Archives: 12/2013

E-Verify Can Now “Lock” Social Security Numbers

Immigration reform is taking its time in Congress but the executive branch agencies charged with enforcing immigration laws have not been idle. Rather, they’ve been implementing bits and pieces of the reform package on their own – but not any of the good ones. 

Last month, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that it will “lock” a Social Security number when E-Verify or USCIS employees, based on new algorithms, believe the number is fraudulent or used fraudulently. The number is locked and a tentative non-confirmation (TNC) is issued to the applicant or applicants using the contested number – preventing any further E-Verify confirmations until the fraudulent user proves he or she is the lawful holder.

Although my colleagues and I have written extensively about the E-Verify system and its threat to liberties and economic growth, locking adds a newer negative dimension.   

“Locking” was proposed as part of the summer’s comprehensive immigration reform bill that was passed by the Senate and in the House’s Legal Workforce Act. Locking was a bad idea in those bills and remains a bad idea today when implemented by regulatory fiat.

Time to Leave Afghanistan

The longest war in American history drags on, with Washington a captive of purposeless inertia. The Obama administration should bring all U.S. forces home from Afghanistan and turn the conflict over to the Afghans.

After Afghan-based terrorists orchestrated the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Bush administration had little choice but to make an example of the Taliban regime as well as target al-Qaeda. 

But the lesson that governments which allow terrorist attacks on America lose power was delivered 12 long years ago. The Bush administration soon switched to nation-building in Central Asia. 

President Barack Obama then made the war his own, twice increasing the number of troops in Afghanistan. Still, he promised that U.S. forces would return home in 2014.

But now the administration wants to keep between 8,000 and 15,000 troops on station for years if not forever. The newly negotiated Bilateral Security Agreement would run until “the end of 2024 and beyond.” 

Be Thankful for “Diminished Productivity” in Washington

Let’s do a simple thought experiment and answer the following question: Do you think that additional laws from Washington will give you more freedom and more prosperity?

I don’t know how you will answer, but I strongly suspect most Americans will say “no.” Indeed, they’ll probably augment their “no” answers with a few words that wouldn’t be appropriate to repeat in polite company.

That’s because taxpayers instinctively understand that more activity in Washington usually translates into bigger and more expensive government. And big government isn’t so fun for those who pay the bills and incur the costs.

So what’s the purpose of our thought experiment? Well, new numbers have been released showing that the current Congress is going to set a modern-era record for imposing the fewest new laws.

But while most of us think this is probably good news, Washington insiders are whining and complaining about “diminished productivity” in Congress. The Washington Post is very disappointed that lawmakers aren’t enacting more taxes, more spending, and more regulation.

…this Congress — which is set to adjourn for the year later this month — has enacted 52 public laws. By comparison, …90 laws were encated during the first year of the 113th Congress and 137 were put in place during the first year of the 111th Congress.

Just in case you don’t have a beltway mindset, another Washington Post report also tells you that fewer laws is a bad thing.

…whatever gets done in December will still be part of a year with record-low congressional accomplishment. …According to congressional records, there have been fewer than 60 public laws enacted in the first 11 months of this year, so below the previous low in legislative output that officials have already declared this first session of the 113th Congress the least productive ever.

Let’s actually look at some evidence. The first session of the current Congress may have been the “least productive” in history when it comes to imposing new laws, but what’s the actual result?

PISA School Test Results

New international student test results called PISA have been released. See here and here. Once again, U.S. high-school kids did poorly. American kids ranked 36th in math, 24th in reading, and 28th in science among 65 countries and jurisdictions. The U.S. scores were below the average of other countries in all three subject areas.

A number of Asian countries scored the highest on all three tests. But Canadian kids also did very well, scoring toward the top on all the tests. On math, for example, Canadian kids ranked 13th, compared to U.S. kids at 36th.   

American policymakers often react to such dismal U.S. results by calling for more central planning of education through federal subsidies and mandates. But note that Canada has no federal education department and no federal subsidies for its K-12 schools. Canadian education is entirely controlled at the provincial and local levels.  

The Canadian test score advantage over the United States doesn’t prove that decentralization alone leads to higher scores, but it does prove that the United States does not need any federal involvement in order to become a top-ranked schooling nation. Indeed, Cato scholars have long argued that we would better off abolishing the U.S. Department of Education and ending all federal subsidies

My colleagues have opined on the PISA results here and here.

More on Canada’s decentralized government here and here.

High-profile Paper Linking GMO Corn to Cancer in Rats Retracted

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.”

 

About a year ago, a major paper appeared in a high-profile scientific journal, Food and Chemical Toxicology, claiming a link between genetically modified corn and cancer in rats. The findings were published by a research team led by Gilles-Éric Séralini of the University of Caen in France. It was widely trumpeted by people opposed to genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Simply put, making a GMO dramatically accelerates the normally slow process of traditional plant breeding, which takes many generations to stabilize some desired new trait in the plant genome, making the philosophical objections to it seem somewhat naïve.

While Séralini’s finding was heralded by anti-GMO activists as an “I told you so,” the paper was promptly, harshly, and widely criticized by geneticists and the general scientific community, many of whom lobbied the journal directly to address the shortcomings in the paper.

The most stinging criticism is going to sound painfully like what we see so often in environmental science, where researchers purposefully design an experiment likely to produce a desired results. Two months ago we documented a similar process that pretty much guaranteed that the chemical currently the darling of green enrages, bisphenyl-A, would “cause” cancer.

In Seralini’s case, the research team used a strain of rats with a known strong proclivity to develop cancer if left to age long enough, which is what they allowed, obeying the maxim that “if you let something get old enough, it will get cancer.”

