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Climate Change’s False Illusion of Progress

Patrick J. Michaels and Paul C. “Chip” Knappenberger

On November 11, 2014, President Obama announced an “historic agreement” with China on greenhouse gases. Most people assumed it would be some sort of commitment to reduce emissions. And most people were wrong.

Rather, the joint communique coming out of Beijing repeatedly said China “intends” to hold its carbon dioxide emissions constant “around” 2030. By then, their emissions will be between two and three times the U.S.’s current emissions.

For its part, the U.S. announced in November, and then again on March 31, that we “intend” to reduce our emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and 26-28 percent below by 2025. The first is an easy target because the base year (2005) predated the natural gas revolution and the substitution of cheap gas for coal in electrical generation. The second target is much more intrusive, likely requiring most passenger cars to have exotic and expensive powertrains.

Climate change initiatives have largely been used by politicians to create the false illusion of progress, leadership, and government competence.”

But intentions are not commitments, and are much more easily broken.

“Intentions” may be the price that the U.N. and Obama are willing to pay to reach some sort of agreement at the December climate fest in Paris. March 31 was the deadline for nations to announce what the U.N. calls their ”Intended Nationally Determined Contributions” (INDC’s) to reducing emissions of dreaded carbon dioxide caused by apparently pernicious economic activity.

Not that the UN cares a whit about the INDC’s legality within sovereign nations. In announcing the INDCs, it wrote that they were to do so “without prejudice to the legal nature of the contributions, in the context of adopting a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all Parties.”

Here the UN appears to be saying it will formalize international “intentions” with “legal force” under the “Convention,” which refers to the Framework Convention on Climate Change, written at Rio de Janiero in 1992. Any protocol to it requires approval by a two-thirds majority in the Senate, which is not going to happen.

Obama has wrongly asserted that whatever comes out of Paris will not require Senate ratification; rather he will act in accordance with it via more executive orders. Any legal challenge will outlive his term in office.

The president’s plan is actually nothing new. It’s similar to what we laid out in 2009 as our proposal at the UN’s failed attempt to do what it is now trying to do in Paris. Back then, we said we would reduce our emissions 30 per cent by 2025, 42 per cent by 2030 and 83 percent by 2050. On a per-capita basis, the 2050 emissions will be what they were in 1867. By 2100, thanks to population growth, they would be somewhere around what they might have been when the pilgrims landed.

The EPA’s own global warming model, which calculates the climate impact of various policy proposals, considers these numbers too small to measure. This might explain why they are curiously lacking in any public communications about climate policies.

Assuming (wrongly) as the EPA does, that surface temperatures will warm 5.4°F for doubling atmospheric carbon dioxide, the amount of warming that will be averted in 2050 is 0.08°F and in 2100 is 0.20, amounts that are too small to even measure reliably. Assuming (more correctly) that the warming will be 2.7°F, our “intentions” will forgo 0.05° of warming by 2050, and 0.12° by 2100.

Climate change initiatives have largely been used by politicians to create the false illusion of progress, leadership, and government competence. All we can hope for is that our leaders “intend” to one day get more realistic and tell us the real numbers.

Patrick J. Michaels is a climatologist and director of Cato’s Center for the Study of Science. Paul C. “Chip” Knappenberger is the center’s assistant director.

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Iraq 2.0: The REAL Reason Hawks Oppose the Iran Deal

Justin Logan

Let’s be honest for a second: 90-plus percent of supporters of the Iran framework would have supported any framework the Obama administration produced (this author included). Close to 100 percent of the opponents of the framework would have opposed any framework it produced.

What’s going on here? Why are we having this kabuki debate about a deal whose battle lines were established before it even existed? At Brookings, Jeremy Shapiro suggests that “the Iranian nuclear program is not really what opponents and proponents of the recent deal are arguing about.”

Shapiro says the bigger question is about what to do regarding “Iran’s challenge to U.S. leadership” in the countries surrounding Iran and whether to “integrate Iran into the regional order.”

Those terms are fuzzy enough to make me uncomfortable, especially if what we’re trying to do is clarify the debate. In Shapiro’s telling, deal proponents think it will help transform Iran’s intentions, while opponents simply want to squeeze Iran as hard as possible as soon as possible. I think Shapiro is basically right about opponents, but misses something regarding supporters.

There is a very good chance that blowing up the talks would buy the United States a non-refundable one-way ticket to another major war in the Middle East.”

First, consider the hawks. At the outset of the JPOA, they were pounding the table about imminent calamity. In 2013, former IAEA chief Olli Heinonen warned an Israel Project conference call that Iran was two weeks away from a bomb (Two weeks!). Lindsey Graham criticized the interim agreement, calling it a giveaway to Iran.  Similarly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it “the deal of the century” for Iran.

Now, those same people who were frantic about the ticking clock couldn’t care less that it’s been wound backward. Ten years with no Iranian bomb is treated like a dirty penny. For his part, Graham now says that the JPOA should be extended because it’s preferable to the P5+1’s framework agreement.

In unguarded moments, many hawks concede they are against an agreement in principle. As Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s strategic affairs minister Yuval Steinitz admitted recently, “we are against a deal in general.” Similarly, Senator Tom Cotton, author of the embarrassing letter imploring Iran’s Supreme Leader to scuttle the deal, admitted to an audience at the Heritage Foundation before writing the letter:

The end of these negotiations isn’t an unintended consequence of Congressional action, it is very much an intended consequence. A feature, not a bug, so to speak.

