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America Is Not Japan, and ‘Common Sense’ Won’t End Mass Shootings

Trevor Burrus

Yesterday, another horrendous and tragic shooting occurred on an American college campus. I will hold off conjecturing about the shooter, how he obtained his weapons, and whether he was able to evade existing restrictions to acquire his guns and ammunition.

Such decorum, however, is not the modus operandi for President Obama and others who never tire of using these horrible occasions to call for “commonsense” gun regulations. Our Conscience-in-Chief believes “common-sense gun safety laws” can stop these tragedies, and his strategy is once again to essentially blame such acts on people who oppose his “common sense” and, in particular, on the NRA. Few shibboleths are as vacuous as the call for “common sense.” The implication is that such things are easy to stop and that, if Obama were king for a day, with no dullards standing in his way, then he could stop it.

Similar piffle is posted on social media, as the self-styled caring class takes the opportunity to sanctimoniously post the Onion article headlined “?‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens,” or to link to a YouTube video of a comedian riffing on America’s love affair with the Second Amendment. People will claim that this doesn’t happen elsewhere (it does), or ask a “commonsense” question like “How can you need a license to drive a car but not to own a gun?” (Actually, gun-rights advocates would be pretty okay with regulating guns like cars.)

Our conversations about guns in America are imbued with sanctimony and indictment, and you’re certain to lose a few friends on Facebook if you post something sufficiently provocative. You might even lose friends by posting this article.

Start with the fact that there are more than 300 million guns in the United States.”

So let’s have a serious conversation about how to stop these tragedies. First, understand that there are more than 300 million guns in America, and that’s not changing anytime soon. You can bemoan this fact as an indication of America’s barbarism, you can be disgusted by anyone who owns a gun, or you can talk about the excellent policies they have in Japan, where gun ownership is almost non-existent. Fine.

But all of that is just policymaking in fantasy land until you accept that there are 300 million guns in America. And, in case you haven’t noticed, America is not Japan.

Perhaps you think all guns should be confiscated. Okay, tell us how you will do that without stormtroopers roaming the country systematically violating our Fourth Amendment rights in a way that makes Donald Trump’s call for the mass deportation of illegal immigrants look like taking a census.

Or perhaps President Obama’s moral exhortations will work wonders on the American psyche and over the next two months an astounding 90 percent of American firearms are turned over to the government. That still leaves 30 million guns in private hands, and you can imagine how law-abiding those who didn’t turn in their weapons are.

Perhaps you think that all guns should be registered and licensed. Again, explain how you will do that without a battalion of stormtroopers kicking down doors. Sure, some people will voluntarily register their guns, but they are unlikely to be criminals or would-be mass shooters. Canada tried to register guns and eventually gave up. New York’s attempt to register “assault weapons” has been a glorious failure.

Or let’s talk about “commonsense” restrictions like “universal background checks” and whether they can stop mass shootings. Colorado is trying “universal background checks,” and of a predicted 420,000 checks, they’ve carried only out 13,600. Oregon’s universal-background-check system, which went into effect in August, is also off to a shaky start.

Unfortunately, mass shooters look an awful lot like normal, law-abiding gun owners before they commit their atrocities. And highly motivated, would-be mass shooters would be unlikely to subject themselves to increased screenings when obtaining guns illegally is relatively easy.

Mass shootings should not be the centerpiece of gun-control policy. Mass shooters are motivated, difficult to detect, and commit only a tiny fraction of gun violence in America. Pretending that stopping these psychopaths is a matter of passing “commonsense” laws is just moral grandstanding for cheap political points. If all that is keeping us from being mass-shooter-free is failure to heed the suggestions of Obama and other champions of “common sense,” then I invite them to try — and then to take personal responsibility for every one that they miss.

Passing effective gun-control policies in a nation brimming with 300 million guns is difficult; don’t believe anyone who tells you otherwise. Have we come to accept that a certain amount of gun violence in our country is inevitable? The hard truth is that we have, just as we accept that deaths by automobile accidents, drowning in swimming pools, and industrial accidents are inevitable. This doesn’t mean that there is nothing we can or should do, but the first thing that we must do is to stop pretending that ending mass shootings is merely a matter of “common sense.”

Trevor Burrus is a research fellow at Cato’s Center for Constitutional Studies.

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Time for the IRS to Come Clean

Michael F. Cannon

A congressional oversight committee recently renewed its request for documents from an ethically suspect Internal Revenue Service, which ignores such requests with impunity. But this time, the Supreme Court has taken away the agency’s excuse for not cooperating.

In 2014, the IRS began imposing the individual and employer mandates on 70 million Americans even though the Affordable Care Act expressly exempts them from those taxes. The IRS may impose the disputed taxes, the ACA explains, only “through an Exchange established by the State.” The IRS ignored that plain language and imposed those taxes on 70 million taxpayers in the 38 states that did not establish a health insurance Exchange.

This past June, the Supreme Court issued one of its worst decisions in recent memory. In King v. Burwell, the Court rewrote and expanded the ACA in order to save the IRS’s extra-legal taxes, and hundreds of billions of dollars of related spending.

As Chief Justice John Roberts explained, “the context and structure of the Act compel us to depart from” what all nine justices agreed is “the most natural reading of the pertinent statutory phrase.” Ironically, after invoking the ACA’s broader context to justify ignoring its operative text, Roberts then ignored the many elements of the act’s context that flatly contradict his interpretation.

For four years, the IRS has been stonewalling Congress’ efforts to determine what agency officials knew.”

Just as the IRS imposed never-legislated taxes and spending by regulation, the Court did so via judicial opinion. The result is that Americans are living under an illegitimate law, paying taxes and underwriting government spending that no Congress ever authorized.

An important question remains, however. Congressional investigators found evidence suggesting that IRS officials imposed those taxes even though they understood that the ACA flatly denies them any authority to do so. Yet for four years, the IRS has been stonewalling Congress’ efforts to determine what agency officials knew.

In 2012, the House’s oversight committee requested documents related to the IRS’s decision to expand the reach of these taxes. IRS officials provided no substantive documents.

Under continued pressure, IRS officials allowed investigators to view certain documents “in camera.” Ironically, that means the investigators could read the documents, but take no notes and make no copies. It was in these documents that investigators nonetheless found evidence that IRS officials knew the ACA prohibited them from imposing the disputed taxes.

The committee again asked the IRS to release the documents. IRS officials again refused.

The committee invited IRS and Treasury officials to testify before Congress. The officials appeared, but failed to answer the committee’s questions.

The chairman subpoenaed the documents. The IRS ignored the subpoena.

Earlier this year, an oversight subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee requested those documents. IRS officials again refused.

The subcommittee asked three IRS and Treasury officials to testify at an oversight hearing. Theyrefused, leaving three empty chairs at the witness table.

