Archives: 05/2018

TSA Still Awful After 17 Years

It has been 17 years since the federal government took over security screening at the nation’s airports, and they still haven’t figured out how to schedule more screeners during busy times.

The photo is yesterday afternoon in Denver. It took 26 minutes to get through the line. Leaving from Dulles a couple days earlier it took a ridiculous 46 minutes.

The problem is that monopoly bureaus like the Transportation Security Administration do not value Americans’ time, and they have little incentive to operate efficiently. Why did the Denver airport have just four security lines open yesterday when this facility gets 58 million passengers a year?  

The photo makes clear that the mob scene generated by the bureaucracy creates a major security problem in itself with respect to possible lunatic bombers. Dulles at 46 minutes was even more frustrating and more of a mob scene.

Both airports are vast structures that cost billions of dollars to build. Yet the government does not seem interested buying a few more machines and adding screeners. Government monopolies do not, or cannot, properly trade off costs and benefits.

The ultimate solution to this government-caused congestion problem is to privatize both airport screening and the nation’s airports, as I discuss here and here.

But a good first step would be to devolve responsibility for screening to local governments. The City of Denver, for example, would have a strong incentive to invest in screening lines because the local economy gains huge benefits from the airport. The faraway bureaucrats in Washington apparently couldn’t care less about Denver’s economy or the frustrations of local residents and visitors.

Show Me the (Education) Money, Part IV!

We’ve looked at the K-12 spending trends both nationally and in restive states, broken down per-pupil expenditures into smaller bits, and added North Carolina. I had planned to finish this spending series with this post, but there are a lot of data to examine so I’m going to put off conclusions to the next—and final—post. We now look at total enrollment and inflation-adjusted expenditures, and then at how staffing and inflation-adjusted teacher salaries have moved, both nationally and for our “hot” states. (On all charts, pay close attention to the horizontal axis. Many start with wider increments of time than they end.)

National

Enrollment: We saw a drop between the 1969-70 school year and 89-90, then enrollment lagrely plateaued between 05-06 and 13-14.

Spending: Total public school revenues (standing in for spending because a longer trend is available) massively increased between 69-70 and 07-08—the Great Recession—at which point they started dropping, but as of 14-15 they had essentially returned to pre-recession levels.   

Teacher Salaries: Average salaries for public school teachers have been pretty stagnant since the late-1980s. The period we have been focusing on intensively—99-00 to 14-15—shows salaries peaking in 09-10, then failing to recover to levels at the beginning of that period.

Teacher Staffing: Public schools have been hiring teachers faster than enrollment has risen, starting at 4.5 teachers per hundred students in 1970 and hitting 6.5 in 2008. It dipped to slightly above 6.2 in 2014.

Non-Teaching Staff: Other staff have been rising relative to teachers, with teachers dropping from 51.5 percent of total staff in 2000 to 49.4 percent in 2015.

ICE Scraps Plans For “Extreme Vetting” Prediction Tech

During his presidential campaign Donald Trump proposed the “extreme vetting” of immigrants. Civil libertarians criticized the proposal, not least because the Extreme Vetting Initiative mandated by one of President Trump’s first executive orders sought technology that would use machine learning to determine whether visa applicants would be likely to contribute to society and the national interest. Fortunately, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) – is no longer pursuing this vetting technology.

In January 2017 President Trump issued Executive Order 13769, which stated in part (emphasis mine):

Sec. 4. Implementing Uniform Screening Standards for All Immigration Programs. (a) The Secretary of State, the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Director of National Intelligence, and the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation shall implement a program, as part of the adjudication process for immigration benefits, to identify individuals seeking to enter the United States on a fraudulent basis with the intent to cause harm, or who are at risk of causing harm subsequent to their admission. This program will include the development of a uniform screening standard and procedure, such as […] a process to evaluate the applicant’s likelihood of becoming a positively contributing member of society and the applicant’s ability to make contributions to the national interest; and a mechanism to assess whether or not the applicant has the intent to commit criminal or terrorist acts after entering the United States.