So, despite their protests that what they’re really after is a “better deal,” their own words betray the truth: They oppose any deal. Vox’s Max Fisher suggests that the reason is because their real desire is to change the Iranian regime by force, and a diplomatic deal makes that less likely. It’s as plausible an explanation as I’ve heard.

So what about us doves? Most of us would have supported any deal the Obama administration deemed good enough to get past Congress. Why? Because we recognize that international politics, and in particular dealing with Iran on this issue in 2015, is the realm of least-worst alternatives, not slam dunks.

Jeffrey Lewis explains the logic of supporting the framework agreement:

The thing is, there is no “good” deal. Any deal will be a compromise that leaves in place many dangers to Israel, as well as Iran’s neighbors and the United States. The essential thing is to delay as long as possible an Iranian nuclear bomb. Almost any deal will buy more time than if talks were to collapse… [T]here is no good reason to believe that walking away from a deal now puts the United States in position to get a better one in a few years.

The brutal fact is that there is no “good” solution to the Iranian nuclear program. As Lewis notes, we’re not going to get to zero enrichment. The Iranians are going to be left with capabilities that cause us concern. The nature of negotiations is not getting everything that you want, and there seems to be little question that Dick Cheney and Co.’s “we don’t negotiate with evil, we defeat it” posture was counterproductive to getting a better deal. To take one example, the Iranian bargaining chip went from a few hundred centrifuges to nearly 20,000 in the intervening decade.

So for doves the question becomes how to put as much time on the clock without producing a war that would cause a regional catastrophe and put less time on the Iran nuclear clock than the JPOA has. It may be the case that liberal deal supporters believe it will transform Iran, but I suspect there are a lot of realist supporters—here, for example—who support it because it lowers the probability of another costly war in the Middle East.

The reason we’re having this peculiar debate instead of the one I’ve described above is that doves and hawks have trapped each other in the mass politics of the issue. There is a very good chance that blowing up the talks would buy the United States a non-refundable one-way ticket to another major war in the Middle East, something that no American politician with any sense wants to own.

Similarly, hawks have a good line to use on doves. Any diplomatic agreement will leave opportunities for Iran—a regime rightly seen as wily and creative in its diplomacy—to cheat. Americans do not trust Iran, and do fear cheating.

The deeper debate would be how to judge the risk of another disastrous war in the Middle East if we collapsed the talks against the risk that Iran would be able to defy the framework agreement in the next 10 years and wind up with, or close to, a bomb.

Many doves think another U.S.-led war in the Middle East is intolerable, just as many hawks think giving up on such a war for a decade is intolerable. So when you hear the screaming about the framework agreement, remind yourself: this is what we’re really talking about.

Justin Logan is director of foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute.

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Certain U.S. Abortions Tear The Fetus Apart, ISIS-Style

Nat Hentoff

An April 8 New York Times front-page story reports that “a bill signed into law by Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican and longtime abortion opponent, outlaws what it calls ‘dismemberment abortion,’ defined in part as ‘knowingly dismembering a living unborn child’ … (I)t appears to ban or require altercation of the method known as dilation and evacuation, which is used in nearly all abortions after the 12th to 14th week of pregnancy” (“Kansas Limits Abortion Method, Opening a New Line of Attack,” Erik Eckholm and Frances Robles, The New York Times, April 8).

And a lead editorial a few days later begins in utterly prejudicial and non-factual language: “During the past four years, the state of Kansas has become ground zero in the war to criminalize all abortions, and in the process to remove a woman’s ability to control what happens in her own body” (“Kansas Tries to Stamp Out Abortion,” The New York Times, April 10).

By contrast, here are the facts regarding Kansas becoming the first state to outlaw the dismemberment procedure, as reported by the National Right to Life Committee earlier this year: “In his dissent to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2000 Stenberg v. Carhart decision, Justice (Anthony) Kennedy observed that in D&E dismemberment abortions, ‘The fetus, in many cases, dies just as a human adult or child would: It bleeds to death as it is torn limb from limb. The fetus can be alive at the beginning of the dismemberment process and can survive for a time while its limbs are being torn off’?” (“Dismemberment Abortion Ban in Kansas Leads 2015 Pro-Life Legislative Agenda,”, Jan. 14).

As I have reported previously, in this digital era it is possible to view the fetus, and I have. So it’s pertinent to add that when the dismemberment procedure occurs after the first trimester — as NRLC’s director of state legislation, Mary Spaulding Balch, emphasizes — and the fetus is torn apart, “the unborn child (already) has a beating heart, brain waves and every organ system in place. Dismemberment abortions occur after the baby has reached these milestones.”

That’s why the brutal torture of ISIS comes to my mind.

In answering the question, “Is dismemberment too harsh a description?” Justice Kennedy was very specific in his written opinion for Gonzales v. Carhart, a 2007 case in which the Supreme Court upheld a congressional ban on partial-birth abortions (another term for dismemberment abortions). This decision, wrote the Pew Research Center, “prompt(ed) many states to consider passing tougher restrictions on abortion” (“A History of Key Abortion Rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court,” Jan. 16, 2013).

Kennedy wrote: “After sufficient dilation, a doctor inserts grasping forceps through the woman’s cervix and into the uterus to grab a living fetus. The doctor grips a fetal part with the forceps and pulls it back through the cervix and vagina, continuing to pull even after meeting resistance from the cervix. The friction causes the fetus to tear apart. For example, a leg might be ripped off the fetus as it is pulled through the cervix and out of the woman …

“The fetus, in many cases, dies just as a human adult or child would” (“Oklahoma House passes Unborn Child Protection from Dismemberment Abortion Act by a vote of 84-2,” Dave Andrusko,, Feb. 27).

