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How to Rescue Free Speech in American Academia

Nat Hentoff

In last week’s column, I described how the national anti-free speech movement poses an imminent threat to freedom of expression in American academia.

Those advocating for the anti-free speech movement attempt to interpret the “language of free speech” to their advantage so that it applies only to them, but not to others. Their analysis often cites Title IX’s antidiscrimination provisions and accuses free speech advocates of using “weaponized words” to silence anti-racism protestors, but invariably ignores the long history of court decisions that have repeatedly applied First Amendment protections to offensive speech at public universities.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has had tremendous success with its Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project, which its website describes as “a national effort to eliminate unconstitutional speech codes through targeted First Amendment lawsuits.”

The Los Angeles Times described FIRE’s work as “the first-ever coordinated legal attack on free speech restrictions in higher education.”

While the Supreme Court’s decisions interpreting the First Amendment apply only to public universities, it is vital that we also protect the core values of freedom of expression at private colleges. How can this be accomplished?

One solution whose time may have come is for Congress to pass legislation that withholds federal funding and tax exemptions from private universities that fail to adopt freedom of expression standards consistent with the U.S. Constitution.

Another option would be to rely on what Supreme Court Justice William Brennan called “the independent protective force of state law.” The high court has held that states may provide greater protections for free speech in their own constitutions, statutes and common law than those found in the U.S. Constitution.

Indeed, a number of state supreme courts have ruled that free speech provisions in their own constitutions have more expansive protections than the U.S. Constitution. In some cases, the state supreme courts have applied those free speech provisions to expressive activity that occurs on private property.

In 1992, California adopted Leonard Law — the only one of its kind in the country — which applied the same free speech protections to high schools and private colleges as those that apply to the community as a whole under the U.S. Constitution. Free speech advocacy groups should consider launching a coordinated national public policy campaign to pass a Leonard Law in each state.

Some state supreme courts, such as Connecticut’s, have allowed students and faculty at private universities, like Yale, to use breach of contract lawsuits to enforce promises found in promotional materials, official policies, handbooks and regulations.

For example, Yale’s website informs current and prospective students “that when you agree to matriculate, you join a community where ‘the provocative, the disturbing, and the unorthodox’ must be tolerated.”

According to the school’s undergraduate regulations, which students are required to comply with as a condition of enrollment, “every member of the University has an obligation to permit free expression,” and that “no member has a right to prevent such expression.”

The undergraduate regulations also acknowledge that “every official of the university … has a special obligation to foster free expression and to ensure that it is not obstructed,” further warning that “this obligation can and should be enforced by appropriate formal sanctions.”

To its credit, Yale reaffirmed its freedom of expression policy earlier this month when it refused student demands to remove professors Erika and Nicholas Christakis from their administrative positions after Erika sent an email defending free speech rights and informing students that they should be able to tolerate offensive Halloween costumes.

But in 2009, Yale College Dean Mary Miller banned the sale of a T-shirt inspired by the school’s football rivalry with Harvard after receiving complaints that its design included a homophobic slur attributed to an F. Scott Fitzgerald quotation: “I think of all Harvard men as sissies.”

Apparently, Miller felt that the offense brought on by the word “sissy” — an archaic gender-neutral noun synonymous with weakness — superseded the offending students’ rights to freedom of expression. Either Miller hadn’t read Yale’s freedom of expression policy, didn’t understand the policy or simply ignored it.

In a recent Wall Street Journal column, L. Gordon Crovitz cited the University of Chicago’s adoption of a similar policy on freedom of expression, which was drafted by a committee formed “in light of recent events nationwide that have tested institutional commitments to free and open discourse.”

Crovitz explained, “Purdue and the Princeton faculty have voted to adopt the Chicago principles,” noting that FIRE “is encouraging other universities to sign up.”

In any event, one thing is clear: University administrators, students and free speech advocates must be prepared to aggressively and consistently enforce all available legal and administrative remedies to protect free speech on campus before it’s too late, and there is no longer any free speech left to protect.

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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The Supreme Court Should Hurry Up And Wait on Immigration

Ilya Shapiro and Josh Blackman

On Friday, less than two weeks after a federal appellate court affirmed the injunction against President Obama’s executive action on immigration, the administration asked the Supreme Court to give the case “immediate review.” Despite the administration’s desperate plea to resolve the case as soon as possible—to allow a policy whose general thrust we agree with to proceed—the justices need not rush what could become a landmark separation-of-powers case.

Let’s recall how we got here. On November 20, 2014, exactly a year before the government’s latest filing, President Obama announced Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA). This policy purports to rely on “prosecutorial discretion” not just to prioritize the deportation of felons over families—nobody challenges that authority—but to systematically convey deferred status to millions of aliens in a formal way that grants work authorization and other benefits. Texas and 25 other states filed suit, and Judge Andrew Hanen temporarily enjoined DAPA in February. DHS simply had not gone through the proper notice-and-comment procedures for changing its rules.