IRS and Treasury officials claimed they could not testify because the disputed taxes were the subject of ongoing litigation in King, which was then before the Supreme Court. Yet IRS and Treasury officials had previously appeared before Congress, and corresponded with Congress on this issue, while the litigation was ongoing.

What changed? Perhaps, as King moved toward the highest court, the Obama administration feared that embarrassing revelations might influence the outcome. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), noting the empty chairs, said it would have been “foolhardy” for IRS officials to appear.

Now that the Court has ruled in the IRS’s favor, however, the agency no longer has any excuse for not honoring these requests.

Indeed, the chairman of that Senate subcommittee, presidential candidate Ted Cruz (R-Texas), renewed that request on Sept. 21. In a letter to Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, Cruz asked the administration to deliver those documents to Congress no later than Tuesday, September 29.

Whether the IRS thinks Cruz’s request is a waste of time makes no difference. The IRS is a creature of Congress, and is responsible to it. The chairman of a congressional oversight committee with jurisdiction over the IRS has demanded that the agency produce documents. And since the Supreme Court ruled this was never a question the executive branch could resolve, the administration cannot claim executive privilege on this question. The agency should comply.

Indeed, Congress should take a cue from the subcommittee’s Democratic Senators. At the empty-chair hearing, Blumenthal said, “I would strongly urge that this committee revisit the potential testimony from these witnesses on another occasion.” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) agreed, “The chairman should consider having the [missing] witnesses return. I think it could be a constructive hearing.”

Michael F. Cannon is director of health policy studies at the Cato Institute and “the intellectual father” of King v. Burwell (Modern Healthcare).

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Don’t Expect Much from FBI Chief’s Call for Better Police Shooting Data

Matthew Feeney

Despite widespread media coverage of police shootings, no one knows for sure how many Americans are killed by police officers each year. That’s why FBI director James Comey’s announcement this week that the FBI plans to collect more data related to police shootings was initially encouraging to policy analysts like me. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like Comey’s proposal will provide accurate numbers.

The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program does include data on the number of police officers killed on the job and the number of “justifiable homicides” committed by officers, but this information is not very helpful because the FBI relies on law enforcement agencies to voluntarily hand over the information. Perhaps unsurprisingly, not every police department complies.

It’s frustrating that amid important discussions on much-needed reforms to police accountability, tactics, and training that information about police killings remains so unreliable.”

Those departments that do report data, however are asked to report police shootings which take place in their jurisdiction. As the Wall Street Journal  pointed out in December last year, some California Highway Patrol shootings may not be accurately reported because the shootings take place in a location under another department’s jurisdiction. The report showed that the inefficiencies in the reporting for the UCR program results in hundreds of police killings being left uncounted.

Regrettably, Comey seems to be doing little to provide law enforcement agencies with incentives to volunteer more accurate use-of-force data. Given the United States’ federalist system, the FBI cannot currently demand that law enforcement agencies hand over data on use-of-force incidents.

While government data on police killings is poor, two newspapers are keeping track of such incidents this year. The Washington Post is collecting information on police shootings (741 so far this year) and The Guardian is tracking all police killings (875 so far this year). For the time being, it looks as if the best source for police killings in the United States will be non-government projects like these.

Comey’s call for better data on police killings should be welcomed. It’s frustrating that amid important discussions on much-needed reforms to police accountability, tactics, and training that information about police killings remains so unreliable.

However, Comey has little influence on what data state and local law enforcement agencies choose to release. As much as he should be applauded for his concern about the state of reporting on police shootings, it’s unlikely that his rhetoric alone will produce the desired results.

Matthew Feeney is a policy analyst at the Cato Institute.

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What Next Year’s Attack on Obamacare Will Look Like

Ilya Shapiro and Josh Blackman

As the Supreme Court returns for another term, it has some housekeeping to do: deciding whether to accept the myriad petitions for review that came in over the summer. None stand out more than a challenge to the implementation of Obamacare that’s similar to the Hobby Lobby case of two terms ago. Here, the Court’s June ruling in King v. Burwell could actually help the religious nonprofits seeking relief from what has become Obamacare’s most litigated provision, the so-called contraceptive mandate. After a series of government wins on this issue, earlier this month the St. Louis-based Eighth Circuit split with its sister courts and virtually guaranteed that the high court would have to review the matter.

When Congress enacted the Affordable Care Act (ACA), it took great pains to protect religious liberty. The infamous individual mandate/tax, for example, has a religious-conscience exemption. Further, the law reinforced the Hyde Amendment so federal funding would not be used for abortion. But Congress was conspicuously silent on the functioning of the contraceptive mandate vis-à-vis religious objections.

Indeed, it may come as a surprise to even the most fervent critics (and fans) of Obamacare that the law doesn’t have a contraceptive mandate. Instead, the requirement that employers pay for a long list of contraceptives—some of which are controversial because they are arguably abortifacients—is a regulatory creation. The ACA’s statutory text merely requires coverage for “preventive care” and directs the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to decide what the mandate covers.

Houses of worship don’t have to offer employees contraceptive coverage. But other religious employers do. Supreme Court, here we come.”

The ACA unquestionably authorizes HHS to make such health-care related decisions. But the law conveys not even a hint that the agency can make the delicate judgments about how to treat religious objections to certain contraceptives. This absence of authority dooms the Justice Department’s latest defense of Obamacare on an issue that has now divided the lower courts.

In July 2011, more than a year after President Obama signed his signature legislation, HHS interpreted “preventive care” to include all FDA-approved contraceptives, from condoms to the morning-after pill. Over the next two years, it worked with the Treasury and Labor Departments to develop two approaches for balancing religious-liberty interests with the congressional charge to expand access to “preventive care.”

First, HHS automatically exempted houses of worship from the contraceptive-mandate regulation altogether. Second, it created an “accommodation” for certain religious employers. This accommodation, unlike the exemption, neither excuses employers from the mandate nor operates automatically. Instead, it requires the employer to notify HHS that it objects to providing contraceptive coverage and explain why. If the government determines that the employer qualifies for the accommodation, it reimburses its insurer directly rather than having the employer pay for the contraceptives.

It’s this accommodation that’s now at issue. Groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor—the order of nuns whose convent the Pope recently visited—claim that forcing them to contract with contraceptive providers (if not pay for the actual contraceptives) imposes a substantial burden on their free exercise of religion. In other words, they invoke the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), the same law that ultimately helped Hobby Lobby.

The Little Sisters requested an exemption from the mandate, like the government gave to churches. HHS refused, reasoning that their employees “are less likely than individuals in plans of [houses of worship] to share their employer’s… faith and objection to contraceptive coverage on religious grounds.” In other words, the agency supposed that people who work for the Little Sisters—a group of nuns vowing obedience to the Pope!—are less likely than church employees to adhere to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. This blinkered approach to faith serves as a testament to how out of its league HHS was.