Also worth considering is the testimony of Dr. Anthony Levatino, a Las Cruces, New Mexico, obstetrician and gynecologist, before the House Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice on May 23, 2013: “Imagine, if you can, that you are a pro-choice obstetrician/gynecologist, like I once was. Your patient today is 24 weeks pregnant. At 24 weeks from (her) last menstrual period, her uterus is two finger-breadths above the umbilicus. If you could see her baby, which is quite easy on an ultrasound, she would be as long as your hand plus a half from the top of her head to the bottom of her rump, not counting the legs.

“Your patient has been feeling her baby kick for the last month or more, but now she is asleep on an operating room table, and you are there to help her with her problem pregnancy …

“The toughest part of a D&E abortion is extracting the baby’s head. The head of a baby that age is about the size of a large plum and is now free-floating inside the uterine cavity. You can be pretty sure you have hold of it if the Sopher clamp is spread about as far as your fingers will allow. … You can then extract the skull pieces. Many times a little face will come out and stare back at you. … If you refuse to believe that this procedure inflicts severe pain on that unborn child, please think again.”

I congratulate Kansas for being the first state to ban this brutal procedure, while Oklahoma just passed its own dismemberment abortion ban as well. Other states are planning to take similar steps, though they face many obstacles.

Now my customary question: Will any of the 2016 presidential or congressional candidates focus on, or even mention, this horrendous procedure?

If more of our citizenry comes to learn about dismemberment abortion, will there be sufficient sustained protest to protect future generations of the unborn from this appalling fate?

Finally, worth considering: “According to the National Abortion Federation Abortion Training Textbook — ‘D&E remains the most prevalent method of second-trimester pregnancy termination in the USA, accounting for 96 percent of all second-trimester abortions … roughly 100,000 unborn babies die each year after the first trimester” (“Frequently Asked Questions: Unborn Child Protection from Dismemberment Abortion Act,”

If this awful procedure were to continue, how would America come to be defined among all other civilized nations?

Nat Hentoff is a nationally renowned authority on the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights. He is a member of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and the Cato Institute, where he is a senior fellow.

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Chris Christie Takes on Entitlements

Michael D. Tanner

New Jersey governor and putative Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie will deliver a speech in New Hampshire today in which he will set out, according to his aides, a “detailed proposal to address our long-term entitlements crisis.” The speech may or may not jump start Christie’s stalled presidential campaign, but if it forces other candidates to address the issue, he will have already done the country an enormous favor.

The national debt has dropped out of the headlines recently, in part because the deficit has been declining. It was just six years ago that the federal budget deficit topped $1.4 trillion. This year, the Congressional Budget Office projects it will be just $486 billion.

But the reprieve is purely temporary. Starting as early as next year, the deficit will begin to rise once more. Within a decade, we will again experience annual shortfalls of $1 trillion or more.

If it forces other candidates to address the issue, he will have already done the country an enormous favor.”

All this profligacy adds up. If rising annual budget deficits represent year-to-year fiscal irresponsibility, the cumulative total of that irresponsibility is the federal debt, which has now reached almost $18.2 trillion. By 2025, the debt is expected to approach $27 trillion. After that it only gets worse.

Driving this debt is the massive growth of entitlement spending. Thanks in large part to sequestration, both defense and domestic discretionary spending are down. Domestic discretionary spending, in fact, accounts for just 15 percent of all federal spending. That represents just 3 percent of GDP, a historic low.

The simple truth is that there is no way to address America’s debt problem without reforming entitlements, notably Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and our newest entitlement program, Obamacare. Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid alone account for 46 percent of federal spending today, a portion that will only grow larger in the future. And while the spending for Obamacare has just begun, it too will soon consume an ever larger portion of the federal budget.

Social Security will run a $69 billion cash-flow deficit this year, a shortfall that will grow every year into the future. Altogether, Social Security is facing future shortfalls worth almost $25 trillion. The so-called Trust Fund is simply an accounting measure, specifying how much money the federal government owes the program out of general revenues, not an actual asset than can be used to pay benefits. At the same time, Social Security taxes are already so high that most young people will receive a rate of return far below historic market returns.

Medicare is in even worse financial shape. Even under the most optimistic scenarios, Medicare’s future shortfall will approach $48 trillion. And if health inflation returns to previous levels, Medicare’s long-term costs could be far higher.

Medicaid’s financial problems are measured somewhat differently since the federal portion is funded entirely from general revenues. Nonetheless, the program will cost the federal governments almost $350 billion this year, and an additional $150 billion at the state level. Moreover, program costs are rising rapidly. Federal Medicaid costs are estimated more than double to $576 billion by 2025.

If one took a proper accounting of America’s unfunded entitlement liabilities, our real debt is not $18 trillion, but an astounding $90.5 trillion. That’s getting uncomfortably close to our being Greece.

Yet so far, Republicans have been surprisingly muted on the issue. Rand Paul has offered a five-year balanced-budget plan. Marco Rubio has written about Social Security reform. Jeb Bush has called for raising the retirement age and means-testing programs. Ted Cruz supports personal accounts for Social Security and raising the eligibility age for Medicare. And Scott Walker says vaguely that “long term, there’s got to be some sort of entitlement reform.” But no one yet has stepped up to make the issue their own.

Christie first came to national prominence because of his willingness to stand up to the public-employee unions and demand reforms to New Jersey state pensions. Reforming entitlements will take a similar willingness to fight powerful special interests. That makes it a natural fit for the pugnacious New Jersey governor and his blunt speaking style.