More Terrorism Isn’t Necessarily More Danger

Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Mike Rogers (R-Mich) made news Sunday when they both insisted on CNN that the terrorist threat to Americans has grown in the last couple of years. Feinstein’s evidence: “The statistics indicate that, the fatalities are way up.” Rogers agrees and argues that al Qaeda has been “metastasizing” into more groups that engage in smaller attacks.

It’s true that global terror attacks and fatalities increased in 2011 and 2012, according to the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism. And, several new jihadist groups have emerged of late. But, as Marian Tupy showed here Monday, the fact remains that terrorism has for decades been becoming less deadly.

We should also be skeptical that the recent increase in terrorism means more danger for Americans. The cause of terrorism’s recent increase is civil wars and political unrest in Africa, the Middle-East and South Asia, where the vast majority of recent terrorist attacks have occurred.

Meanwhile, terrorists killed fifteen, seventeen, and ten private U.S. citizens (that is, non-military) in 2010, 2011, 2012, respectively. That means the danger to Americans either did not grow or that they mostly avoided it.

The real problem then is not al Qaeda, but the fractured political order in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, Nigeria and the like. Feinstein is conflating those problems to frighten us. As John Mueller notes:

When terrorism becomes really extensive, we generally no longer call it terrorism, but war. But people are mainly concerned about random terror, not sustained warfare.

Rogers’ claim that the al Qaeda threat is “metastasizing” into smaller, deadlier cells resembles old arguments that al Qaeda was a hierarchical organization that cleverly decentralized when the gig was up in Afghanistan. But as I explained at greater length here, even in its 1990s heyday, al Qaeda was a fragmented and unmanageable movement.

Its scattered remnant in Pakistan controls little locally and less abroad. Its “affiliates” are either bunches of guys with little capability or Islamist insurgents trading on the name’s cachet to organize their corner of a rebellion. Most of those insurgents target local enemies, not Americans. Those tragic struggles do not necessarily threaten U.S. security.

The fact that the jihadists that do target Americans are now focused on small-scale attacks is a consequence of their limited ability to pull off complex plots. And even the simpler sorts have mostly failed. Given the devastation our leaders tell us to expect from al Qaeda, what Rogers calls metastasis seems like good news.

Government Planning in Indiana with Federal Funds

According to popular myth, Democrats favor government planning of the economy and Republicans favor free markets. Today’s example of why this is baloney comes from the Republican governor of Indiana, Mike Pence. Before I get to the story, readers should know up front that I was a state budget official (2006-2008) in the prior administration of Gov. Mitch Daniels (R). 

Yesterday, the Indiana Department of Energy Development announced that it will be “crafting a new energy plan for the state of Indiana.” Well, praise the Lord – the state’s energy planners are going to work with “stakeholders” to make sure Hoosiers won’t be forced to turn to whale oil lamps. No, seriously, Indiana is in trouble. According to the announcement, that’s because the state’s current plan apparently just hasn’t panned out: 

Indiana’s current energy plan, the Homegrown Energy Plan, was written in 2006. Since that time, Indiana’s cost of electricity for industrial customers has increased, causing Indiana to slip from 5th lowest in the country to 27th lowest. 

Oops. 

Okay, a new vision is clearly needed. Enter former radio host Gov. Mike Pence: 

“Here in Indiana, we make things, and we grow things,” said Governor Mike Pence. “These activities require enormous amounts of energy. In order to maintain our historic advantage for low cost of energy, we need a new, updated energy plan.” 

Whoa – that’s deep. Think about what Pence is saying: Hoosiers make things…Hoosiers grow things. Only a cold-hearted cynic doesn’t feel a tingle after contemplating such profound insights. 

As the saying goes, great leaders surround themselves with great people. Heading up the state’s development of a new energy plan is my former colleague, Tristan Vance. According to a press release announcing Vance’s reappointment, he has extensive experience working in state government. There’s no mention of Vance having real world experience in the energy sector that he’s now in charge of planning, but he did monitor the agency as a state budget official prior to heading it. 

Eh, close enough. 

Snark aside, there’s a deeper policy concern here that affects taxpayers in all states. Much of the Indiana Department of Energy Development’s funding comes from the federal government (about 70 percent if my reading of state budget numbers is correct). That means, dear federal taxpayers, you’ll be subsidizing the bulk of whatever “plan” the Pence administration comes up with.   

Now as I noted in an Indianapolis Star op-ed back in June, Indiana’s dependence on federal funds isn’t unique. Indeed, the other 49 states are similarly dependent on handouts from Uncle Sam. But state taxpayers should understand that federal funds are not a “free” lunch: 

The appeal of federal funds to governors is obvious: They get to spend additional money without having to raise taxes on their voters to pay for it. A problem with this arrangement is that it creates a fiscal illusion — state taxpayers perceive the cost of government to be cheaper than it really is. In effect, the federal money and a large part of the annual budget appears to be “free.”

But Hoosiers should be mindful that every dollar Washington sends to Indianapolis is a dollar taken from taxpayers in Indiana and the other states. (The return is actually less than a dollar since the federal bureaucracy takes its cut). The situation is no different when the federal dollars go instead to, say, Sacramento. In addition, economists have found that federal subsidies to the states lead to higher state taxes and spending in the long-run because the federal “seed money” creates a demand for more government.

One could argue that so long as Hoosiers have to send money to Washington, Indiana might as well get a share of the loot. That’s an understandable sentiment, but the blatantly self-serving manner in which the Pence administration goes about distributing the bounty should give Hoosiers pause.

Indeed, the self-serving manner in which the nation’s governors go about playing with federal funds should give all taxpayers pause.