Archives: 08/2017

Odds of Horace Mann Being Right? About 1 in a Million

Last night I was reading AEI president Arthur Brooks’ excellent Wall Street Journal op-ed on the lottery, that seemingly ubiquitous government revenue scheme targeted at the poor, and it brought to mind Horace Mann, the “father of the common schools.” Did Mann pop into my brain because he was also the father of the “Diamond Dollars” scratcher, or “Pick 6 XTRA”? In a way, yes.  

Mann actually hated the unproductive, greed-fueled lottery, which he wrote “cankers the morals of entire classes of the people.” As was the case for seemingly every social ill perceived by Mann, he had a cure for the canker: universal public schooling. Lotteries, he wrote, “await the dawning of that general enlightenment which common schools could so rapidly give, to be banished from the country forever.”

Fast forward to the present day, and what do we have? Roughly 90 percent of school-aged Americans attending public schools—and all children with access to them—while slickly advertised state lotteries pull in $70 billion annually, according to Brooks, with a disproportionate amount coming from low-income Americans who have little chance of breaking even, much less striking it rich.

Contra Mann’s promise, common schooling did not doom the lottery. Far, far from it. Today, perhaps the primary justification for the lottery is that it provides money for the public schools!

Frankly, Mann, who pronounced with assumed authority on everything from proper chewing to the number of “bodies” in the solar system, should have seen this coming. He certainly identified the supposed beneficiaries of lottery proceeds in his day: “the erection of public works,–to build a bridge, a canal, or a church [italics in original].” Mann was especially incensed by the latter, decrying, “When a church is built by a lottery, can there be any doubt which has the best side of the bargain, the Evil Spirit or the Good?”

Today, the “churches” conceived by Mann—the public schools—are themselves enriched by lotteries. Maybe that’s because they could never spread the universal enlightenment that Mann confidently promised. Maybe it is also because, like most of us, those employed by the public schools want as much money as they can reasonably get, and government schemes like the lottery enable them to bring in more.

What To Make of Trump’s NAFTA Termination Talk?

As the NAFTA renegotiation enters its second round this week-end, President Trump is bringing back talk of a possible NAFTA “termination.” He tweeted this on Sunday: “We are in the NAFTA (worst trade deal ever made) renegotiation process with Mexico & Canada. Both being very difficult, may have to terminate?”  And at a press conference yesterday, he said the following: “I’ve talked about NAFTA, you’ve heard me many times – and I’ve said that we will either terminate it or renegotiate it.”

Recall that a few months ago, the White House seemed to be considering a withdrawal from NAFTA, but later backed off. Is the current termination threat anything new and different from what took place before? Is it just a pretty transparent attempt to gain negotiating leverage? As Trump himself said, “I believe that you will probably have to at least start the termination process before a fair deal could be arrived at because it’s been a one-sided deal.” 

In theory, you can gain leverage in any negotiation by threatening to walk out. It’s not clear how much credibility Trump’s threat has, though. Two law professors have argued recently that the President does not have the legal authority to terminate NAFTA on his own, without a Congressional say (to be clear, there is a lot of uncertainty on this legal point). Aside from the law, such an action by President Trump would create a political battle between the White House and Congress that could upset the rest of Trump’s agenda, so it may be unlikely.

At this stage, I’m not taking these termination threats by Trump very seriously. Most likely, it is a negotiating tactic, and I suspect the Canadian and Mexican governments have been following U.S. political events closely enough to realize this. If Trump eventually does push for terminating NAFTA, either to gain leverage or to try to unwind the deal, we can all start pushing back. But for now, it’s better to focus on getting a positive outcome in the negotiations.

Topics:

A Second Attack on the Dual-Sovereignty Exception to the Double Jeopardy Clause

In 1993, a Pennsylvania jury found Willie Tyler not guilty of murder but guilty of conspiracy to intimidate a witness. He was sentenced to “two-to-four years” and paroled in 1994. Two years later, a federal grand jury issued a four-count indictment against Tyler after Justice Department officials deemed he could be subject to a “retrial” on federal charges. He was convicted on all four counts and sentenced to a life term.

Following an appeal, second trial, and conviction, the case was remanded for reconsideration and a third trial was ordered. In the subsequent appeal of this third trial, Tyler challenged his second prosecution as a violation of the Fifth Amendment, which guarantees that no person shall “be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb” for the same offense. But under a strange exception to the Double Jeopardy Clause created by the Supreme Court 60 years ago, the state and federal governments are allowed to both prosecute someone for the same act.