But it is also a crucial issue for the future of our country, one that all the candidates should be talking about a lot more. If Christie’s speech is the opening salvo in a national debate about how to stem the coming tsunami of red ink, our children and grandchildren will thank him — no matter what it means for his political future.

Michael Tanner is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.

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Video of Walter Scott Killing Is but a Glimpse of Police Misconduct

Tim Lynch

A generation ago, when someone complained of police misconduct, we would learn that a police spokesperson denied the accusation and that was that. Because we were not there and did not know those involved, it was impossible to draw any conclusions. There was also an understandable reluctance to believe that the local department would spread falsehoods. Now more and more incidents are captured in cellphone videos, and that means citizens can judge for themselves whether the police broke the law. Smartphones are providing us with a glimpse of the widespread abuse that policymakers have been ignoring for years and changing the world of American policing.

On Saturday, April 4, Walter Scott was shot and killed by police officer Michael Slager in North Charleston, S.C. By Tuesday, local authorities had charged Slager with murder. That’s no wonder. Most of the episode was captured on a cellphone video that offers damning evidence of criminal conduct.

The first thing to note is that Scott was about 20 feet from Slager and was running away, not toward him. To elude capture, lots of criminals run from the police. However, the Supreme Court has ruled that cops can only use deadly force against a fleeing suspect if that person poses a serious danger to the police or others. So, for example, if a criminal shoots at schoolchildren and then turns and runs in another direction, the police would be justified in firing their weapons. But a cop breaks the law if he shoots out of anger or frustration simply because his quarry is about to get away. And that’s what seems to have happened with Slager.

The video exposes additional incriminating evidence from after the shooting. After Scott falls to the ground, we see Slager tampering with evidence at the scene. It looks like Slager places his Taser close to Scott’s body. And, according to news reports, Slager wrote down that he performed CPR on the wounded Scott. The video clearly contradicts that claim.

Prosecutors typically give the benefit of any doubt to the police force. In this case the authorities must have realized that Slager lost all credibility with those dishonest actions.

To a certain extent, the authorities in South Carolina deserve praise for how they handled this incident. They disclosed the identity of the officer and his disciplinary record. They turned the case over to an independent agency to avoid a conflict of interest, and those investigators followed the evidence. Many people will say that the system “worked.” Did it?

Consider the role of happenstance in this case. A bystander with a smartphone — and the willingness to use it — happened to be on the scene to record it. There are very few instances in which video evidence is available. When it’s not, then all too often there is no serious scrutiny.

Vincent Bugliosi, the legendary Los Angeles prosecutor who put Charles Manson away, once admitted that most district attorneys have a double standard when it comes to filing criminal complaints against the police. Bugliosi said the unit responsible for investigating officer-involved shootings reviewed hundreds of cases during the 1980s and did not find a single criminal violation. That pattern has held over time. Between 2001 and 2005, there were more than 400 officer-involved shootings reviewed by Los Angeles Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley. No criminal charges were filed.

In Milwaukee, prosecutors refer officer-involved shootings to an inquest jury, which can recommend or decline criminal charges. In 25 years, there has never been a recommendation for charges.

Since Ferguson, it has been repeatedly noted that we do not even have reliable data on the number of people killed by police each year. What we do know is that when the Department of Justice is called in to scrutinize police practices, the findings are deeply disturbing.

In 2011, the feds investigated the practices of the New Orleans Police Department. The findings were scandalous. According to the report, the local commanders’ mishandling of police shooting investigations was “so blatant and egregious that it appeared intentional in some respects.” Last year, the Department of Justice reviewed 20 officer-involved shootings resulting in fatalities in Albuquerque from 2009 to 2012 and concluded that most of those killings were illegal.

Policing in the United States is decentralized among thousands of cities and counties — so professional and ethical standards will vary. Still, it seems safe to say that too many officer-involved shootings receive little scrutiny. What occurred in South Carolina was not an anomaly, it just happened to be caught on video.

Timothy Lynch is the director of the Cato Institute’s Project on Criminal Justice and blogs at

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Obama’s Plan at the Summit of the Americas

Juan Carlos Hidalgo

President Obama will attend his last Summit of the Americas this weekend in Panama. Long gone are the days when his charisma and rhetoric numbed the anti-American feelings that prevail in these gatherings. Instead, Obama will face a hostile audience that will harangue him on his hardened policies toward Venezuela. But the president seems to have a clever plan to deal with his critics and engage other countries in the region:

Call the bluff of Cuba: The absence of Cuba in the Summit of the Americas was a sore point between the United States and the rest of Latin America. Until now, Cuba was not invited because Washington threatened to boycott a summit where the communist regime would take a seat. As the influence of leftwing governments grew in the region, the “Cuban issue” became a more prominent topic in U.S.-Latin American relations.

The Obama administration has not only agreed to Cuba’s participation in this summit, but it has also engaged Havana by calling for opening embassies in each other’s countries and lifting economic sanctions. Obama has rightly pointed out that instead of isolating the Castro regime, Washington’s policies toward Cuba were isolating the U.S. in the region.

There is little that President Obama can do to help Latin America help itself.”

Interestingly, Cuba seems to be at odds with the idea of having a normal relationship with the U.S. Years ago, Elizardo Sánchez Santa Cruz, a leading dissident in Cuba, aptly summed up Havana’s strategy: “[Castro] wants to continue exaggerating the image of the external enemy which has been vital for the Cuban Government during decades, an external enemy which can be blamed for the failure of the totalitarian model implanted here.”