Accordingly, in a brief we filed for the Cato Institute, we asked the justices to resolve an additional, threshold question: whether HHS has the authority to craft religious accommodations—rather than grant faith-based exemptions. Congress didn’t authorize executive agencies to pick and choose which religious groups—churches yes, cloisters no—can be exempted from parts of the “preventive care” mandate. In the absence of this authority, the administration’s only recourse is to exempt groups whose religious exercise is substantially burdened by the mandate.

Ironically, the precedent that most supports the Little Sisters’ claim is King v. Burwell, in which the Supreme Court upheld the payment of billions of dollars of subsidies in states that declined to establish health-care exchanges. But in doing so, Chief Justice John Roberts’ majority opinion rejected the Treasury Department’s interpretation of Obamacare that gave itself such awesome power. Roberts found that Congress could not have delegated this vast authority to the IRS in an area of “deep ‘economic and political significance,’” in light of the fact that the agency has “no expertise in crafting health insurance policy.”

If the nation’s tax authority lacked the power to interpret a statutory provision regarding tax credits, then—to use the chief justice’s own words—“[i]t is especially unlikely that Congress would have delegated this decision” on crafting religious accommodations to HHS, “which has no expertise in crafting” them. To quote another recent case where the Court refused to defer to an administrative agency, UARG v. EPA (2014), here the agencies are “laying claim to an extravagant statutory power” affecting fundamental religious liberty interests—a power that the ACA “is not designed to grant.”

HHS’s regulatory incompetence prevents it from forcing the Little Sisters to be complicit in what they view as sin. If executive agencies lack the interpretive authority to craft accommodations, then RFRA (and Hobby Lobby) dictate that religious employers must be exempted from the contraceptive mandate.

Ilya Shapiro is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and co-author of Religious Liberty for Corporations? Hobby Lobby, the Affordable Care Act, and the Constitution (2014). Josh Blackman, is a professor at the South Texas College of Law, a Cato adjunct scholar, and the author of Unraveled: Obamacare, Religious Liberty, and Executive Power (forthcoming 2016).

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Taking Exception to Exceptional

Benjamin H. Friedman

Exceptional: Why the World Needs a Powerful America
By Dick and Liz Cheney
Threshold, 2015, $28, 324 pages

Dick and Liz Cheney’s Exceptional: Why the World Needs a Powerful America is a bestseller, but I doubt many people are reading it. This book is a call to prayer, evocative for the faithful because of the very predictability that makes reading it unnecessary. The title and flag-draped cover testify to the former vice president and his daughter’s purpose: to excoriate President Barack Obama’s sins against the militarized conservative denomination of our civic religion.

The prologue begins with a quote from Daniel Webster’s 1825 oration celebrating the laying of the cornerstone of Boston’s Bunker Hill Monument, where Webster asked for “honest exultation” of the nation’s role in delivering freedom to the world. It’s a fitting start. One reason is that the Cheneys immediately make an error: They misattribute Webster’s speech to the monument’s dedication, which occurred in 1847. Another is that Webster’s speech includes a subtle push for U.S. intervention in Greece’s civil war. Were that intervention occurring today, the book would surely call it as insufficient, accuse Obama of abandoning Greece, and cast its fate as vital to U.S. security.

But what’s especially fitting is that Webster’s speech imagines the United States as the agent of divine purpose. The Cheneys similarly worship U.S. state power, insisting its virtue be taken on faith. That faith, and a penchant for argumentation by assertion and adjectives, is evident by the end of their first paragraph: “We are, as a matter of empirical fact and undeniable history, the greatest force for good the world has ever known.” Alternatives (England, capitalism, language, God) are not worth considering. Empirics stay on script, unquestioning.

Hence the first section: 110 pages of U.S. national security history since World War II. By the Cheneys’ account, despite the occasional Democratic stumble, military might, leaders’ fortitude, and florid speeches prevailed until 2008. Part two, somehow of equal length, attacks the Obama administration for “retreating,” “appeasing,” an “apology” tour, Bhenghazi, the Iran deal, undoing surge magic in Iraq, inviting EMP pulse attacks, etc. The conclusion maps a road to resurrection in bullets points and bold-face.

Even most fervent acolytes can safely not read this book. The style is that of an undergraduate Young Republican hurriedly assembling cribbed facts and talking points, only with better proofreading. Given the structure just described, anyone with a passing familiarity with the Cheneys will know what’s here.

Dick and Liz Cheney’s unpersuasive new book says exactly what you’d expect it to say.”

If you’re still unsure, a few numbers will give you the gist. Ten of the many quotations belong to Ronald Reagan. Seven are John F. Kennedy, four Winston Churchill, and three Franklin Roosevelt. Their subject is mostly America’s martial prowess and greatness. Twice we’re told how Truman ended debate about whether to build thermonuclear weapons upon hearing that the Soviets might. Dick Cheney himself is quoted six times, often at considerable length. On page 100, he even quotes himself quoting himself.

The Cheneys depict zero U.S. wars as unwise. (Vietnam is presented as a good cause lost by civilian interference with military requests.) The closest they come to expressing any doubt is when they predict the Iran deal will “more than likely” cause nuclear war.

Several factual errors recur. My favorite: “Barack Obama is the only president in American history—perhaps the only leader in world history—to slash defense spending.” Tell that to Richard Nixon, who cut military outlays by almost 29 percent from 1969 to 1973, as the U.S. pulled out of Vietnam. Adjusting for inflation and including war spending, that’s slightly larger than the drawdown that’s occurred under Obama (whose stated desire to end the drawdown the Cheneys ignore). There is also the first Bush administration, which was slashing Pentagon spending as it launched the Gulf War, with outlays falling nearly 13 percent from 1990 to 1991.

Dick Cheney, by the way, served in the Nixon administration and was George H.W. Bush’s defense secretary during the Gulf War. It’s also worth noting, because the Cheneys don’t, that the recent military cuts came through a bipartisan deficit-reduction deal motivated partly by the Bush/Cheney administration’s profligacy.

There are also a bevy of implausible opinions, one of which the Cheneys themselves refute. We’re assured on page two that the United States “did not seek” to become a preponderant superpower. The point of the following paragraph and, indeed, the whole history lesson, is that wise leaders sought and maintained that status.