The Extreme Vetting Initiative tasked with implementing (among things) this feature of Trump’s executive order, included the following in its statement of objectives:

ICE must develop processes that determine and evaluate an applicant’s probability of becoming a positively contributing member of society as well as their ability to contribute to national interests in order to meet the EOs outlined by the President.

A background document on the initiative outlined requirements, including the exploitation of publicly available information found on blogs, social media, academic websites, and other online sources. The same backgrounder went on to state that the goal was for the initiative to generate 10,000 investigatory leads each year.

Earlier this year dozens of computer scientists, mathematicians, and engineers wrote a letter to then-Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke, outlining the numerous issued associated with the Extreme Vetting Initiative. As I noted in November last year, the letter highlighted that ICE’s proposal would likely be discriminatory as well as unreliable. From the letter:

According to its Statement of Objectives, the Extreme Vetting Initiative seeks to make “determinations via automation” about whether an individual will become a “positively contributing member of society” and will “contribute to the national interests.” As far as we are aware, neither the federal government nor anyone else has defined, much less attempted to quantify, these characteristics. Algorithms designed to predict these undefined qualities could be used to arbitrarily flag groups of immigrants under a veneer of objectivity.

Inevitably, because these characteristics are difficult (if not impossible) to define and measure, any algorithm will depend on “proxies” that are more easily observed and may bear little or no relationship to the characteristics of interest. For example, developers could stipulate that a Facebook post criticizing U.S. foreign policy would identify a visa applicant as a threat to national interests. They could also treat income as a proxy for a person’s contributions to society, despite the fact that financial compensation fails to adequately capture people’s roles in their communities or the economy.

For more information on the Extreme Vetting Initiative, including original ICE documents, visit the Brennan Center for Justice’s resource page.

Is FDA Commissioner Realizing That America’s War on Opioids Has Become a War on Patients?

In a May 14 blog post, Food and Drug Commissioner Scott Gottlieb expressed concern about the effect the nation’s restrictive policy towards the manufacture and prescription of opioids is having on patients with chronic pain conditions. This is one of the first signs that someone in the administration has taken note of the unintended consequences of this misguided policy—a policy that is based upon the false narrative that the overdose crisis is primarily the result of doctors prescribing opioids to patients in pain.

In response to a wide range of public input solicited by the FDA beginning in September 2017, Commissioner Gottlieb stated:

We’ve heard the concerns expressed by these individuals about having continued access to necessary pain medication, the fear of being stigmatized as an addict, challenges in finding health care professionals willing to work with or even prescribe opioids, and sadly, for some patients, increased thoughts of or actual suicide because crushing pain was resulting in a loss of quality of life.

Pointing out that, “In some medical circumstances, opioids are the only drugs that work for some patients,” Dr. Gottlieb announced that a public meeting will be held on July 9 on “Patient-Focused Drug Development for Chronic Pain,” and invited pain patients to offer their perspectives.

Hinting at his dissatisfaction with the 2016 one-size-fits-all opioid prescription guidelines published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that have greatly influenced state and federal opioid policymakers, he signaled that the FDA is considering proposing its own set of guidelines. Unlike the CDC guidelines, which are not evidence-based and were never intended to be prescriptive, Gottlieb stated:

In short, having sound, evidence-based information to inform prescribing can help ensure that patients aren’t over prescribed these drugs; while at the same time also making sure that patients with appropriate needs for short and, in some cases, longer-term use of these medicines are not denied access to necessary treatments. We will take the first steps toward developing this framework in the coming months, with the goal of providing standards that could inform the development of evidence based guidelines.

Opioid prescriptions peaked in 2010, and high-dose opioid prescriptions are down more than 41 percent since then. Yet the overdose rate continues to climb year after year, with fentanyl and heroin being the major culprits while overdoses from prescription type opioids have stabilized and have even slightly receded. The overdose problem was never really primarily caused by doctors treating patients in pain. It has always been principally due to nonmedical users accessing opioids in the illegal market. And as prescription opioids have become less accessible to them, they are migrating over to more dangerous drugs. The present policy towards the problem is making patients suffer while, at the same time, driving up the death rate. 