No wonder then that Cuba has been dragging its feet in the negotiations with the U.S. In January, Raul Castro gave a speech where he gave a list of unrealistic preconditions to restore ties with Washington: returning Guantanamo to Cuba, compensating the regime for 50 years of sanctions, ending support for dissidents on the island, and abolishing the “wet foot, dry foot” policy regarding Cuban refuges, among others. It sounded as if the Cuban dictator was looking for excuses to keep the U.S. at arm’s length.

By engaging Cuba, Obama is calling the bluff of the Castro regime.

Undermine Venezuelan support in the Caribbean: President Obama is visiting Jamaica on his way to Panama to meet the 15 heads of government of the Caribbean Community (Caricom). In the last decade, most of these countries have benefited handsomely from subsidized oil shipments from Venezuela under the Petrocaribe agreement. In exchange, they have provided the backbone of diplomatic support for Caracas at the Organization of American States and other fora.

However, as Venezuela’s economy is imploding, its oil shipments to Caribbean nations have halved since 2012. This represents a serious problem for Caricom nations: Over 90 percent of their energy needs come from oil imports. Only Trinidad & Tobago is energy self-sufficient.

The Obama administration has already launched a Caribbean Energy Security Initiative aimed at helping Caribbean nations transition from their dependence on oil to cleaner forms of energy. The details are still not clear. But Washington should use this scheme to fast-track the export approval process of companies interested in exporting gas from the U.S. to the region. To be sure, Caribbean nations need to upgrade their infrastructure and regulatory environments to adapt their economies to liquefied natural gas (LNG) and compressed natural gas (CNG). But it is in their interest to do so: they already pay some of the highest electricity prices in the world, and the Venezuelan tap is rapidly going dry.

This is of course a long-term strategy. But by playing his cards correctly, Obama can start undermining Venezuela’s diplomatic support in the Caribbean.

Challenge other Latin American democracies: President Obama has requested meetings with the presidents of Chile, Costa Rica and Uruguay. According to rule of law and transparency rankings, these are Latin America’s best-run countries. They also happen to have left-of-center governments that unfortunately have remained mostly silent regarding human rights violations in Venezuela.

There aren’t many details about what Obama will discuss with these leaders, but he should openly ask them for a more forceful stand toward Caracas. By staying mummed about Nicolás Maduro’s slow-motion coup in Venezuela, these democracies are tacitly endorsing the consolidation of a dictatorship in that country. Obama should convey the message loud and clear.

Ignore the populists: President Obama will face a circus-like tirade from the likes of Maduro, Bolivia’s Evo Morales and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega. They might be joined by Argentina’s Cristina Fernández and Ecuador’s Rafael Correa. Obama should simply ignore them.

There is little that President Obama can do to help Latin America help itself. Ultimately the fate of the region is in its own hands. But Obama still has some cards under his sleeve that, played skillfully, could do some good for the hemisphere.

Juan Carlos Hidalgo is a policy analyst on Latin America at the Cato Institute’s Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity.

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Bombing Yemen Won’t Help It

Emma Ashford

Yemen’s volatile civil war has been depicted as merely a battleground between Sunni Arab countries and Shiite Iran for dominance in the Middle East.

The Houthis, northern tribal rebels who have waged a prolonged insurgency against the Yemeni government, took the capital, Sana, in September and have continued to seize territory since, drawing near to the southern port city of Aden, forcing President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi to flee and prompting a Saudi-led military intervention last month. But in fact, the conflict in Yemen is local, not regional. And the Saudi-led, American-backed bombing campaign is doomed to failure. It will fuel Yemen’s internal strife, condemning it to a protracted torment that could rival Syria’s four-year-old civil war.

Washington and Riyadh have pushed the narrative of an Iranian-supported Houthi rebellion in Yemen. This is an oversimplification at best.

While the Houthis are Shiites, their Zaydi faith is theologically distinct from the Shiite practices of most Iranians. Historically, this has limited ties between them and Tehran. And although Iran has given the Houthis some financial support, it has not been directly involved in the conflict. In fact, many of the Houthis’ recent gains are a result of their alliance with Sunni supporters of Mr. Hadi’s predecessor, Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was removed from power in 2012, during the Arab Spring.

Yemen has the potential to become the next Syria, spiraling into sectarian violence, with money and arms from abroad fueling the conflict.”

Iran’s major gains in the region are in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq, where the Iranians are funding and training Shiite militias battling the Islamic State. In Syria, Iranian support has been critical to the survival of the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Yemen, where Iran’s involvement is trivial, is simply not a major front in this broader regional struggle.

The conflict in Yemen — a continuing power struggle between the central government and the many secessionist and tribal groups that seek greater autonomy — is all about Yemen. And it dates back more than half a century.

Yemen itself was not even unified until 1990, when the collapse of the Soviet Union led Marxist South Yemen to unite with the Yemen Arab Republic to the north. In addition to conflicts between the two states, Yemen has experienced a succession of civil wars both before and after reunification, including rebellions by both northern tribesmen and southern secessionists. These conflicts were driven largely by uneven economic development and a distrust of the central government.

In today’s crisis we find not only the culmination of a 10-year guerrilla war by the northern Houthi tribesmen, but also a growing insurgency in the east by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, continued popular dissatisfaction in the south, and mixed support for the transitional government by mainstream political parties.

The United States plays a role, too, as drone strikes targeting Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula have sparked popular outrage against the government. This is why the bombing campaign is so shortsighted. Ostensibly, the coalition has several broad objectives. Saudi officials emphasize their intention to roll back Houthi gains, and to restore Mr. Hadi’s government. A White House statement pledging American intelligence and logistical support emphasized the same factors.