I was surprised only once, sort of, while reading Exceptional. After three lengthy chapters attacking Obama’s alleged passivity and before an epilogue hoping for a Lincoln-like president to deliver us from our unprecedented peril, the Cheneys’ bullet points endorse no additional wars or military alliances. They compare the Iran deal to Munich, making Obama Chamberlin and the Iranians Nazis, but do not suggest attacking Iran. They just want a better Munich. They portray ISIS as a cataclysmic threat in rapid advance, but they do not call for regular U.S. ground forces to directly fight it. Despite worrying that continuing Obama policies will leave Europe wholly “controlled” and “enslaved” by Vladimir Putin—and suggesting, incorrectly, that the 1994 Bucharest Agreement compels the United States to defend Ukraine—the Cheneys offer Kiev only more aid and sanctions against Russia.

That shows why Exceptional’s thesis is wrong. Like almost everyone, Obama is more dovish than the Cheneys, but his foreign policy still fits squarely in the tradition of militarized global hegemony that they celebrate. Under Obama, the United States has exited no alliance. Instead it has mildly heightened troop commitments to European and Asian allies while looking to do more for its clients in the Gulf region. Military spending remains near Cold War highs, and wars are underway in six countries. Obama’s counterterrorism policies mostly continue Bush’s.

Today in U.S. security politics, the hawkish confront the very hawkish. The parties share foreign policy goals and differ mostly in the details of how to best deliver liberty abroad. The Cheneys’ exceptionalist creed is healthy. They should more honestly exult.

Benjamin H. Friedman is a research fellow in defense and homeland security studies at the Cato Institute.

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Why Are FBI Agents Trammeling the Rights of Antiwar Activists?

Patrick G. Eddington

Five years ago this week, FBI agents raided the homes of six political activists of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization (FRSO) in Minnesota, Illinois and Wisconsin, as well as the office of the nonprofit Anti-War Committee. Those activists are still waiting to learn when, or even if, they will be charged or cleared.

As the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported on the day of the raid, “An FBI spokesman said agents were ‘seeking evidence related to an ongoing Joint Terrorism Task Force investigation into activities concerning the material support of terrorism. There is no imminent threat to the community, and we’re not planning any arrests at this time,’ said FBI Special Agent Steve Warfield of the Minneapolis office.”

A series of FBI documents left behind at Mick Kelly’s Minneapolis home shed more light on the FBI’s activities prior to the raid. But what is especially illuminating is the mindset the documents reveal, particularly some of the questions FBI agents were instructed to ask those being served with the search warrants, such as ”What did you do with the proceeds from the Revolutionary Lemonade Stand?” and ”Did you ever recruit anyone to go to Israel, the West Bank or Gaza?”

Only in February 2014, as a result of further legal action, would the search warrants for the raids be unsealed and the FBI’s use of surveillance and undercover operatives to penetrate the Anti-War Committee and the FRSO come to light.

An oversight investigation of the FBI’s raids against the Anti-War Committee and the FRSO—whether done by the IG or Congress—is long overdue.”

According to the unsealed search warrants and supporting documents, the FBI began surveilling the FRSO shortly after the protests at the 2008 GOP convention, using a confidential informant. Whether the FBI had employed wiretaps obtained under the material support provision of the Patriot Act (as amended in 2006) is unclear. The FBI’s assertion about the group and the Anti-War Committee is that both acted as fronts for the funneling of money and other forms of support to Colombian and Palestinian groups labeled as foreign terrorist organizations by the State Department.

Kelly and the other political activists targeted by the FBI have long histories in the antiwar movement and related causes on the extreme political left. In 2011, Kelly settled a suit with the local police department over an excessive use of force incident during his protest outside the 2008 Republican National Convention.

Despite the FBI’s collection of over a hundred hours of recordings and its multiyear penetration of the two extreme leftist organizations, to date none of the activists have been charged with any crime.

It’s certainly not the first time the FBI has engaged in the harassment of political dissidents. Indeed, the FBI’s surveillance of antiwar activists dates back to at least World War I, to include surveillance of Nobel Peace Prize winner Jane Addams. The bureau has been an equal opportunity abuser of the rights of antiwar activists, whether on the left (like Addams and the FRSO) or on the libertarian side of the spectrum.

These incidents, while separated in time by nearly 100 years, also share another feature. No FBI agent or manager has ever been fired or prosecuted for violating the constitutional rights of those individuals or groups wrongly surveilled, harassed or charged.

Just four days prior to the FBI raids against the Anti-War Committee and the FRSO, the Department of Justice Inspector General [IG] released the results of an investigation into post-9/11 surveillance of peace groups and other domestic dissidents up through 2006.

As Andrew Cohen wrote in The Atlantic at the time, the IG investigation found that the bureau “engaged in tactics and strategies toward those groups and their members that were inappropriate, misleading and in some cases counterproductive. Moreover, the OIG accused FBI witnesses of continuing to the present day to thwart a full and complete investigation into the matter by offering ‘incomplete and inconsistent accounts of events.’”

A similar oversight investigation of the FBI’s raids against the Anti-War Committee and the FRSO—whether done by the IG or Congress—is long overdue. So is real accountability for government agencies whose employees flagrantly and repeatedly violate the rights of the citizens who pay their salaries.

Patrick Eddington is policy analyst in homeland security and civil liberties at the Cato Institute. Until last year, he was a senior policy adviser to U.S. Representative Rush Holt (D-N.J.) and before that an analyst at the CIA.

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Fighting the ‘Papists’ and the ‘Popery’: When America Was Anti-Catholic

Trevor Burrus

Pope Francis’s visit to North America is causing great excitement. A papal parade, an address to a joint session of Congress, and a visit to the Archdiocese of Washington, DC, in addition to visits to New York City and Philadelphia. All the events are expected to be festive, peaceful, and heavily attended. Throughout most of American history, however, such “subversive gatherings of the Popery” would have likely have caused riots.

Americans were not always so excited about Catholics. In fact, throughout most of our history, Americans were downright hostile to “papists.” Famed historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. called anti-Catholicism the “the deepest bias in the history of the American people.”

During this papal visit, it is worthwhile to look back and learn from this anti-Catholic history.

There are lessons for both sides of the political aisle, as well as lessons for many who are mixed up in the imbroglio of our long national nightmare—i.e. the presidential race. Historically, anti-Catholicism came in a form similar to the shameful populist nativism of Donald Trump and other Republican candidates. Animus against the “other” is easily aroused by populist blowhards. Then, just as easily as it was aroused, it dissipates as the “others” become our neighbors, our friends, our spouses, and our family members. Within only a few decades it seems absurd that such hate could have been directed against quintessential Americans like the Irish, the Germans, and the Italians.

Anti-Catholicism also teaches valuable lessons about government’s limited ability to rationally and peacefully collectivize a diverse citizenry, particularly when it comes to education and health care. Government-run schools have always been flashpoints of conflict between Catholics and Protestants, and they continue to be flashpoints of controversy between various groups today. Eventually, Catholics decided that peace would come through separation—good fences really do make good neighbors—and they created the flourishing Catholic school system we have today. Yet, as we will see, anti-Catholics in some states even tried to prohibit Catholic schools.

