77% Say On-Duty Police Shouldn’t Swear at People

Nearly 20% of Americans report a police officer having used profanity with them. Yet, an overwhelming majority—77%—of Americans say police should be prohibited from using profanity or swearing at citizens while on the job. Twenty-three percent (23%) say police ought to be allowed to swear at citizens while on duty, according to a newly released Cato Institute/YouGov survey.

Find the full public opinion report here.

Opposition to police profanity reaches rare bi-partisan consensus—77% of Democrats and 75% of Republicans agree that police shouldn’t swear at people. Americans of virtually every demographic group identified strongly oppose allowing police use such language, including 77% of whites, 82% of blacks, and 72% of Latinos.

Why might police profanity matter? First, police image matters, and profanity could make police appear unprofessional, undisciplined, or “lacking self-control” as one research subject put it. Research experiments have shown that police using profanity are perceived as less fair and impartial. Further, police using profanity at the same time as using physical force with a person may cause people to view the force as excessive.  Given that personal encounters with police may be the strongest driver of attitudes toward law enforcement, one bad experience with police profanity may significantly harm a person’s willingness to trust and cooperate with police.

Second, some have argued that officers using profanity can “set someone off” and unnecessarily escalate confrontations with people leading to more force being used than was otherwise needed. Third, some contend police using such language can harm officers during court proceedings by appearing less sympathetic in front of the judge and jury.

Dastardly D.C. Judges Shouldn’t Punish Political Punditry

Michael Mann is a climate scientist and researcher whose work has been at the center of the global warming debate for decades. After emails came to light concerning Mann’s statistical methods, two of his critics wrote scathing pieces arguing that Mann had “molested and tortured data in the service of politicized science,” and calling for “a fresh, truly independent investigation.” Despite such harsh criticism being par for the course in online commentary, Mann sued both writers (Mark Steyn and Rand Simberg) and their publishers (National Review and the Competitive Enterprise Institute, respectively) for libel.

A three-judge panel of the D.C. Court of Appeals (the District’s highest court) ruled that Mann’s libel claim could succeed in front of a jury, and allowed the case to go forward. The defendants have asked the court to reconsider the implications of its decision, and Cato has filed a brief supporting that request.

Harsh words are common to the discourse of pundits and politicians alike. Op-eds and stump speeches frequently feature terms like “fraud,” “scam,” “misconduct,” and even “treason.” Whether such characterizations are apt or not is for readers and listeners to judge, but until now few imagined that using them could lead to years of litigation and a costly libel verdict.

Similarly, calls for investigation and accusations of whitewashing have a long history dating back to Emile Zola’s J’accuse…! and continuing today with debates over the trials of O.J. Simpson, George Zimmerman, and many others. If Mann’s critics committed actionable libel, then so might everyone who has voiced disagreement with such verdicts, as well as everyone who has called for politicians to be investigated for corruption, fraud, or war crimes.

Finally, the court wrongly held that merely comparing a public figure to a “notorious person” could be libelous. As we know from Godwin’s law, such comparisons are a time-honored tradition of American debate. Opinion writers in recent years have invoked colorful analogies to Timothy McVeigh, Charles Manson, and Jack the Ripper to express their displeasure with the conduct of public figures. Writers and historians concerned with the conduct of politicians have drawn parallels with Stalin, Mussolini, and, of course, the ubiquitous Hitler. Right or wrong, such language is unquestionably speech on subjects of public concern.

The D.C. Court of Appeals should give Mann v. National Review a second look and reverse its earlier decision. It’s no exaggeration to say that the court’s reasoning could put thousands of articles, blogposts, and even tweets under a cloud of potential liability, thereby chilling the speech that is the lifeblood of Washington politics. Cultural and political debates should be litigated in the court of public opinion, not law.