Though it has not been explicitly stated, the Persian Gulf states that are backing the Saudi intervention — the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain — also have another goal: combating growing Iranian influence. Yet bombing has so far failed to achieve any of these objectives.

Past foreign military interventions in Yemen have failed. Following a four-year insurgency against colonial rule, the British were forced to withdraw from Aden in 1967, resulting in the formation of the People’s Republic of South Yemen. An intervention led by Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt in 1962-67, designed to prop up a pro-Egyptian government, likewise failed as Yemeni tribesmen waged an effective guerrilla war against Egyptian troops. More recently, a 2009 Saudi invasion of northern Yemen, responding to cross-border raids by the Houthis, ended in the withdrawal of Saudi troops, and no strategic gains. Each failed because of the internecine nature of tribal conflict in Yemen and the effective use of guerrilla tactics. Any ground force in the current conflict will also suffer defeat.

The Houthis have long felt marginalized by Yemen’s political processes, and argue that corruption and a lack of representation mean that they don’t experience any benefits from economic development or Yemen’s natural resources. The group has waged a successful decade-long guerrilla war against the government in Sana. They know the terrain and have local support. After more than a decade of counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan, the futility of subduing tribal insurgencies should be well known to the United States.

Moreover, restoring Mr. Hadi, now in exile in Riyadh, would solve none of Yemen’s underlying problems. The free and fair elections promised during the Arab Spring were postponed because of factional disagreements; Mr. Hadi himself has no domestic power base. Though this made him an ideal compromise candidate in 2012, it constrains his ability to effectively govern.

The United States should encourage a political settlement, focused not on reinstalling a figurehead, but on creating a durable political process that addresses the grievances of Yemen’s regional groups. A two-sector federalized state, which the Houthis have supported in the past, could provide such a framework.

Yemen has the potential to become the next Syria, spiraling into sectarian violence, with money and arms from abroad fueling the conflict. If Arab airstrikes continue, Yemen is likely to become a failed state. Tragically, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula would be the one beneficiary, as the terrorist group enjoys a respite from drone strikes, counterterrorism campaigns and Houthi attacks.

A bombing campaign won’t stabilize Yemen, or counter Iranian influence in the region. Instead, it could lead to a prolonged and bloody civil war and provide fertile ground for extremist groups. With the United States already bogged down in Iraq and Syria, there is little political appetite among Americans for wider intervention in Yemen. But the United States should stop reflexively supporting the Saudi-led military campaign, and instead push for a political settlement, so that the Arab world is spared from another unmanageable conflict.

Emma Ashford is a visiting research fellow at the Cato Institute.

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Is Indiana’s RFRA Really a License to Discriminate?

Robert A. Levy

A quarter-century ago, Oregon denied two Native Americans unemployment benefits after they were fired for using peyote. They sued, claiming the peyote was used in a religious ceremony, but the Supreme Court upheld the denial in Employment Division v. Smith. The Court decided that government could restrict the exercise of religion as long as the regulation was generally applicable and didn’t specifically target religious practices.

Congress responded in 1993 by passing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which required that government demonstrate a compelling need when it regulated religion, and show that the regulation was no more restrictive than necessary. Ted Kennedy and Chuck Schumer sponsored the bill; it was signed by President Clinton. Four years later, the Supreme Court held in City of Boerne v. Flores that RFRA was unconstitutional when applied to the states via the 14th Amendment. The law is still enforceable against the federal government, but the states had to pass their own versions.

That’s what 20 states did — including, most recently, Indiana and Arkansas, as well as Illinois, where state senator Barack Obama supported the legislation. In another 11 states, courts interpreted state constitutions to provide similar protections. Thus, some version of RFRA controls 31 states and the federal government, notwithstanding Hillary Clinton’s astonishment that “this new Indiana law can happen in America today.”

Indiana’s RFRA can no longer be used as a defense for refusing to serve customers.”

Indiana’s RFRA — until the state legislature caved and amended the law — protected businesses as well as individuals. It did not, despite claims to the contrary, authorize businesses to deny service to gays and lesbians. But if a photographer, florist, or baker, for example, were to be sued by a gay couple for declining service at their wedding, the business could have asserted RFRA as a defense. The owners would have to show that serving gays “substantially” burdened their religious freedom, in which case the government had to offer a compelling interest in barring such discrimination and no less intrusive means to satisfy that interest. That was the rationale for Indiana Governor Mike Pence’s declaration that the original law was not a “license to discriminate” and he would have vetoed any “bill that legalized discrimination against any person or group.”

Pence was correct. No statewide Indiana law expressly legalized refusal to serve gays. Interestingly, no state law expressly illegalized such acts — except in a few localities that had enacted non-discrimination ordinances. Indeed, only 21 states prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. Accordingly, there was substantial wiggle room in Indiana and elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the state’s application of RFRA would have replicated the Court’s application of the federal version in the recent Hobby Lobby case. There, the question was whether Obamacare could require employer-provided health insurance to cover birth control without violating the owners’ religious freedom. The Court said “no,” because the law wasn’t narrowly tailored as demanded by RFRA. That same framework would have controlled in Indiana, pre-amendment. Now, however, Indiana has bowed to political pressure. Its revised law bars discrimination by service providers — except churches, affiliated schools, and other nonprofit religious organizations — on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or military service. Indiana’s RFRA can no longer be used as a defense for refusing to serve customers.

