law. The letter was soon being widely promoted around the web, even at BoingBoing, often regarded as a pro-free-speech outlet.

Trump Tax Plan Would Increase Tax Eaters

Data from the Tax Policy Center show that 45 percent of U.S. households (“tax units”) will pay no federal income tax in 2015. That figure has risen in recent decades.

In raw numbers, 94 million households will pay some income tax in 2015, while 78 million will pay none. As the TPC table shows, virtually all higher-income households pay income tax, while the nonpayers are mainly in the bottom half.

Presidential candidate Donald Trump says that he would take another 31 million off the tax rolls, in addition to what he says are 42 million current nonpayers. As you can see, the Trump and TPC data do not match regarding the current number of nonpayers.

Let’s go with the TPC data. Adding tens of millions more nonpayers would push the total number over 100 million. There would be more “tax eaters” in America than taxpayers, at least in terms of the federal income tax.

To be fair, not all 100+ million nonpayers would be tax eaters. If someone paid no income tax, but also received no subsidies from the federal government, she could be called tax neutral. However, millions of moderate-income people receive the earned income tax credit (EITC), which is “refundable.” Those folks pay no income tax but get a check from the government when they file their tax return. They are tax eaters.

So a missing detail from the Trump proposal is his plan for the EITC. By zeroing out income tax for 31 million additional tax filers, he would automatically be boosting spending through the EITC. The refundable, or spending, part of the EITC is already $60 billion a year. Would Trump push that spending even higher?

I like many features of Trump’s overall tax plan. But taking more people off the tax rolls is not a good way to keep the government limited. If something is “free,” people will demand more of it. Under Trump, 31 million more households would have an incentive to demand more spending from Washington. Encouraging More Snowdens

If WIRED magazine was looking to get the attention of the heads of American and British intelligence agencies, it has a story today that is sure to do the trick.

The magazine’s Andy Greenberg has a major piece about a new non-profit organization dedicated to encouraging morally troubled intelligence officers to resign and go public with any allegations or information they have that prove waste, fraud, abuse or criminal conduct at NSA or it’s UK equivalent, GCHQ. Known as, the organization has a professionally produced “resignation pitch” video featuring nationally-known security researcher and author Bruce Schneier and former NSA senior executive-turned-whistleblower Thomas Drake. The website of the Berlin-based organization provides a resignation letter generator, an FAQ on how and why to leave the intelligence business, and advice on how to use secure messaging means like Tor and PGP to communicate with staff. 

The launch of comes just over a year after the Institute for Public Accuracy, in conjunction with the Freedom of the Press Foundation, launched, a journalism project designed to encourage whistleblowers to use the SecureDrop system to submit classified or otherwise senstive or embarrassing government documents for review and possible publication by established media outlets. advisory board includes former Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, former Associated Press journalist Robert Parry, and former State Department official Matthew Hoh, among dozens of others.

I have written previously about the rise of a “digital resistance movement” to the kinds of government mass surveillance programs exposed by Edward Snowden over two years ago. In the immediate wake of Snowden’s revelations, a number of public interests groups and civil liberties advocates renewed their calls for the public to adopt personal encryption technology to help shield themselves from warrantless, mass electronic surveillance by NSA. The establishment of and are a clear sign that opponents of mass surveillance are taking the conflict with the American and UK governments on this issue to a new level. Only time will tell whether those behind will succeed in motivating a current intelligence officer to become the next Edward Snowden.

Private Philanthropy Promotes Human Wellbeing

In recognition of private philanthropy’s role in promoting human wellbeing, has just added a new category of data: charity.

Most people agree that charity is a good thing, but laws may restrict or dis-incentivize philanthropic action. Higher tax rates, for example, may negatively impact charitable giving. State-run welfare may also discourage charity, replacing “a welfare system of mutual aid based on reciprocity to one of paternalistic dependency based on hierarchy,” as David T. Beito has argued in his book, From Mutual Aid to the Welfare State.

In the United States, the structure of the welfare system may contribute to generational cycles of hardship. Jo Kwong of the Philanthropy Roundtable eloquently summarized the situation, describing how private philanthropy can be used to help people escape generational cycles of poverty and welfare-dependency, and make their way in the free enterprise economy.

How charitable is your country? Explore the data.

How Washington Wrecked Iraq and Created the Islamic State

Chaos is spreading from the Middle East outward as hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees pour into Europe. Over the last decade millions of Iraqis and Syrians have fled their homes. Western governments are proving far better at assigning blame than finding solutions.