Cato has joined the Constitutional Accountability Center in filing a brief urging the Supreme Court to review Tyler’s case and overturn this misguided “dual sovereignty” exception—as we did last December in Walker v. Texas, which presented the same issue. We make three principal arguments. First, none of the Framers would have contemplated such a large exception to Double Jeopardy protection. Even before the Founding, English jurist and legal theorist William Blackstone wrote that it was considered a “universal maxim of the common law of England, that no man is to be brought into jeopardy of his life, more than once, for the same offence.” And in congressional debates before the enactment of the Fifth Amendment, Rep. Roger Sherman observed that “the courts of justice would never think of trying and punishing twice for the same offence.”

Terrorism and the New Domino Theory

Several weeks ago the Defense Department revealed it is seriously considering drone strikes against Islamist terrorists in the Philippines, which would make it the eighth country the United States has bombed in the war on terror. Certainly the terrorists—who have operated in various forms there for over a hundred years—are a threat to Filipinos. They are not, however, a threat to the United States. Why, then, would the United States start bombing?

The answer may lie in the misguided theory driving American thinking about terrorism.

During the Cold War, America’s political leaders subscribed to the domino theory. The theory, whose name comes from a 1954 speech by President Eisenhower, held that if one country fell to communism, then its neighbors would fall next, toppling like dominoes. This fear encouraged U.S. officials to worry about the emergence of communism even in places of little strategic importance.

History reveals that the domino theory was a poor guide to international relations, but its power during the Cold War was real. The United States intervened repeatedly in the Third World, toppling governments and fueling civil conflicts, in order to prevent the spread of communism. Most importantly, the domino theory provided the primary justification for the Vietnam War, which cost the United States almost 60,000 lives and also strained the fabric of American society. Tragically, the irrelevance of the loss of the Vietnam War for American security was not enough to vanquish the domino theory. It continued to motivate American intervention in Central America and elsewhere until the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The 9/11 attacks in turn spawned what we might call the pandemic theory. According to this theory, terrorism spreads as the terrorism “contagion” jumps from person to person, oblivious to distance or national borders. Thanks to its viral spread, which can occur via interpersonal contact or online through propaganda and chat rooms, terrorism anywhere in the world is a threat to reach the U.S eventually. As with infectious diseases, even a small outbreak of terrorism in a faraway land can be used to justify extreme responses. The best time to eradicate a disease, after all, is before it gets a foothold and infects a large number of people.

The pandemic theory looks compelling at first glance. But like many popular theories, it is dangerously inaccurate. 

Trump Admin Doubles Immigration Form Length, Says It’ll Take No More Time to Do

The Trump administration has quietly made immigration more difficult for people seeking to immigrate to the United States. It has increased the length of immigration applications significantly. Since January, it has increased the length of 15 immigration forms, yet at the same time, it claims that most of these forms will take no more time to complete. The table below presents a list of all of the forms that the new administration has increased since January and how long each administration estimated the forms would take to complete.

Table: Immigration Form Lengths by Presidency

 

Form

President Trump

President Obama

    Form Pages Instruction Pages Minutes to Finish Form Pages Instruction Pages  Minutes to Finish

1

I-130 | Petition for Alien Relative

12

12

120

2

7

90

2

I-130 | Petition for Alien Spouse Supplement

18

12

170

2

7

90

3

I-526 | Immigrant Petition by Alien Entrepreneur

13

13

110

3

4

110

4

I-485 | Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status

18

42

390

6

8*

390

5

I-290B | Notice of Appeal or Motion

5

9

90

2

8

90

6

I-129F | Petition for Alien Fiancé(e)

13

15

195

6

9

95

7

I-485 Supplement A | Supplement A to Form I-485, Adjustment of Status Under Section 245(i)

4

11

13

2

4

75

8

I-730 | Refugee/Asylee Relative Petition

8

7

40

4

6

40

9

I-765 | Application for Employment Authorization

2

18

205

1

12

205

10

N-600 | Application for Certificate of Citizenship

15

13

95

9

9

95

11

N-600K | Application for Citizenship and Issuance of Certificate Under Section 322

13

16

125

8

9

125

12

I-693 | Report of Medical Examination and Vaccination Record

13

12

150

9

11

150

13

I-918 | Petition for U Nonimmigrant Status

11

17

300

8

9

300

14

I-914 | Application for T Nonimmigrant Status

10

14

135

9

9

135

  Total

155

211

2,138

71

112

1,990

*Note the form goes onto the ninth page, but USCIS doesn’t include those sections as part of the form instruction length.
Source: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services; Old Forms Obtained through Web Archive

Fibbing Troop Levels and the Need for Transparency

An article in Politico today reports on a persistent problem with the Pentagon providing inaccurate numbers of U.S. troops deployed in foreign countries, particularly war zones like Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq.