After nearly a month of dithering, the Justice Department finally filed for an “emergency” lift of the injunction pending appeal, which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit denied in May. Then, after considering the merits of the case, the Fifth Circuit released its divided 130-page ruling on November 9—affirming the district court’s procedural holding and also adding that DAPA went beyond the broad discretion that immigration laws grant the executive branch.

It is this last ruling the government now appeals, with urgency. “The great and immediate significance of the Secretary’s Guidance, the irreparable injury to the many families affected by delay in its implementation, and the broad importance of the questions presented, counsel strongly in favor of certiorari now,” wrote Solicitor General Don Verrilli in his filing.

The Obama administration wants to push the Supreme Court into a landmark separation-of-powers decision over its immigration overreach.”

The Clock Is Ticking

The Supreme Court will almost certainly agree to hear the case—it does so whenever courts block an important federal law or executive action—so the only question is when. This isn’t some parlor game for legal junkies: If the court doesn’t put the case on its docket by the end of January, then it likely won’t be decided before next November’s elections.

It would also mean the next president could rescind or otherwise change DAPA in a way that moots the case. In keeping with the modus operandi of the Roberts court, the justices can simply decide not to decide yet—with some hope that this turns out to be a decision not to decide ever.

While the importance of this timing question goes beyond the curiosity of Supreme Court-watchers, the process that will determine the answer is arcane. Historically, a cert petition needs to be granted by the end of January to be heard during the same term—with a ruling by late June—rather than being pushed to the following fall. There are three key steps ahead of that unofficial deadline: (1) the federal government’s petition; (2) Texas’s brief in opposition; and (3) the Supreme Court’s conference when the justices vote to hear the case.

The solicitor general started the clock when he filed his petition, formally asking the high court to review the adverse lower-court ruling. Texas has 30 days to file its response, which will argue that the Supreme Court should decline the appeal (because it’s only at the preliminary-injunction stage and there’s no circuit split). That puts us into the week before Christmas, well in time for conferencing in January and argument in April—as happened last term with the late-arriving same-sex marriage cases.

Texas and Scalia Could Run Down the Clock

But under the Court’s rules, parties opposing certiorari can request an additional 30 days to file their brief. Indeed, just Monday Texas asked for such an extension, citing a long list of impending oral arguments and filing deadlines, in the Supreme Court and elsewhere.

This extension would push the states’ filing deadline to January 20—past that month’s final conference—meaning the case would be “conferenced” on February 19 and, if granted, argued in October. (The court could always set a special argument in May—barely a month before it would have to announce its blockbuster ruling—but it has only created such a late-spring sitting three extraordinary times in the last 25 years, and never for petitions that simply fell on the wrong side of the January-February conference line.)

The Supreme Court clerk grants these common requests, which are rarely opposed, as a matter of course; our research assistant couldn’t find a single denial going back more than 500 docket entries. Yet the solicitor general has opposed granting Texas an extension—which means that the clerk is likely to refer the request to the justice responsible for administrative requests from the Fifth Circuit (Justice Scalia), who may in turn refer it to the full court.

The import of this step for the government’s top advocate—institutionally known as the “tenth justice”—is to make the court decide DAPA’s legality while President Obama is still in office. But this sudden urgency is suspect because the government wasn’t always in such a hurry, as Texas noted in its request letter. “If petitioners’ opposition stems from concern about short-term consequences of the district court’s preliminary injunction, petitioners could have sought a stay pending appeal.”

That is, in addition to the inexplicable delay in appealing Judge Hanen’s initial ruling, the administration didn’t seek Supreme Court review of the Fifth Circuit’s initial ruling—or even a stay of the sort that’s granted when, say, the legality of a voting law is in doubt close to an election. In a decision its supporters widely criticized, the White House opted instead to wait for the Fifth Circuit to consider the merits. That move sent a clear signal: this case is important, but not dire.

If indeed time were of the essence, as the government’s petition now insists, the solicitor general should have gone directly to the Supreme Court in May. Had he done so and prevailed on an emergency motion—perhaps after a hearing as early as June—the administration could have resumed preparations to roll out the program in the event of an “inevitable” court victory. By failing to do so, DAPA implementation is on hold. (But note that, as Texas reiterates, “the preliminary injunction does not require the Executive to remove any alien, and it does not impair the Executive’s ability to set priorities for determining which unauthorized aliens to remove.”)

This Case Is Too Important to Rush

When the Supreme Court has to rush to issue a landmark separation-of-powers decision, the decisions are often fractured and divided, as the justices lack sufficient time to coalesce around a single reasoning. This case may set a precedent that will shape the scope of executive power and prosecutorial discretion for decades to come. There is no reason for the court to cram the case into eight weeks in late spring.

More practically, DAPA can’t possibly be implemented in the waning days of the Obama presidency, so even a government victory in June would only set up the question of whether the next president follows through on the policy. President Obama no doubt recognizes this dynamic and would welcome a campaign cudgel: “The Supreme Court upheld my program, but I can’t implement it in time, so vote for Hillary.”

That cynical calculus is all the more reason for the Supreme Court not to scramble to decide this case. We will know as early as November 8, 2016, whether a Republican president will rescind DAPA or a Democratic one will extend it. If it’s the latter, the Supreme Court can hear the case and—we argue—find that it is unlawful. But if it’s the former, the justices can simply take the case off their plates and avoid the need to resolve a major challenge to our constitutional structure.