Recently we’ve seen conflicts brewing between Catholics and other religious groups over our increasingly centralized health-care system. The Hobby Lobby case—in which Hobby Lobby, as a religious corporation, obtained a waiver from Obamacare’s contraception mandate—was just the beginning. The Little Sisters of the Poor might be next.

Demagogues will always be there to stir up “nativist” passions, and centralizers will continue to call for uniform “American values” in our schools, our health care, and our families.”

Our diversity is our greatest strength. It allows us to learn and grow from others of different viewpoints. On a more mundane level, it brings us pastrami, spaghetti, and Szechuan. Too often in American history we have a shortsighted, biased, and bigoted majority—usually only a few generations off “the boat” themselves—that tries to use government to enforce their perception of “American values.” It still happens today, of course, but anti-Catholicism was first.

American anti-Catholicism goes back to our founding. The recent discovery of possible “secret Catholics” at the Jamestown settlement underscores the fact that, from our earliest years, Catholics were unwelcome throughout most of the country. The Puritans may have come to Massachusetts seeking religious freedom, but they certainly weren’t going to extend that religious freedom to Catholics. The Spartan religious asceticism of the Puritans was a direct reaction to not only the idolatry, materialism, and excess of the Catholic church, but also the perceived remnants of that excess in the Anglican church.

Both the Puritans and the settlers of Jamestown came from an England that was awash with anti-Catholic propaganda. Ever since Henry VIII broke from the Catholic Church in order to obtain a divorce from Catherine of Aragon, England had treated Catholics quite poorly. George Calvert, the 1st Lord Baltimore, founded Maryland as “a refuge for his Roman Catholic brethren.” Maryland was unique among the colonies for its acceptance of Catholics. Maryland’s status as a Catholic colony would not last long, however. In 1692, Anglicanism was declared the official religion, and in 1704 the Assembly passed “An Act to Prevent the Growth of Popery within this Province.”

American anti-Catholicism was rooted in both religious and political ideas. Many Protestants doubted that Catholics could be truly American, not only because they held allegiance to a “foreign despot”—i.e. the Pope—but because the inherently hierarchical nature of Catholicism seemed anti-republican. America was a bottom-up nation that believed in the power of the common man (provided he was white, straight, and male). Catholicism was a top-down religion that discouraged the common man from finding religious truth for himself.

Anti-Catholicism reached a fever pitch in the middle of the 19th century. The influx of Catholic immigrants, particularly from Ireland, set off a wave of anti-immigration and anti-Catholic political movements and protests. Perhaps none was more intense than the Philadelphia Bible Riots of 1844.

Pennsylvania created its first real public school system in 1834. Like most schools of the day, the Bible featured prominently in instruction. Yet, this raised the question: which Bible? Protestants and Catholics use different versions of the Bible. For Protestants, it was a religious act to read the Bible in public schools; for Catholics it was a form of Protestant sectarianism.

Some Catholics urged parents to remove their children from schools that read Protestant Bibles. Others petitioned the government to allow parents to decide whether or not their children would participate in Bible reading activities.

Even this moderate request for accommodation met with Protestant vitriol. According to the Presbyterian newspaper, allowing a Catholic exemption was merely a “determined attempt to exclude…all semblance of religious instruction.” Removing the Bible from the schools would convert them to “infidel” institutions. Another newspaper asked “Are we to yield our personal liberty, our inherited rights, our very Bibles, the special blessed gift of God to our country, to the will, the ignorance, or the wickedness of these hordes of foreigners, subjects of a foreign despot…?”

Tensions hit a breaking point in May, 1844. In the Philadelphia district of Kensington, Catholics began breaking up meetings of “nativists.” As the fighting mobs grew, shots were fired, killing an 18-year-old Protestant boy. Soon the homes of Irish Catholic were being raided, burned, and destroyed. Catholics fired upon nativists as they tried to set fire to a Catholic schoolhouse, killing two and wounding more.

Violence continued over the next few days. Nativist newspapers fanned the flames. The Native American newspaper wrote that “the bloody hand of the Pope has stretched itself forth to our destruction.” Handbills and fliers called for mass Nativist organization in Independence Square: “Let every American come prepared to defend himself.”

A crowd of six thousand showed up. Soon they were marching on Kensington, and, despite the presence of the militia, approximately 30 Catholic homes were burned. In addition, St. Augustine’s Church and St. Mary’s Church were battered, pilfered, and partially burned.

It took many months for nerves to calm. In the end, Catholics learned their “lesson,” as it were. The Catholics were simply not powerful enough to fight the Protestants in a royal rumble over public schools. If Catholics were going to educate their children according to their consciences they would have to start their own schools.

Catholic schools began thriving in the later part of the 19th century. But some states that were bastions of nativist bigotry would not even countenance Catholics running their own schools. After all, if Catholics are seen as a contagion on the body politic, then letting them abscond with their children to their own sanctuaries does not fundamentally solve the problem of the enemy within.

Oregon has a shockingly bigoted history. It was admitted to the union as a free state in 1859, but with a clause in its constitution allowing African Americans to be excluded from the state. Although the clause was overridden by the 14th and 15th Amendments, the provision remained in the Oregon constitution until 1927.

By the 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan was particularly active in the state. Always vehemently anti-Catholic, the Klan was able to influence both attitudes and policies concerning the “dreaded papists.” In particular, the Oregon Compulsory Education Act of 1922 mandated children between the ages of 8 and 16 to attend public schools, outlawing private and parochial schools. Although non-sectarian private schools, such as military academies, were affected by the law, the legislature’s primary focus was on eliminating Catholic schools.

It took a visit to the Supreme Court, the landmark case of Pierce v. Society of Sisters, to vindicate the rights of Catholics to educate their children according to their consciences. Oregon paternalistically argued that “it takes a village” to raise a child, and thus the state’s interest in creating a homogeneous citizenry overrode parental rights. The Court unanimously disagreed and overturned the law, writing that “the fundamental theory of liberty upon which all governments in this Union repose excludes any general power of the State to standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction from public teachers only. The child is not the mere creature of the State.”

From the Founding until the 20th century, American Catholics have dealt with bigotry and small-minded opposition. That bigotry was given teeth when Protestants used the power of government to try to enforce conformity and “American values.” Surprisingly, much of this history has been forgotten.

The election of John F. Kennedy was a true watershed moment for American Catholics. A 19th-century version of Ben Carson would certainly have believed that a Catholic couldn’t even be president, given that Catholic values are fundamentally at odds with American values and that Catholics are beholden to a “foreign despot.”