This is the first indication that a significant member of the Administration might be coming to that realization.

The State of Immigration Enforcement

President Trump’s administration is ramping up immigration enforcement in the interior of the United States and along the border.  However, the near-half-century low in illegal border crossers, the longer-settled illegal immigrant population inside of the country, and resistance by state and local governments are hampering his administration’s efforts to boost deportation.  Try as he might, his administration will not be able to ramp up removals to the level seen in the first term of the Obama administration. 

Definitions

A removal is defined as when a person is transported outside of the United States because he or she violated the immigration laws.  Removals are not technically a punishment under U.S. law as it is a civil penalty and not a criminal one.  Some immigration laws are criminal, such as illegal reentry, and those convicted of that crime serve their time in prison and are then removed from the United States.  Although not technically a punishment, the effects of removal can often be worse than imprisonment. 

Removals encompass unlawfully present foreigners who were apprehended inside of the United States, which is what we commonly think of as “deportations,” and those apprehended while trying to enter the country but who are excluded.  Those removed are placed into legal proceedings to be formally expelled from the United States.  Returns refers to Mexicans and Canadians who are apprehended at the border and is a less severe and more rapid process.  Since the second Bush administration, a much larger percentage of illegal immigrants caught on the border have been removed rather than returned.

All of the years in these charts refer to the fiscal years.  For instance, fiscal year (FY) 2017 runs from October 1st, 2016 through September 30, 2017.  This presents some limitations for comparing immigration enforcement under the Trump administration with the Obama administration for FY 2017 as Obama was president for the first four months of that year.  As a result, the increase in enforcement during the first year of Trump’s administration is undercounted in most of the figures below. 

Criminal and Noncriminal Removals and Enforcement

Criminal removals are for those who are convicted of crimes, mostly nonviolent and nonproperty offenses such as violations of immigration law.  Much of the fear today is that the Trump administration will increase the removals of noncriminal illegal immigrants.  While they certainly are targeted, the number and percentage of noncriminal removals are barely changed in 2017 compared to 2016 (Figure 1).  The number of criminal removals climbed by about 11,000 and noncriminal removals by about 3,000 in 2017 relative to 2016. 

 

Figure 1

Criminal and Noncriminal Removals

 

Source: Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

 

The removal numbers in Figure 1 include many of those apprehended along the border and removed, a number influenced more by the flow of illegal immigrants into the United States than the intensity of enforcement.  Removals from the interior of the United States are the real worry as they could uproot long-settled illegal immigrants and disrupt their families, many of whom include U.S.-born American citizen children.  Focusing on removals from the interior of the United States shows that President Trump has more than doubled the proportion who are noncriminals (Figure 2).  The number of removals from the interior of the United States was up 25 percent in 2017 over 2016, from 65,332 to 81,603.  That is a substantial increase but still far below the annual figures for the first six years of the Obama administration. 

 

Figure 2

Interior Removals by Criminality

 

Source: Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

 

Criminal removals as a percent of all removals increased at the beginning of the Trump administration from 50 percent in December 2016 to 59 percent in March 2017, but those are only a few months and more complete data is necessary to fully understand when Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) started to focus more on noncriminals (Figure 3).

 

Figure 3

Criminal Removals at Beginning of Trump Administration

 

Source: Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

 

The Trump administration is flexing its immigration enforcement muscles by ramping up arrests.  ICE arrested about 33,000 more people in 2017 than in 2016, representing a 30 percent increase (Figure 4).  Furthermore, a far greater percentage of those arrests were noncriminals—26 percent versus 14 percent.  To put this in perspective, the percentage of criminal arrests in Trump’s first year is similar to 2014 during the Obama administration although Obama’s ICE arrested more people overall.  Furthermore, ICE ERO administrative arrests during Trump’s first year were about half of the number of those during Obama’s first year and the entire difference was that Obama arrested more noncriminals.  Comparing ERO administrative arrests for January 20, 2017 through September 30, 2017 to January 20, 2016 through September 30, 2016 shows an even sharper increase of 42 percent from 77,806 to 110,568. 