The Republican Party meme is that every problem, including in the Middle East, is Barack Obama’s fault. According to the GOP, George W. Bush left America and the world secure. The feckless Obama administration allowed the collapse of Iraq and rise of the Islamic State.

These claims are self-serving, a political fantasy. The George W. Bush administration created many of today’s worst geopolitical problems.

First, President Bush used a terrorist attack conducted by Saudi citizens trained in Afghanistan as an excuse to invade Iraq, a long-time objective of neoconservatives as part of their plan to reorder the Middle East. Administration officials justified preventive war based on the claims of a dishonest informant provided by a crooked émigré hoping to rule Iraq.

War advocates planned to establish a liberal government aligned with the West, governed by an American puppet, and home to bases for U.S. military operations against its neighbors. These deluded plans came to naught.

Second, after ousting the Sunni dictator whose authoritarian rule held the nation together, the administration mishandled the occupation at every turn. The administration established a sectarian regime in Iraq as conflict flared and Iraq disintegrated. The administration underwrote the “Sunni Awakening,” through which Sunni tribes turned against al-Qaeda in Iraq, but Washington failed to achieve its objective of sectarian reconciliation.

Al-Qaeda in Iraq survived, mutating into the Islamic State. The Bush administration then became one of the Islamic State’s chief armorers when Iraqi soldiers fled before ISIS forces, abandoning their expensive, high-tech weapons which U.S. aircraft had to destroy last year.

Third, President Bush failed to win Iraqi approval of a continuing U.S. military presence and governing Status of Forces Agreement. Retired Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno explained: “us leaving at the end of 2011 … was always the plan, we had promised them that we would respect their sovereignty.” Attempting to stay would have been much worse.

Washington would have had leverage only by threatening to withdraw its garrison. U.S. troops would have had little impact on Iraqi political developments, unless augmented and deployed in anti-insurgency operations, which Americans did not support. And a continuing military occupation would have provided radicals from every sectarian viewpoint with a target.

The Obama administration has played a malign, but secondary, role. For instance, President Obama continued to back Iraq’s Maliki government despite the latter’s sectarian excesses. In Syria Washington inadvertently discouraged a negotiated compromise between Bashar al-Assad and the peaceful opposition by insisting on the former’s departure. Then, according to former Finnish president Martti Ahtisarri, the administration rejected a Russian initiative to ease Assad out of power.

The Obama administration turned Libya into another fulcrum of conflict.  Murderous Islamic State acolytes recently filled the void.

President Obama also put U.S. credibility on the line by making ISIS’s sectarian war in Iraq and Syria America’s own. The Obama administration became a source of weapons for the Islamic State after “moderate” insurgents backed by Washington repeatedly surrendered both personnel and arms to more radical forces.

Unfortunately, inadvertently promoting war rather than peace did not begin with the George W. Bush administration. In 1992 Washington torpedoed the Lisbon Agreement, negotiated by Britain’s Lord Peter Carrington and Portugal’s European Commission mediator Jose Cutileiro to end Bosnia’s civil war by providing extensive regional autonomy.

It is impossible to ignore the tragedy now overwhelming the Middle East. As I pointed out in National Interest online: “Washington bears substantial responsibility for the catastrophic conflict. George W. Bush made the most important decisions leading to the destruction of Iraq and rise of ISIL. No candidate unable or unwilling to learn from their disastrous mistakes is qualified to sit in the Oval Office.”

Dealing with Regulatory Trade Barriers in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership

The notion that domestic regulations can have discriminatory impacts on imports (amounting to protectionism) isn’t controversial. Nor is it a revelation that having to comply with different sets of regulations in different jurisdictions that are intended to achieve the same safety or health or environmental outcome is superfluous and costly to businesses. Reducing or eliminating those kinds of costs could produce enormous saving. Indeed, many observers have suggested that the greatest gains from a TTIP agreement would come from a robust “regulatory coherence” outcome.

In today’s Cato Online Forum essay, trade scholar Simon Lester offers some much needed clarity about the substance and process of TTIP’s so-called regulatory coherence negotiations, while providing suggestions on how best to proceed.

Simon’s essay is offered in conjunction with a Cato Institute conference on the TTIP taking place October 12.  Read it. Provide feedback.  And please register to attend the conference.