Libertarians have a different view. When private parties are involved, property rights govern — not religious freedom or anti-discrimination laws. Business owners should be able to serve gays only, straights only, both, or neither; for good reasons, bad reasons, or no reasons at all. Does that mean anti-discrimination laws such as the 1964 Civil Rights Act are unconstitutional? At a minimum, it suggests that those laws have a disputable constitutional pedigree. Because they address private (not government) acts, they cannot be shoehorned into the 14th Amendment, which requires state action. And because the ‘64 Act had nothing to do with eliminating state-imposed barriers to interstate trade, it should not have been upheld under the Commerce Clause as originally understood. Still, the Civil Rights Act helped erase an unconscionable assault on human dignity. It’s now settled American law, not to be revisited despite possible constitutional infirmities.

Nonetheless, clones of the Civil Rights Act — preventing private discrimination by gender, age, disability, or sexual orientation — are more difficult to justify. If state actions foster private discrimination, the Constitution can bar those actions, when and where they occur, without compromising rights of private association. Invidious private discrimination can be condemned via non-governmental means — e.g., refusal to patronize bigots, social ostracism, and public opprobrium. Jefferson reminds us that “Governments are instituted among men” to secure “certain unalienable Rights,” not to compel moral behavior.

Robert A. Levy is chairman of the Cato Institute.

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FEMA Asks Michigan to Do the Impossible

Patrick J. Michaels

Last fall, the Federal Emergency Management Agency issued a draft proposal that will require Michiganians to do the impossible or face the loss of disaster relief funds. Specifically, state governments will be required to assess the risk of future disasters in a changing climate.

FEMA has solicited public comments and will, as per usual, ignore most if not all of them when it issues its final rulemaking later this year. So what can Michigan expect global warming to do to its most significant natural hazard, the tornado?

Michigan’s peculiar geography makes it home to some very diverse and bizarre weather, from the wintertime burial of Houghton to some particularly violent tornadoes. While there aren’t many total tornadoes per year, some of them, such as the one that mowed down Flint in 1953, are the stuff of nightmares.

Nonetheless, FEMA will require Michigan to provide “a summary of the probability of future hazard events that includes projected changes in occurrence for each natural hazard in terms of location, extent, intensity, frequency, and/or duration. Probability must include … the effects of climate change on the identified hazards.”

Let’s be blunt: FEMA hasn’t a clue about climate change, probably because they read the reports of federal climatologists.”

Let’s be blunt: FEMA hasn’t a clue about climate change, probably because they read the reports of federal climatologists. For example, the federal government’s National Assessment of climate change says mental illness increases as it gets warmer. Do Michiganians really believe that people in the balmy vineyards of Paw Paw are loonier than they are in chilly Sault Ste. Marie?

Anything one can say about climate change and future hazards, such as hurricanes, has to be based upon some kind of forecast model, and there are a lot out there. In its most recent compendium on climate change, for instance, the United Nations uses 107 versions, all of which predict slightly different futures. None have been correct about the climate of the past two decades.

In those last two decades, according to the global satellite-sensed temperature record environmentalists used to love, there has been no net global surface warming whatsoever. Is it realistic to think we could use these same models to reliably predict how many tornadoes will hit Michigan in 2050?

It simply can’t be done. Not only have these models failed to accurately predict global temperatures, but hurricanes are too small to be captured by them.

Then there’s the Upper Peninsula snow off Lake Superior. Does it get more crippling in a warmer world? As the lake warms (swimmers tell us it could use a tad more heat), a big blast of Canada’s coldest could produce even more snow. Or less, if the cold air attenuates more than the lake warms. Who knows? Some bureaucrat in Lansing?

FEMA expects Michiganians to magically know which of these is right, and how climate change will affect the “intensity, frequency, and/or duration” of not just snowstorms, but only those snowstorms that unleash their wrath upon the state, as well as monster tornadoes — or else they might withhold the tax dollars paid to them in case of emergency. It seems as though FEMA’s morals are as bad as their grasp of climate science.

Patrick J. Michaels is director of the Center for the Study of Science at the Cato Institute.

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An Early Look at the GOP Candidates’ Positions on Foreign Policy

Michael D. Tanner

Yesterday, Senator Rand Paul formally announced his candidacy for president, becoming the second Republican, following Ted Cruz, to throw his hat into the ring. Almost immediately, a PAC organized by the same group responsible for the famous anti–John Kerry Swift Boat ads launched a $1 million advertising campaign in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina attacking Paul for being soft on national security and, specifically, soft on Iran. Paul’s candidacy and the quick response by Republican hawks lays open what may be a significant divide in the party over foreign-policy issues.

There is no doubt that Paul is the most dovish (he would say non-interventionist) mainstream Republican candidate in many years. But it is not quite as simple as suggesting that Paul is on one side of the issues and the other candidates or potential candidates are on the other side. The choice isn’t between President Obama’s foreign policy and George W. Bush’s. Rather, there is a surprisingly broad range of views this time around.

Start with Rand Paul himself. While clearly less inclined to intervene militarily than other Republican candidates, Paul is clearly not in the same foreign-policy camp as his father. At the very least, he appears to have shifted to a more nuanced stance as he prepared his candidacy. Perhaps his current position can be best summed up by his statement: ”America shouldn’t fight wars where the best outcome is stalemate. America shouldn’t fight wars when there is no plan for victory. America shouldn’t fight wars that aren’t authorized by the American people. . . . America should and will fight wars when the consequences — intended and unintended — are worth the sacrifice.” And Paul also declares: “The war on terror is not over, and America cannot disengage from the world.” He recently proposed a $160 billion increase in defense spending over ten years, paid for by cuts in foreign aid and domestic spending.