 

Figure 4

Enforcement and Removal Operations Administrative Arrests

 

Source: Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

ICE relies heavily on detainers that it places on immigrants apprehended by other law enforcement agencies.  These detainers request that the agency holding the immigrant delays their release for a period of time so that ICE can take custody for removal.  The number of detainers is also based on federal immigration enforcement priorities which have been widened to all illegal immigrants under the Trump administration.  Consequently, the number of detainers that ICE issued increased by 56 percent from December 2016 to November 2017 (Figure 5). 

 

Figure 5

ICE Detainers by Month

 

Source: Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.

 

Border Apprehensions

The Trump administration is expanding interior immigration enforcement but its removals will remain below those of President Obama because so many fewer illegal immigrants are entering the United States. Border Patrol apprehensions along the Southwest Border are low by historical standards and likely to keep falling depending on conditions south of the border (Figure 6).  The low number of illegal immigrants entering the country significantly reduces the scope for including border removals to pad the total removal numbers.  The Trump administration will have to rely on interior removals which will keep their numbers low relative to President Obama. 

 

Figure 6

Border Patrol Apprehensions on the Southwest Border

 

Source: Customs and Border Protection.

 

Courts

ERO administrative arrests (Figure 4) are up more than removals (Figure 1) and interior criminal removals (Figure 2).  Trump’s administration is trying to increase the number of deportations but an arrest is merely the first part of a long legal process with serious delays.  The first is the roughly 692,000 cases delayed in immigration court (Figure 7).  In 2018, the average immigration case is pending 718 days before a decision—a month and a half longer than in 2016 (Figure 8).  The Trump administration’s insistence on prosecuting all illegal border crossers is making the situation worse despite other efforts to streamline removals.  Immigrants have more due process rights than ever before and many of them are not Mexican so it takes longer to remove people from the United States, a delay that is reflected in the immigration court backlogs.

 

Figure 7

Immigration Court Case Backlog

 

Source: Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.

 

Figure 8

Immigration Court Backlog in Days

 

Source: Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.

 

 

Conclusion

The Trump administration is desperately trying to increase the number of removals but it is unlikely that they will reach the numbers achieved during Obama’s first term for at least three reasons.  First, states and localities are not cooperating with the Trump administration nearly as much as they did during the Obama administration, which will make it harder to identify illegal immigrants.  Second, many fewer illegal immigrants are trying to enter the United States so Trump will be unable to pad the numbers with border removals.  Third, immigration courts are desperately backlogged so the pace of removals will be slow.   

 

 

 

 

Trump’s New Arms Sales Policy: What You Should Know

On April 19, 2018 the Trump administration released an updated version of the U.S. Conventional Arms Transfer Policy, the primary document outlining the strategy and guidelines for American arms sales abroad. Compared to the Obama- and Bush-era guidelines, the Trump administration’s policy emphasizes the economic benefits from arms sales. As a result, the new policy is focused on streamlining the arms sales process, loosening controls on what can be exported, and encouraging the U.S. government to be more active in brokering deals. At a news briefing announcing the new policy Peter Navarro, assistant to the president for trade and manufacturing policy, said that, “This will keep our defense industrial base in the vanguard of emerging defense technologies while creating thousands of additional jobs with good wages and generating substantial export revenues.”

Though the consequences of this policy change will take years to unfold, there are several things we can already predict about the limits and dangers of the new policy. Below we list the most important areas to watch and provide links to some of the best analysis available to date around the web.

It’s all about jobs, but it won’t create many.

If the administration’s primary goal is to enrich a few major defense contractors, it may succeed. If, on the other hand, the goal is to create American jobs and bolster the economy more generally, disappointment is inevitable.