Demagogues will always be there to stir up “nativist” passions, and centralizers will continue to call for uniform “American values” in our schools, our health care, and our families. America’s anti-Catholic history can teach us the limits and pitfalls of those nationalistic and centralizing tendencies.

Trevor Burrus is a research fellow in the Cato Institute’s Center for Constitutional Studies.

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The FBI’s Homemade Mobster

Gene Healy

Looking back at the last couple of hundred years of European history — on paper at least — you wouldn’t expect Italians, of all peoples, to have a major advantage over the Irish in terms of organizational acumen or systematic brutality. And yet, when it comes to organized crime in 20th-century America, the Mafia ran the table on the Irish mob, driving them all but out of business by the end of Prohibition.

Gangland historian T.J. English tells the tale in Paddy Whacked: The Untold Story of the Irish-American Gangster — a book the feds found on James “Whitey” Bulger’s shelves in his Santa Monica hideout in 2011, when they finally captured the last Irish Godfather after his 16 years on the lam. “Over the three-year period from 1931 to 1933,” English writes, “virtually every high-ranking Irish American bootlegger in the Northeastern United States was systematically eliminated, gangland-style.” As they went up against the wall, the great American genre of the mob movie was just being born, in films like “Public Enemy” and “Angels with Dirty Faces.” “The irony, of course,” English observes, is that “just as Jimmy Cagney emerged as the avatar of a new kind of street-wise Irish American style, the mobsters who inspired that style were dropping at an expeditious rate.” By the late 20th century, the old-school variety survived only in a few ethnic enclaves, like New York’s Hell’s Kitchen, or Boston’s Southie.

Adding insult to injury, the Mafia beat the Irish clans twice: once in the Prohibition-era turf wars over black markets, and again, more lastingly, in the American imagination. The Godfather, Goodfellas, and The Sopranos loom large; except for the occasional gem like 1973’s “Friends of Eddie Coyle,” the Irish Mob can’t catch a cinematic break.

That’s not for lack of rich material. The Whitey Bulger story is the most lurid, noirishly fascinating tale in mob history, one in which it’s hard to tell the gangsters from the G-men. The basic facts have been known since at least 1999, when, after 10 months of hearings, Massachusetts federal judge Mark Wolf issued a mammoth,661-page opinion outlining the devil’s bargain between the Boston FBI and its “Top Echelon Informants” Bulger and Stephen “the Rifleman” Flemmi.

But Black Mass, which opened last weekend, is the first big-screen attempt to tell the story straight. You can hardly count Martin Scorsese’s criminally overrated The Departed, a bloated, Hollywood star vehicle that’s as phony as a Shamrock Shake. The Southie mob boss of The Departed, played in scenery-chewing, self-parodic fashion by Jack Nicholson, is clearly based on Whitey, though for some reason the Bulger character takes his name from an Italian mobster, “Frank Costello,” né Francesco Castiglia, who adopted an Irish surname.

If you want to draw libertarian lessons from a mob movie, you could do worse than “Black Mass,” which shows that “gangster government” isn’t just a metaphor.”

In Goodfellas, Scorsese stuck close to his source material, the life of New York mob associate Henry Hill, to eke high drama out of lowlife hoods. In the The Departed, he mashed up the Bulger case with the sensationalist plot of the Hong Kong crime thriller “Infernal Affairs.” The result was as ridiculous as Goodfellas was realistic.

Unlike Costello in The Departed, the real Whitey Bulger didn’t sell missile parts to the Chinese. Whitey made his money by shaking down bookies and drug dealers — and, in one weird episode briefly depicted in Black Mass — “winning” the Massachusetts state lottery. “After a winning ticket was sold at his Rotary Variety Store,” Boston Globe reporters Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill explain in their 2000 book Black Mass: the True Story of an Unholy Alliance between the FBI and the Irish Mob, ”Bulger informed the $14.3 million jackpot winner that it would be in his best interests to acquire a new partner.”

And unlike Costello, the real Whitey Bulger didn’t have scads of double agents and on-call assassins honeycombed throughout state and federal law enforcement, ready to kill other cops on command. He had two FBI agents in his pocket, most of the Boston FBI office criminally compromised, and a brother, Billy, who was president of the state senate and one of the most powerful figures in Massachusetts politics. That was more than enough.

Black Mass, based on Lehr and O’Neill’s book, sticks much closer to reality. There’s far too much in the underlying story to fit into a film that runs just over two hours. So, the fair questions to ask are: (1) Is the movie good? And (2) is it reasonably accurate? On both counts, the answer is a qualified yes.

Humanizing Whitey?

It’s a qualified yes on the first count because Black Mass has problems, starting with the casting. The great mob dramas take pains to put the viewer in an actual time and place; The “Sopranos” bolstered its authenticity by picking actual Bridge and Tunnel Italians to play North Jersey mobsters. And the Godfather would have been a very different movie with — as Francis Ford Coppola apparently contemplated — Laurence Olivier as Don Corleone and Dustin Hoffman or Martin Sheen as Michael.

So you have to wonder, did Scott Cooper hang a “No Irish Need Apply” sign outside the Black Mass casting call? The leading roles went mainly to actors who’d qualify only under St. Patrick’s Day rules. In Jesse Plemons from “Breaking Bad”, they actually got a guy who’s uglier than Kevin Weeks to play the feared Bulger crew enforcer, and Plemons can’t even fake-punch convincingly. Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays Billy Bulger, is practically British royalty. Come on!

What’s more, if you want to clue the viewer into the fact that it’s Boston in the 1980s, there have to be subtler ways to go about it than having a character say, “hey, Wade Boggs is hitting pretty good.” Too much of the dialogue comes from the “tell, don’t show” school of screenwriting, as in the early exchange between Billy and Connolly: “Look at you, big FBI agent now”; Connolly: “Yeah, but I haven’t forgotten where I come from!” Later on, Billy and Connolly reminisce about working on the state senator’s first campaign, with Billy waxing melancholy: “Oh Jesus, we were just kids, now look at us.” Real people don’t talk like this.

And yet, somehow, the whole thing works. For all its faults, the film gets a lot of things right, principally the Bulger-Connolly relationship. Whitey’s chief enabler in the Boston FBI grew up around the corner from the much-admired local tough, and seems never to have lost the toxic man-crush he developed on Whitey as a kid. The Australian Joel Edgerton does an admirable job as the insecure, blustery Connolly, and Depp is nearly perfect as Whitey.

The director, Scott Cooper, has said that he wanted “to humanize Whitey Bulger,” a bizarre aspiration when you’re talking about a guy who strangled young women with his bare hands. Stranger still is Cooper’s search for what he’s called Bulger’s“tender and humorous side.” The evidence that Whitey ever had a sense of humor is sparse. The “jokes” he told were the sort designed to provoke nervous laughter. Weeks and Flemmi both testified that when they passed Tenean Beach, where Bulger had buried mob rival Paul McGonagle, Bulger liked to crack, “Drink up Paulie, the tide’s coming in.” His idea of ribbing a pal was to nickname Flemmi “Dr. Mengele,” because Flemmi “kind of enjoyed” pulling victims’ teeth out with pliers so their bodies couldn’t be identified from dental records.