Court: Pennsylvania Has No Common Law Asset Forfeiture

In a case involving the state’s attempt to confiscate a man’s handgun following his conviction for disorderly conduct, the intermediate appellate Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court has ruled that asset forfeiture is not a part of the state’s common law:

We conclude that common law forfeiture, as that concept originated and developed in England, was never incorporated into or became part of our Commonwealth’s common law tradition. Based upon our research, the Commonwealth’s organic law, namely Article 9, Sections 18 and 19 of the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1790, denounces and effectively abolishes any notion of common law forfeiture and that the predominate, if not unanimous, weight of the authority has determined that common law forfeiture never made it across the seas to America. Therefore, absent a statute that specifically authorizes the forfeiture of property, the Commonwealth and the courts have no authority to seek and order forfeiture of [property not unlawful to own in itself, but used in perpetration of an unlawful act].

And that should bring the Keystone State (finally) in line with the general view of American courts: while most states long ago rejected the traditions of English royal governance and required a statutory basis for forfeitures, Pennsylvania had been an exception, thanks to three decisions by its Superior Court in the 1980s that approved seizures on a so-called common law theory.  No more. 

The practical result is that law enforcement in Pennsylvania — as is the norm in other states — must either point to an authorizing statute or hand a seized item back. 

 

Fed Ed Failure File Just Got Fatter

In the aftermath of Betsy DeVos’s confirmation hearing—but really, anytime someone’s talking about federal education policy—it is important to look at evidence. Today we’ve got several items to add to the evidence pile, none of them good for fed ed.

The first is a new report on the School Improvement Grants program, an initiative aimed at turning around troubled schools with various possible interventions ranging from replacing principals to closing schools. What did the report find? The multi-billion dollar undertaking “had no impact on math or reading test scores, high school graduation, or college enrollment.”

Next, to higher education. A Wall Street Journal article today reports that the U.S. Department of Education widely overstated the repayment rate of student loans. Indeed, when the Journal recalculated the numbers, “the data revealed that the Department previously had inflated the repayment rates for 99.8% of all colleges and trade schools in the country.” The problem, according to an education department spokesperson cited in the article: a programming error.

Finally, we come to Navient, a company that exists largely on a contract to service student loans for the U.S. Department of Education. Yesterday the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)—itself a big federal fiasco—announced that it was suing Navient for deceptive and exploitative practices it allegedly undertook to cut costs and maximize revenues.

The CFPB isn’t entirely known for its own straight shooting, so Navient should get the benefit of the doubt. But it is certainly plausible that this government-privileged company takes advantage of its largely captive clientele. And who is Navient’s mother, by the way? Why none other than Sallie Mae—the company was spun off from Sallie in 2014—which was originally a government-sponsored enterprise like Fannie and Freddie, created by Washington to buy and service student loans in 1972.

In her confirmation hearing, Betsy DeVos pretty consistently indicated an aversion to federal power. The evidence is on her side, and growing every day.

Oxfam Counts Highly Paid Millennials with Student Debt Among the World’s Neediest

Every year, Oxfam releases a report meant to shock the public about the extent of income and wealth inequality. This year’s report claims that the eight richest people on Earth have as much wealth as the bottom half of the world’s population (3.6 out of 7.2 billion people). That’s certainly shocking. It’s also profoundly misleading. 

As others have pointed out, Oxfam reached that number with a questionable methodology, which also led them to several other absurd conclusions. According to their own graphs, more poor people live in North America and Europe than China (see the far left of the chart below). How can that be, given that traditional poverty measures show the opposite

Oxfam isn’t using a traditional poverty measure (such as the number of people with a purchasing-power-adjusted income of less than, say, $2 per day). Instead, they focus on something called “net wealth.” This is the sum of an individual’s wealth minus any debts. 

Of course, many people in rich countries carry debt due to university loans or a home mortgage, yet also enjoy high incomes and an enviable standard of living. 

Here are some illustrations of just how absurd it is to use net wealth as a measure of poverty. 

Consider this. Oxfam claims a penniless, starving man in rural Asia or Sub-Saharan Africa is far richer than an American university graduate with student debt but a high-paying office job, a $2,000 laptop and a penchant for drinking $8 designer coffees. 

Let that sink in. 

(I must credit Cato’s Adam Bates for that example). 

Here is another example, courtesy of Johan Norberg. He points out that his daughter, a child with only about twenty dollars in her piggy bank, is richer than 2 billion people by Oxfam’s logic. If that were true, then the solution would surely not be to take away the humble savings of his daughter and redistribute them among those 2 billion souls, but rather to generate more total wealth, “enlarging the pie” so to speak. 