Jonathan Caverley, writing at War on the Rocks, argues:

Even if the Trump administration boosts sales against such headwinds, this will not create many additional jobs. Arms exports are a surprisingly inefficient means of employing people at home. Using census data, the Commerce Department estimates that a billion dollars of defense exports would “create or sustain” 3,918 jobs, considerably fewer than the 5,700 jobs per billion created by increased US exports more broadly. Doubling the United States’ annual arms exports to $40 billion, a highly unrealistic goal, would thus create fewer than 80,000 new jobs. There are other industries the United States can promote that will have larger effects on jobs.

Unleash the drones

Until now the United States has kept a close hold on armed drones like the Predator and Reaper, allowing China to meet most of the global demand. Under the new policy the United States will begin to sell some drones through the direct commercial sales process.

In an oped for the the Washington Post Michael C. Horowitz and Joshua A. Shwartz write:

The new policy goes further than the Obama administration’s 2015 guidance in a few ways. This means U.S. manufacturers can export more directly to other countries and bypass the foreign military sales process, which entails more time-consuming involvement from the U.S. government. Second, the new rules reclassify drones with strike-enabling technology, like laser target designators, as unarmed, which will make it easier to export them.

Counterterrorism baked right in

A much less visible policy change with important ramifications is the move by the House Foreign Affairs Committee to amend the Arms Export Control Act to include counterterrorism as an explicit strategic justification for weapon sales.

As Caroline wrote for Ink Stick, this seemingly subtle change in language expands the legal and institutional footprint of the war on terror and does so despite the fact that most of the major conventional weapons for sale by the U.S. aren’t much use for fighting terrorism or insurgencies. 

Every fed is now a salesperson

With this increased sales push, the Trump administration has established a new “whole of government” approach. From the same Inkstick article, Caroline also notes,

The change will effectively turn civil servants who had been third-party brokers between foreign governments and American defense contractors into de facto salespeople. Officials talking up American defense products isn’t new, but giving them the directive to increase “economic security” gives profit a greater emphasis — with the commander-in-chief and his 2017 sales pitches to the Saudis, for example, offering model behavior in this regard.

Arms sales will now (likely) cost U.S. taxpayers more money

It’s still unclear how this strategy will be implemented at the guidance and framework level, but there are several logical changes that could flow from a new emphasis on profit. This could include a transition from deals that use offsets as incentives to increased use of Foreign Military Financing and other incentives that would shift the burden of incentives from industry to the federal government. Caroline explained the implications of this change, writing

Currently, the majority of incentives to foreign buyers of American weapons come in the form of offsets. These agreements are made once the US government has cleared a sale and the company can liaise with whichever foreign government is purchasing the product. Offsets are meant to make the deals more attractive, and can include anything from co-production to technology transfer to Foreign Direct Investments. This takes a major cut out of any profit for the defense contractors, who shoulder most of the cost. In 2014 alone, contractors reported $20.5 billion in defense-related merchandise exports, with $13 billion worth of those sales including some kind of offset. The total value of reported offset agreements for that year was $7.7 billion — over one-third the value of total defense exports for that year.

Obviously, this makes offsets an unattractive option for increasing economic security. The defense industry would prefer not to bear that burden—so then how will diplomats sweeten the deal for interested buyers while still protecting profit margins? …

Foreign Military Financing…to the rescue?

This type of financing comes directly out of the US federal budget—specifically out of the State Department’s portion. The final budget omnibus that was signed into law in March settled on $6.1 billion to give freely to other countries to purchase American weapons. That’s right—$6 billion of American taxpayer dollars this year alone will go towards subsidizing the arsenals of other nations so that they too can “Buy American.” Foreign Military Financing had, until now, been on the decline. From 1985 to 2015 the program decreased 50 percent in real terms. With this new economic security component to stated guidance on arms sales, there is a very real possibility that Foreign Military Financing could continue to rise.

Arms sales will continue to be a risky business

As we wrote in a Cato Policy Analysis published in March, the United States has a poor track record when it comes to assessing the potential risks from selling weapons abroad. Since 2002 the United States has sold over $300 billion worth of major conventional weapons to 167 countries including places with repressive governments, histories of human rights abuses, and which are engaged in active conflicts.