Luckily, Cooper’s intentions were utterly undone by Johnny Depp’s ghoulish performance. From a distance, with his popped-collar leather jacket, Depp-as-Bulger looks a bit fey, and ’80s New Wave. In every close camera shot, however, Depp radiates menace. Throughout, he conveys what Bulger biographers Kevin Cullen and Shelley Murphy called the gangster’s “strange and complex amalgam of the depraved and the blandly conventional.” Why try to “humanize”? Sociopaths can be fascinating.

“This Thing of Ours”

If anything, though, Black Mass is too soft on the FBI. Bulger “was a small time player” Plemons’ Weeks says in the movie, “the next thing you know, he’s a damn kingpin. You know why? Because the FBI let it happen.” The verb is wrong: the FBImade it happen.

As Judge Wolf noted in 1999, “at the urging of Attorney General Robert Kennedy, in the mid-1960’s a previously reluctant FBI became committed to combatting the LCN. FBI Special Agent H. Paul Rico recruited Flemmi to serve as an asset in that effort.” Moreover, “the FBI played a pivotal role in forging a formidable, enduring partnership between Flemmi and Bulger, who had in 1975 also become an FBI informant. The FBI made Bulger and Flemmi, who were previously acquainted but not close, a perfect match.” From 1975 to 1990, in its quest to bring down the Italian mob, the Bureau became partner in crime to Bulger and Flemmi’s Winter Hill gang, frustrating state police and DEA investigations of the crew, and tipping them off to potential informants, who were promptly killed. Nor was the FBI’s corruption limited to “a few ‘bad apples,’” Wolf identified more than a dozen FBI officials who broke the law in attempts to protect their “assets.” It’s telling that when Flemmi was finally arrested in early 1995, a Boston FBI agent told him, apologetically, “This thing of ours, it is no more.”

The great libertarian economist Murray Rothbard was a fan of the mob-movie genre. But for my money, the craziest thing he ever wrote was his 1990 review of Goodfellas, which he condemned on ideological grounds for failing to romanticize the Mafia as an alternative to the state. “Organized crime is essentially anarcho-capitalist,” Rothbard explained, “a productive industry struggling to govern itself; apart from attempts to monopolize and injure competitors, it is productive and non-aggressive.”

Goodfellas, with its depiction of mobsters as “psychotic punks,” was “repellent and loathsome,” he charged. In contrast, Godfather I and II “were perfection,” because they recognized “that the Mafia, although leading a life outside the law, is, at its best, simply entrepreneurs and businessmen supplying the consumers with goods and services of which they have been unaccountably deprived by a Puritan WASP culture.”

But of the two, Goodfellas was the true-crime story, and the Godfather was the fairy tale. The grisly genuine article is tougher to romanticize. But if you want to draw libertarian lessons from a mob movie, you could do worse than “Black Mass,” which shows that “gangster government” isn’t just a metaphor.

The Irish immigrants who pioneered organized crime in America were never as organized as their successors, one reason why they lost. In another sense, though, they departed the field, having recognized early on that the biggest gang going was the government. By the 1960s, the term “Irish Mafia” had a somewhat different connotation. From the cops, to the city council, to the federal government, the upwardly mobile Irish went “legit.”

Maybe that’s what Whitey was getting at earlier this year in his handwritten reply to three high-school girls who wrote to him for a history project. “Advice is a cheap commodity,” Bulger wrote from his cell in Sumpterville, Florida, “some seek it from me about crime — I know only thing for sure — If you want to make crime pay — ‘Go to Law School.’”

Gene Healy is a vice president at the Cato Institute and author of The Cult of the Presidency: America’s Dangerous Devotion to Executive Power.

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Separating the Spiritual from the Political

Doug Bandow

Pope Francis has arrived in America after visiting Cuba. His message goes well beyond the Catholic faithful. As he declared in the recent encyclical Laudato Si’, he was addressing “every person living on this planet.”

The Pontiff’s predominant appeal is spiritual, not political. His commitment to the poor and our shared world is obvious. Most people yearn for meaning in their lives which no government can provide. More than his recent predecessors, he speaks into the lives of common people.

However, the papal visit has generated controversy because Pope Francis appears to be a man of the Left. Of course, religious imperatives may have political implications. For instance, Christian Scripture and church tradition require concern for the poor and environment. But God mandated no specific solutions. There is no “Christian” answer to the many social ills. Instead, in addressing human challenges the Apostle James tells us to use the wisdom which God provides.

Unfortunately, the Holy Father sometimes blurs the line between the spiritual and the political. Indeed, at times Laudato Si’ sounds like a policy paper published by the Democratic National Committee. The Pope overestimates the wisdom and efficacy of politics while minimizing the power and virtue of markets.

Consider environmental issues, of great concern to Pope Francis, who spoke of an “ecological spirituality” in Laudato Si’. Stewardship is an important Christian responsibility. However, the relationship between humans and the world around them always has been complex. Contrary to common myth, people in early societies, like those living in developing nations today, often treated “the environment” with greater carelessness, even hostility, than do residents of advanced industrial societies.

The Pope overestimates the wisdom and efficacy of politics while minimizing the power and virtue of markets.”

The pontiff also assumes the worst regarding the environment. He earlier warned: “The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.” Yet this is not the world in which most Americans live. Much of the environmental news actually is quite good. For instance, air and water generally are cleaner than they were even a few years ago. An issue of great interest to the Catholic Church is the slowdown in population growth, which essentially destroyed any case for coercive population controls.

Important environmental problems remain, of course. However, capitalism helps answer even the toughest questions. For instance, greater economic development and innovation provide the means to solve often complex problems. Rich countries use energy more efficiently and deploy more sophisticated environmental technologies. Enforceable property rights hold landowners accountable for their actions, encouraging improved stewardship.

Markets also promote efficient trade-offs, highlighting the benefits and costs of alternative policies. In Laudato Si’ the Pontiff appeared to suggest the common good yields only one correct environmental standard. He doubted the legitimacy of opposing views, complaining of “obstructionist attitudes, even on the part of believers, [which] can range from denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation or blind confidence in technical solutions.” However, facts are not a matter of faith. Elsewhere in the encyclical the Pope acknowledged “that honest debate must be encouraged among experts, while respecting divergent views.” The consensus that the climate is warming does not extend to how much and how fast temperatures are likely to rise, as well as how great the likely social impact and how best to cope with those effects. Even when the objective is clear, such as addressing climate change, there typically are multiple means of achieving any particular end.

