Archives: 02/2018

TELs on Parade: The Missiles in North Korea’s Army Day Parade

Kim Jong-un threw a big military parade earlier today, reminding the world of his military power on the eve of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics’ opening ceremony. Compared to the massive annual parade that takes place on April 15th (the anniversary of Kim Il-sung’s birth), today’s parade was smaller and less significant, though it did feature some interesting missile systems.

The first missile system of note was a new type of close- or short-range ballistic missile (C/SRBM) that, at first glance, looks similar to the Russian-made Iskander-M SRBM.


(New type of North Korean C/SRBM, February 8, 2018. Source: YouTube)

(Iskander-M SRBM system. Source: Wikipedia Commons)

Like the Iskander, the new North Korean system carries two missiles side-by-side in a four axle transporter-erector-launcher (TEL) vehicle. Another similarity of the two systems is fuel type: most C/SRBMs use solid rocket fuel. Although the type of fuel used in the new North Korean missile system cannot be determined from the parade video alone, it would be very unusual for a missile of its size to not use solid fuel.

Costa Rica’s Election: It Wasn’t the Economy, Stupid!

Is it the economy, stupid? A preliminary analysis would have concluded that such a maxim would prevail in Costa Rica’s presidential race: unemployment is high (especially among the youth), the cost of living is one of the highest in Latin America, and public finances are at a breaking point. However, culture wars, in particular same-sex marriage, dominated the debate leading up to the first round of elections held on Sunday. How can this be explained?

From the beginning this was an atypical presidential race for Costa Rica, due to the rise of a right-wing populist candidate who led the polls for many months. With a messianic and authoritarian rhetoric of “rebuilding the country” aimed at a “direct democracy with no parties or corrupt politicians,” Juan Diego Castro, a well-known litigation lawyer and former minister of security, became the candidate of the until then miniscule and irrelevant National Integration Party.

Castro’s phenomenon showed once again something that had become evident during the previous election: Costa Rica, Latin America’s oldest democracy, is not immune to populism. The country harbors several conditions that feed such a phenomenon. There is a tremendous animosity towards the political class, which is perceived as both corrupt and inept. This resentment also affects the media, businesspeople, and the judiciary. The rise of violent crime—2017 recorded the highest homicide rate in the country’s history—and the perception that the authorities are too weak on crime, further feeds the anger.

A widespread corruption scandal, in which the incumbent Solis administration was directly involved, along with the judiciary and various opposition parties, dominated public attention for months and strengthened Castro’s candidacy. Just one month before the election, polls showed him and Antonio Álvarez Desanti, from the National Liberation Party, as the most likely candidates to move forward to the run-off on April 1.

ICE Doesn’t Belong in the Intelligence Community

Some officials at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are reportedly looking into the agency joining the Intelligence Community (IC). Making ICE, which is responsible to deportations, a member of the IC would be a mistake, putting our civil liberties at risk by giving the agency increased access to vast troves of information not related to immigration enforcement.

ICE officials have been pushing for this change since the Obama administration, but the close relationship between intelligence agencies and immigration enforcement officials is nothing new. Almost one hundred years ago, one of the most notorious set of deportations in American history occurred, thanks in large part to domestic law enforcement acting like a spy agency.

In 1919 followers of the Italian anarchist Luigi Galleani sent mail bombs to dozens of prominent public figures, including Attorney General Mitchell Palmer. Although the wannabe assassins failed to kill any of their intended targets, the bombings sparked the United States’ first “Red Scare.”

Puerto Rico: Don’t Do School Choice Like Louisiana

It appears hurricanes are a catalyst for school choice. Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana in 2005, spurring a substantial school system reform. Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in 2017, and their education secretary, Julia Keleher, recently announced that private school “vouchers will be included.” This could be a great thing. 

But Puerto Rico better not follow the heavily regulated Louisiana model.

In order to participate in the Louisiana voucher program, private schools must administer all of the standardized state tests, maintain a “quality” curriculum, and surrender their admissions processes over to the government. And of course, these state-driven regulations come with unintended consequences. As shown in figure 1 below, only a third of Louisiana private schools choose to participate in the state’s voucher program, while participation is much higher in less regulated locations. Furthermore, my colleagues and I find that the regulations in Louisiana likely reduce the quality of participating private schools. And, unsurprisingly, the participating private schools start to look a lot like government schools.

But that’s not all. The first experimental evaluation in the world ever to find negative effects of school vouchers on student achievement was in Louisiana.

“Accountability” to the government may sound enticing for Puerto Rico. After all, their elites likely wish to prevent poor families from making bad decisions. However, the perceived short-run benefit leads to actual long-run costs. Top-down accountability measures prevent high quality schools from participating at all. And worse, they nudge otherwise autonomous private schools to behave like government schools. Why entice great schools to imitate the very institutions that children are so desperately trying to escape?

Besides, since private schools must attract their customers, they already face tremendously stronger accountability pressures than government schools.

Puerto Rico has a great opportunity here. But they must do this right. If Puerto Rico mimics Louisiana, their natural disaster could very well lead to an educational disaster.

Public Schooling Battles: January Dispatch

January brought a new year to our calendars—more on calendars shortly—but a look at the public schooling values and identity-based battles for the month shows that nothing much has really changed. Some of the big battlegrounds of 2017—and years before that—are still big battlegrounds at the outset of 2018. Which should come as no surprise: A new year doesn’t suddenly make diverse people abandon the cultures, histories, and values they cherish.