Unfortunately, despite the many negative unintended consequences that arms sales can spawn, nothing in the Trump administration’s new policy suggests it will pay any more attention to these risks than previous administrations. Given the administration’s zeal to sell more weapons abroad, the most likely outcome is even less sensitivity to downstream risks. Stay tuned.

Public Schooling Battles: April Dispatch

With 25 conflicts added to the Battle Map, April was a busy month. So busy the Dispatch was delayed again. But better late than never, right?

Just like March, April was heavy with conflicts revolving around guns, as the debate spurred by the Parkland shooting continued. But seemingly eternal hot-spots including Confederate flag displays, prayer in schools, and sex ed flared up, too.

  • Guns: We recorded seven gun-related incidents, most pitting freedom of expression against safety or beliefs about the appropriateness of gun-related messages. Allegations of curbed speech included the Shawnee Mission, KS, school district telling students what they could or could not say at their April 20 walkout to protest gun violence. Students in Wisconsin, Massachusetts, and Nevada alleged that their pro-gun expression was curbed in various ways. A principal’s pro-gun comments in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, NC, led to possible disciplinary action against her and prompted Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-NC) to write a letter to the U.S. Department of Education asking if other districts had seen an employee’s speech bring out the “thought police.” A North Carolina state legislator made a moral plea for arming teachers, saying, “We should give them a fighting chance. Otherwise, when they die, and children die whom they could have defended, their blood will be on our hands.” Finally, Kyle Kashuv, a Parkland survivor who has defended gun rights, was repeatedly in the news for actions school personnel allegedly took against him.
  • Confederate Flags: Overall the Map contains 34 conflicts involving displays of Confederate flags, and two new ones were added in April, both revolving around displays on trucks in school parking lots. In Bay City, Michigan, accusations that an African-American student ripped a flag off a truck and the school did nothing about it prompted both pro-flag and Black Lives Matter demonstrations that closed the high school for a day. In Cleveland County, NC, students were suspended for flying Confederate flags. District officials, reacting to widespread displeasure over stories that flag displays were banned, said that it was fine to fly American flags, just not Confederate.
  • Sex Education: Sexuality has so many moral, religious, and safety ramifications, it’s no wonder it is constantly inflaming conflict. Indeed, I still need to read the book (it’s actually been a busy several years, not just month) but scorching disagreement over sex ed is an international phenomenon. April saw a national, coordinated effort to get parents to remove their kids from school to protest overly explicit sex education—dubbed the “Sex Ed Sit Out”—no doubt patterned after the Parkland gun walkout. Meanwhile a bill was introduced in Louisiana to go in the opposite direction, moving away from abstinence-only sex education.
  • Religion: Sex ed elicits a lot of religious concerns, but more directly religious expression and activities also spurred battles in April, as religion has done from the very beginning of public schooling. A bill was introduced in the Louisiana Senate to allow teachers to pray with students during the school day as long it doesn’t interfere with teaching. The Freedom from Religion Foundation warned that the legislation “would encourage teachers to show their students that they prefer and endorse Christianity, ostracizing non-Christian students.” Meanwhile, a teacher in Mobile, AL, was sent home after wearing a t-shirt that said “Just Pray.” Wrote teacher Chris Burrell in a since-deleted Facebook post, “I wasn’t trying to promote religion, it was just my Monday feel-good shirt.” Finally, Worcester, Maryland, saw people (ironically) getting angry over “Mindfulness” yoga, which some residents thought was putting Hindu spiritual activities into the schools, not just promoting good social and emotional health.

There were other conflicts in “the cruelest month,” of course—big headline grabbers involved a racially charged “promposal,” flowers for a gay teacher, and ordered use of Band-Aids—and we also asked a poll question on our Facebook page: “Should parents have the right to keep their child home to protest sex education?” The overwhelming response—95 to 5 percent—was “yes.” Right now we’re asking if it is acceptable for a teacher to pull a student’s hair, presumably in jest, to wake him up. Vote now, and we’ll report the results next month—hopefully towards the beginning of the month.