That’s the core problem with obsessing over “inequality.” If the goal is to further human wellbeing, then instead of decreasing inequality through redistribution, we should focus on decreasing poverty by creating ever more wealth. Happily, thanks to the wealth-creating power of market exchange, we’re doing just that. The trend lines all show that poverty (by any reasonable measure) is in retreat.

Why Does the Government Care Where Immigrant Workers Were Born?

If you want to understand how flawed America’s immigration system is, consider this: the government treats immigrants differently based on their place of birth. The system considers immigrants’ education, use of welfare, criminal history, employment, family connections, and other personal details, but where you were born can make the difference between receiving legal residency immediately and waiting decades. This discrimination makes as little sense as discriminating based on race, gender, or any other attribute over which the individual has no control, and it should be abolished.

Fortunately, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has reintroduced the Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants Act (H.R. 392) to abolish this discrimination for all employment-based immigrants.

Here is how the discrimination works. Rather than waiting in one big line together in the order that their applications were received, immigrants wait in separate lines based on their nationality—a line for Mexicans, a line for Swiss, a line for Canadians, etc. Each line has the same limit on the number of visas issued in any given year: no more than 7 percent of all visas issued that year. These are called the “per-country limits.” For example, there are 40,000 visas made available to immigrant workers (and their families) with a bachelor’s degree. No country can receive more than 2,800 of them.

This means that the line for the Estonians and the line for the Chinese each get the exact same number of visas—despite the fact that Estonia has just 1.3 million people and China has 1.3 billion. The U.S. government used to discriminate against the Chinese in favor of Europeans because it disliked the Chinese and liked Europeans. Now it discriminates against them—as well as Indians, Filipinos, Mexicans, etc.—because they were unfortunate enough to have been born in a much more populous country.

The Economic and Fiscal Impact of Repealing DACA

Executive Summary

Donald Trump has proposed eliminating or severely modifying the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Many Americans believe that the presence of unauthorized immigrants is harmful to the economy and would like to see steps taken to reduce their presence. However, a repeal or roll-back of DACA would harm the economy and cost the U.S. government a significant amount of lost tax revenue. We estimate that the fiscal cost of immediately deporting the approximately 750,000 people currently in the DACA program would be over $60 billion to the federal government along with a $280 billion reduction in economic growth over the next decade.

We arrived at our estimates by comparing and adjusting the characteristics of DACA recipients to similarly well-educated immigrants admitted through the H-1B visa program, a cohort that not only resembles the population of DACA recipients but whose own economic impact has been well-studied. We use the estimated budgetary and economic impact of H-1B visa workers and adjust it to reflect the age and earnings differences between the two groups to calculate our figures.

Background

President Obama created the DACA program in 2012 via executive action. DACA’s objective was to allow American residents who entered the country illegally as children to receive temporary protection from deportation, work permits, and an incentive to invest in their own human capital. The program only applies to those who have lived in the United States for five years or longer and do not have a criminal record. Essentially, these are people who never knowingly broke any law and have been productive and peaceful members of society since their arrival. The logic of the Obama Administration in creating DACA is that it makes little sense to expend time and resources trying to track down, arrest, and deport these people when they have not committed any crime save for being unwittingly brought across the border by others.

There is much legitimate debate in the United States over the role that immigration—both legal and illegal—plays in the economy, and what should be done about border security. Inseparable from this problem is the question of what to do with the undocumented immigrants already in the country, a sizeable population that is estimated to number 11 to 12 million.[1]

President-Elect Donald Trump has taken an absolutist position on the issue, vowing not only to build a wall with the intent of greatly reducing illegal entry from the Mexican border, but also to unilaterally nullify President Obama’s executive actions dealing with immigration, including the action which spawned DACA.

As with any sudden and dramatic shift in any policy, there are bound to be costs associated with implementation, as well as after-effects of the policy, not all of which are immediately intuitive. It is the goal of this paper to examine the costs that the wholesale repeal of DACA would impose on the American economy, both in terms of enforcement as well as the sudden loss of a large number of residents and their contributions to the domestic economy.

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