On specific issues, one can see the delicate balancing act that Paul is trying to pull off. He has been among the most vehement congressional critics of President Obama’s intervention in Libya, and has been generally opposed to intervening in Syria, blaming our policies in that country (and in Iraq) for helping to give rise to ISIS. Still he has called for military action against ISIS. On Iran, Paul has generally been more supportive of the nuclear negotiations than other Republicans, but he has also said that if diplomacy fails “all options are on the table, and that would include military.” In his announcement speech he criticized the Obama administration for “negotiating from a position of weakness,” and said he would vote against an agreement that did not end Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

There’s a much wider range of opinion than just hawks versus doves.”

On the home front, Paul is known, of course, for leading the fight against NSA surveillance programs and other threats to civil liberties under the rubric of the war on terror. He has not backed down from this position, promising to end such programs on the first day of his presidency. And everyone recalls his filibuster about the domestic use of drones.

On the other end of the spectrum, Senator Marco Rubio, who plans to announce his candidacy next week, has been perhaps the biggest hawk among GOP candidates. Rubio has supported intervention in a variety of hotspots around the world. For example, he supported the Libya intervention, although he was sharply critical of the way the Obama administration conducted it; he would have backed a much bigger and stronger U.S. effort. “Had the U.S. engaged fully and decisively, the conflict would have ended sooner. We would have less independent militias — and it would have been easier for a central government to take root and become in control of the country.” Similarly, on Syria he has called for the U.S. to be “fully engaged in arming, training, and equipping non-jihadist Syrian rebels,” both to resist ISIS and to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad. He is a co-sponsor of John McCain’s Free Syria Act, which would arm and train Syrian rebels.

Rubio, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has been extremely critical of President Obama’s negotiations with Iran. In fact, he has generally opposed the idea of negotiations, saying that the American “message to Iran should be clear: until the regime chooses a different path, the United States will continue to isolate Iran and impose pressure.”

In contrast to Paul, Rubio has been a supporter of NSA surveillance programs and the PATRIOT Act. He has called for a “permanent extension of the counterterrorism tools our intelligence community relies on to keep the American people safe.”

Ted Cruz falls somewhere in between Paul and Rubio. He says: “One of the most troubling aspects of the last six years is that America has receded from leadership in the world, and it has created a vacuum, and into that vacuum has stepped nations like Iran, like Russia, like China. It’s made the world much more dangerous.”

But his positions are not reflexively hawkish. While supporting a muscular military and showing a willingness to intervene abroad, Cruz has opposed “nation building,” as well as interventions that he believed were not in America’s national interest. He says that the United States should not be trying to “build democratic utopias across the world” and that the job of the military is to “hunt down and kill our enemies.”

He has favored more vigorous action against ISIS, but has been skeptical about putting American boots on the ground. Instead he would more aggressively arm and train the Kurds, among others. He opposed military action against al-Assad in Syria, and was skeptical about U.S. intervention in Libya. On the other hand, he has been one of the most vocal supporters of Israel in Congress. On Iran, he has sponsored legislation to strengthen sanctions and has called for the next president to repudiate any agreement that does not end Iran’s nuclear program.

Although he wouldn’t go as far as Paul in reining in NSA abuses, he has been critical of the agency’s domestic-surveillance programs, and he voted for the USA Freedom Act, which would have ended the bulk collection of metadata and increased oversight and transparency. (Paul voted against that bill, saying it did not go far enough toward reforming the NSA. Rubio also voted against it, but warning that it went too far.)

Governors running for president have far less opportunity to build a foreign-policy track record. Still, we know enough, for example, to put Jeb Bush firmly in the hawk camp. “America does not have the luxury of withdrawing from the world,” Bush has said. “Our security, and our prosperity, and our values demand that we remain engaged and involved in often distant places.”

A strong supporter of his brother’s foreign policy, Bush has called for tougher U.S. action against ISIS, although he has said, “that doesn’t necessarily mean boots on the ground.” On Iran, Bush has blasted the framework deal as a “flawed agreement” and said it poses a grave threat to the security of Israel.

He has been an outspoken supporter of NSA surveillance, which, he says, “contributes to awareness of potential terrorist cells and interdiction efforts on a global scale. For the life of me, I don’t understand [how] the debate has gotten off track, where we’re not understanding and protecting — we do protect our civil liberties, but this is a hugely important program to use these technologies to keep us safe.”

Scott Walker, too, has taken a hawkish stance on foreign policy, going so far as to say, “Ultimately we have to be prepared to put boots on the ground if that’s what it takes” to defeat ISIS. Walker has had relatively little opportunity so far to speak about the deal with Iran, but what he has said has been critical. On civil liberties and surveillance, he has been reluctant to take a position, saying that he lacked the expertise to comment, and that “I honestly don’t know that you could paint me in either camp.”

Also calling for American boots on the ground to fight ISIS is former Texas governor Rick Perry. Perry also backs U.S. training and weapons for Syrian rebels. Perry says that, if elected, he would repudiate any nuclear deal with Iran.

Ben Carson is just beginning to comment on foreign policy, but he has leaned hawkish. On ISIS, he is open to the use of U.S. troops, telling NBC News, “We have to eradicate [ISIS] now. We have to use every means possible to do that.” He has also threatened military action that would make Iran “nonexistent” if it developed a nuclear weapon.

The GOP is still the party of a strong military and an activist foreign policy, but there is a growing debate about exactly what that means. As the campaign develops — in particular as the governors and those outside government become more involved with the issue — that debate is apt to play an increasingly important role in the campaign.

Michael Tanner is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Instititute and author of Leviathan on the Right: How Big-Government Conservatism Brought Down the Republican Revolution.