If, for instance, one believes temperatures are rising and the consequences will be serious, there still are many possible solutions. One is mitigation, a highly costly attempt to lower temperature by cutting energy use. Another is counteracting the impact indirectly, such as planting trees and promoting technological transformations. A third strategy is adaptation, a much less expensive policy of adjusting to specific problems. Which is best is a matter of man’s wisdom rather than God’s commandment. Markets typically are better than governments even in protecting “future generations,” in which politicians have little interest since the former do not vote.

When markets do not operate and property rights do not exist, some government action is necessary to ensure environmental protection. Nevertheless, policymakers must recognize the inherent infirmities of politics. There is no guarantee that increasing the power of parliaments, bureaucracies, and courts will solve environmental or other social problems. Yet the Pope in Laudato Si’ largely ignored the government’s own woeful environmental record. In fact, politics inevitably reflects government’s and humanity’s imitations. Not everyone who claims to represent the common good does so; politicians and environmentalists are no more virtuous than businessmen and conservatives. Moreover, as Public Choice economists observed long ago, organized special interest groups which receive concentrated benefits from government policies tend to organize and defeat the disinterested, distracted public.

Yet the Holy Father used the encyclical to advocate not just more government, but moreglobal government. The farther regulatory bureaucracies are from the people, the less accountable the former will be, especially to the poor and dispossessed.  The more power invested in those who are unaccountable, the greater and more malign the ultimate impact of human sin.

Perhaps the most important trade-off ignored by the Pope is the importance of the free economy in providing wealth and opportunity—which improves the chance of living a fulfilling life—for the poor and disadvantaged. Pope Francis has spoken of the dignity of work and its importance for all. Yet the best jobs, those with good working conditions and higher pay delivering greater satisfaction are most likely to proliferate in competitive and innovative economies. These systems are threatened by politicians who meddle and manipulate. The more expensive and extensive the controls, the fewer and less remunerative the jobs.

Thus, while the pontiff’s moral judgments deserve respect, his economic opinions warrant less consideration. His formative economic experience came in Argentina, a statist kleptocracy which enshrined injustice. Very different is the U.S., which, though highly imperfect, possesses generally open and competitive markets. The principal lesson from Argentina and similar systems is the importance of avoiding political restrictions on the economy.

Economic liberty, that is, freedom to work, invest, trade, and create is an outgrowth of the wondrous creativity with which God has infused mankind. How to practice that creativity, however, requires guidance from the Pontiff as well as other moral and spiritual leaders rather than the dictates of politicians and bureaucrats in Washington.

Indeed, America’s economic system must not be exempt from moral judgment. Government privileges are unjust, yielding unfair income distributions. The opportunity to consume does not mean that one should consume. Although resource depletion is largely a myth, things can become yet another idol.

The Holy Father helpfully reminds us that God calls his children to far more than economic growth. In Laudato Si’ the Pope observed that “the emptier a person’s heart is, the more he or she needs things to buy, own and consume.” Neither politicians nor businessmen can fill that void.

Pope Francis deserves a warm welcome in the U.S. He is an important moral and spiritual leader who speaks to people’s deepest human needs. However, Americans should respond more skeptically when he moves from spiritual to political matters. His status as the Vicar of Christ gives him no special qualification as a political pundit.

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and a member of the Advisory Board of the Acton Institute.

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The Pope and Poverty

Michael D. Tanner

Pope Francis has come to the United States, bringing with him more criticism of capitalism than a Bernie Sanders rally. He speaks with eloquence, fervor, and great moral standing. He is also wrong.

The pope’s emphasis on the needs of the poor is important, especially in today’s politics, where poverty is often a public-policy sideline. But in calling attention to the problem, he fails to understand that free-market capitalism is not a cause of poverty, but a solution.

To see an example, the pope need look no further than his native Argentina. In 1980, less than 1 percent of Argentinians lived in extreme poverty (that is, on less than $2 a day), while in neighboring Chile, the extreme-poverty rate exceeded 15 percent. Today, while the proportion of Argentinians living in extreme poverty has risen slightly, to nearly 3 percent, Chile has seen the most dramatic reduction in poverty in Latin America. Fewer than 2 percent of Chileans now live in extreme poverty.

Pope Francis is right to call attention to poverty, but socialism is not the solution.”

Overall economic growth tells a similar tale. After accounting for purchasing-power parity, per capita GDP was 12 percent higher in Argentina than in Chile in 1980. Today, Chile’s per capita GDP is 16 percent higher than Argentina’s.

What accounts for the difference? Following the fall of Salvador Allende, Chile embraced free-market capitalism. And while the initial economic gains were tainted by the country’s brutal dictatorship under General Pinochet, they have largely continued through the democratic governments that replaced the military regime. The transformation has included everything from free trade to lower taxes, from denationalization of state-owned businesses to the privatization of social security. According to the latest Economic Freedom of the World report, Chile’s economy is now the 13th-freest in the world — freer, in fact, than the United States’ economy.

Meanwhile, Argentina’s economy has remained firmly mired in government control under a succession of presidents. The Economic Freedom report ranked Argentina a disappointing 151st. And Argentinians are suffering the consequences.

The reality is that free-market capitalism has done more to help the poor than any other force in history. Consider that in the last 20 years, as much of the world has embraced free markets, more than a billion people have been lifted out of poverty, while the number of people worldwide living on less than $2 per day has been cut in half. In China alone, even the partial adoption of a market-oriented economy has saved more than 650 million people from poverty. Almost 84 percent of Chinese lived in extreme poverty in 1987. Today, less than 20 percent do.

In sub-Saharan Africa, GDP per capita has more than tripled since 2000. In India, a 90 percent decline in hunger began when the government scrapped much of its socialist regulatory regime and introduced free-market reforms, starting in 1991.

Throughout most of human history, most of mankind lived in truly abject poverty. Indeed, even the richest and most powerful lacked the goods and services that are within reach of all but the poorest today. But as Charles Murray points out, “everywhere that capitalism … took hold, national wealth began to increase and poverty began to fall. Everywhere that capitalism didn’t take hold, people remained impoverished. Everywhere that capitalism has been rejected since then, poverty has increased.” Once more, witness Venezuela.

Or as Bono, hardly a right-wing icon, explains, “Capitalism takes more people out of poverty than aid.”

Pope Francis is right to remind us of our obligation to help the poor and less fortunate. But the pope, who admits that he is not an economist, misunderstands the transformative power of free markets. And given the remarkable compassion that this pope has shown on so many subjects, it would be a bitter irony indeed if his ill-informed critique of capitalism condemned more people to a life of poverty.

Michael Tanner is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and the author of Going for Broke: Deficits, Debt, and the Entitlement Crisis.