The Political Exploitation of Border Patrol Agent Rogelio Martinez

Last November, Border Patrol agent Rogelio Martinez died in the line of duty.  At the time, it was unclear how Agent Martinez perished and many jumped to the conclusion that he was murdered.  Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R-TX) said Martinez was killed in “an attack.”  Texas Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) went further, arguing that Rogelio’s death shows just how insecure the border is and that the Border Patrol needs more resources.  A spokesperson for the National Border Patrol Council, the union for Border Patrol agents, said that Martinez may have been bludgeoned to death by rocks.  They all jumped the gun.

Martinez’s death remains a mystery, but an FBI investigation found no evidence of an attack.  The government records all Border Patrol agent and Customs officer deaths in the line of duty.  A total of 33 Border Patrol agents died from 2003 through 2017 (Table 1).  The ratio of agents to deaths was the lowest in 2004, but more agents died in 2012.  The annual chance of a Border Patrol agent dying in the line of duty was about one in 7,968 per year during the whole period.  Only six of the 33 Border Patrol agents who died in the line of duty were murdered.  The only confirmed murder in 2017 was of Border Patrol Agent Isaac Morales.  Twenty-six died because of accidents and Rogelio’s death is still a mystery (Table 2).   

Although Border Patrol agents do sometimes die tragically, they are less likely to be murdered on the job than the average American.  Since 2003, about 1 in 43,824 Border Patrol were murdered each year while on the job.  That compares favorably to about 1 in 19,431 Americans murdered per year over the same time.   Regular Americans were more than twice as likely to be murdered in any year from 2003 through 2017 than Border Patrol agents were.

Hopefully, investigators will soon discover how Agent Rogelio Martinez actually died.  In the meantime, the political circus surrounding his tragic death should be a lesson to all public officials and unions involved: Don’t use the death of a Border Patrol agent to argue for policy changes until you have all of the facts.


Table 1

Border Patrol Agent Deaths Per Year

  Deaths Number of Agents Agents Per Death Percent Death
















































































Source:  Customs and Border Protection.

Table 2

Border Patrol Agents, Cause of Death, and Year of Death, 2003-2017

Name Year Cause of Death
Rogelio Martinez 2017 Unknown (Likely Accident)
Isaac Morales 2017 Assault/Murder
David Gomez 2016 Accident (Health)
Manuel A. Alvarez 2016 Car Accident
Jose D. Barraza 2016 Car Accident
Tyler R. Robledo 2014 Car Accident
Javier Vega, Jr. 2014 Assault/Murder
Alexander I. Giannini 2014 Car Accident
David R. Delaney 2012 Accident (Health)
Nicholas J. Ivie 2012 Assault/Murder
Jeffrey Ramirez 2012 Accident (Health)
James R. Dominguez 2012 Car Accident
Leopoldo Cavazos Jr. 2012 Car Accident
Eduardo Rojas Jr. 2011 Car Accident
Hector R. Clark 2011 Car Accident
Brian A. Terry 2010 Assault/Murder
Michael V. Gallagher 2010 Car Accident
Mark F. Van Doren 2010 Car Accident
Robert W. Rosas Jr. 2009 Assault/Murder
Cruz C. McGuire 2009 Accident (Health)
Nathaniel A. Afolayan 2009 Accident (Health)
Jarod C. Dittman 2008 Car Accident
Luis Aguilar 2008 Assault/Murder
Eric Cabral 2007 Accident (Health)
Richard Goldstein 2007 Accident (Drowning)
David J. Tourscher 2007 Car Accident
Ramon Nevarez Jr. 2007 Car Accident
David N. Webb 2006 Car Accident
Nicholas D. Greenig 2006 Car Accident
George B. DeBates 2004 Car Accident
Travis W. Attaway 2004 Accident (Drowning)
Jeremy M. Wilson 2004 Accident (Drowning)
James P. Epling 2003 Accident (Drowning)


Source: Customs and Border Protection.

What are the Kabul Attacks Signaling?

In January, Kabul endured three deadly attacks. On January 20, the Taliban stormed Kabul’s InterContinental Hotel, killing 30 people (mainly foreigners) in a siege that lasted 14 hours. A week later, Taliban militants drove an ambulance into a designated safe zone, killing at least 95 people and injuring 158, while ISIS claimed responsibility for attacking the Marshal Fahim Military Academy west of Kabul that killed 11 Afghan soldiers. President Trump responded by contending that there could be no negotiations with the Taliban. And though his State of the Union address only briefly discussed foreign policy, the president vowed not to stop fighting until ISIS is defeated. 

But neither the Taliban nor ISIS is the key to understanding what’s going on in Afghanistan. Even turning attention toward Pakistan as a source of Afghanistan’s instability is proving to be unsatisfactory for those concerned about the region. So what do the Kabul attacks tell us?  

Most observers of the U.S. war in Afghanistan consider the attacks a signal from Pakistan in light of current tensions within the U.S.–Pakistan relationship, which is currently at its lowest point. Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), has a notorious relationship with the Taliban, Haqqani Network, and other militant groups. Since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, both India and Afghanistan have blamed Pakistan for continued militant violence in Afghanistan. For example, Mahmoud Saikal, Afghanistan’s Ambassador to the United Nations, alleged that the Kabul Hotel attack last week was organized in Chaman, a city in the Pakistani province of Baluchistan.

And Pakistan may feel compelled to send a message because of the Trump administration’s decision to come down hard on Pakistan. For example, President Trump singled out Pakistan’s support of militant groups and accused the state of providing them safe haven in the administration’s Afghanistan strategy and National Security Strategy documents last year. The administration subsequently cut Pakistan’s security aid. Pakistan, however, continues to maintain that it has eradicated all terrorist safe havens, and also claims that its leverage with the Taliban has been decreasing.