The Defense Department has long been among the worst federal offenders in terms of lack of transparency in public reporting on everything from where Americans are deployed to how tax dollars are spent. Specifically, though, Pentagon officials have recently resorted to some clever accounting tricks in order to make total troop levels appear lower than they actually are.

At least a few factors are motivating this “concealment of total troops in war-zones,” as Politico puts it. First, the Obama administration set certain caps on the number of troops permitted to be deployed in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. In Afghanistan, for example, President Obama capped troop levels at 8,400. That is significantly lower than the 12,000-13,000 total troops actually present in Afghanistan, and once President Trump deploys another 4,000 or so as he outlined in his speech to the nation last week “the total will be nearly double the current public number,” Politico reports.

The reason for the undercounting is that the Pentagon has not been including troops present in the country for fewer than 120 days—including, for example, “construction engineers who are building a bridge or repairing an airfield, as well as the combat units like Marine artillery batteries that have deployed to Syria.” When military officials decide a short-term boost in troop numbers is necessary to achieve some tactical objective, they do so without counting them in the total numbers so as to avoid violating the caps imposed by the executive branch.

Another reason the Pentagon deliberately undercounts troop levels is because higher numbers of troop deployments can be a political liability for some U.S. clients, like Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who is up for election next year amid widespread misgivings among Iraqis about the continued presence of U.S. troops there.

I ran into this problem while researching my recent Cato Policy Analysis on overseas basing. Official statements from the military and civilian sectors of government, as well as references to foreign troop numbers in the news media, were consistently lower than some more accurate (or inclusive) internal Defense Department estimates.

Is Wikileaks A “Non-state Hostile Intelligence Service” As Some Claim?

Just before the annual rush to get out of town for the August District Work Period, the Senate Intelligence Committee passed its annual Intelligence Authorization bill by a 14-1 vote. The lone dissenter was Democrat Ron Wyden of Oregon, a recent guest at Cato and arguably the most articulate and well-informed member of Congress on Intelligence Community oversight issues. Almost a month after the vote, Wyden explained to The Hill why he elected to oppose the bill, which includes language aimed at Wikileaks and its founder and leader, Julian Assange:

“My concern is that the use of the novel phrase ‘non-state hostile intelligence service’ may have legal, constitutional, and policy implications, particularly should it be applied to journalists inquiring about secrets,” said Wyden.

“The language in the bill suggesting that the U.S. government has some unstated course of action against ‘non-state hostile intelligence services’ is equally troubling.”

 The specific language in the bill reads as follows:

SEC. 623. SENSE OF CONGRESS ON WIKILEAKS.

It is the sense of Congress that WikiLeaks and the senior leadership of WikiLeaks resemble a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors and should be treated as such a service by the United States.

“Sense of Congress” provisions are legislative puffery—they have no legal force or effect. This is a political messaging and propaganda exercise aimed at the press and the Intelligence Community workforce, not a serious assault on Wikileaks or Assange. To claim otherwise trivializes the real threats that actual investigative journalists and their news organizations face from the U.S. government—such as attempted prosecutions for leaks under the Espionage Act or Congressional efforts to eradicate public encryption technologies journalists and their sources use to communicate securely. 

Genuine hostile intelligence services are not passive recipients of purloined secrets that they subsequently publish for all the world to see. Real spy services employ real human beings to actively seek out the secrets of other state-level actors or non-state entities like terrorist organizations, and they do everything possible to keep their successes—and failures—secret, for what should be obvious reasons. Wikileaks may be many things, but the notion that it is a stateless equivalent to the FSB or Mossad is laughable. 

Instead of obsessing about Assange and his organization, the Senate and House Intelligence Committees would do well to focus on real problems and real bad actors inside the American Intelligence Community—especially those who seem so intent on retaliating against IC employees and contractors trying to expose waste, fraud, abuse, or criminal conduct by IC officials.