Unlike laws, which stay on the books regardless of who is elected, there’s a 50/50 chance that President Obama’s unilateral action will be reversed after January 20, 2017. The Supreme Court should invalidate DAPA—but only if and when it has to.

Ilya Shapiro is a senior fellow in constitutional studies at the Cato Institute. Josh Blackman is a constitutional law professor at the South Texas College of Law in Houston. They’ve been filing briefs on behalf of Cato and other supporters of comprehensive immigration reform who also believe that only Congress can change laws.

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A Sober Look at the West’s Kurdish Allies

Ted Galen Carpenter

One of the few apparent successes in the wreckage that has characterized the US-led policies in Iraq and Syria has been the role of the Kurds. The emergence of what seemed to be a prosperous, democratic Kurdish region in northern Iraq was its principal bright spot. Moreover, the Kurds have proven to be extremely capable fighters. The ability of Kurdish forces, the Peshmerga, to defend territory from ferocious ISIS military assaults, and even inflict significant defeats on the Islamist insurgents, has increased the ranks of Western, especially American, admirers. The Peshmerga’s tenacious resistance, despite having to rely on antiquated military hardware, has stood in stark contrast to the pitiful performance of the well-equipped, US-trained Iraqi army that ignobly fled encounters with ISIS and relinquished control of major urban centers, such as Mosul and Ramadi, with scarcely a fight.

Although the successes of Iraqi Kurdish forces have received the most attention, their Syrian colleagues have been nearly as successful. Their victory over ISIS in the city of Kobani near the Turkish border was only the most prominent of those triumphs. Kurdish units have gained control over significant swaths of territory elsewhere in northern Syria.

The Obama administration has begun to step up direct military assistance to the Peshmerga. This became quite apparent when the United States provided massive air cover to the Kurdish units that recently expelled ISIS from the city of Sinjar in northern Iraq. That victory threatens important ISIS supply lines between territories it controls in Syria and areas it occupies in Iraq.

Kurdistan has acquired a growing roster of advocates in the United States. Indeed, some opinion leaders have urged Washington to downgrade its support of the Baghdad government and place greater reliance on relations with Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. A few outspoken supporters even regard Kurdistan as second only to Israel as a reliable, democratic US ally in the Middle East – a view encouraged by influential Israelis.

A more sober view is needed. The Kurds are indeed capable fighters, and they are vehement opponents of ISIS and other manifestations of Islamic extremism. However, both the Iraqi Kurds and their Syrian counterparts have their own political agendas. And those agendas inevitably cause problems for the Baghdad government and for Turkey, a key member of NATO.

Although Kurdish forces may be useful military allies against ISIS, Western leaders need to go into any alliance with their eyes wide open.”

The notion that Iraqi Kurdistan is merely a semi-autonomous region within a united Iraq is little more than a convenient, and increasingly implausible, diplomatic fiction. The reality is that Kurdistan is an independent state in everything but name, with its own military force (the Peshmerga), its own flag, and its own currency. The Kurdistan regional government (KRG) in Erbil increasingly bypasses the central government to strike lucrative deals with foreign corporations, especially to sell oil on the international market – often over Baghdad’s explicit objections.

It was a revealing development when the forces that liberated Sinjar all flew the Kurdish flag. The Iraqi national flag was nowhere to be seen. The same display of Kurdish separatism was evident during the earlier victory of Syrian Kurdish forces in Kobani. The reality is that Kurdish leaders have no enthusiasm for or loyalty to the Iraqi and Syrian states. Despite sometimes intense internal bickering (especially among Syrian Kurds), their overarching goal is the creation of a Greater Kurdistan. That entity would encompass not only the majority Kurdish regions in Iraq and Syria, but a major portion of southeastern Turkey as well.

Turkey is especially nervous about Kurdish military successes. Ankara regards Iraqi Kurdistan as the probable embryo of a Greater Kurdistan that would eventually seek to incorporate Turkey’s own restless Kurdish minority. The KRG’s apparent willingness to provide safe havens to armed insurgents of Turkey’s Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has launched numerous attacks into Turkey, further angers the Turkish government and has led Ankara’s troops to conduct repeated punitive expeditions inside Iraqi Kurdistan.

Turkish leaders appear to be drawing a firm line against further manifestations of Kurdish separatism, especially in Syria President Erdo?an has stated explicitly that his government will not allow the emergence of a de facto independent Kurdish region in northern Syria akin to Iraqi Kurdistan. That is not surprising. Erdo?an and his colleagues fear that Iraqi Kurdistan and Kurdish-controlled areas in Syria would eventually link up to create an extensive, hostile presence along Turkey’s southern border. Moreover, the principal Syrian Kurdish faction, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), and its armed contingent, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), appear to have even closer ties to the Marxist PKK inside Turkey than the KRG. Expanded Kurdish power, therefore, is seen as a dire menace to Turkey’s sovereignty and unity.

If that factor is not enough to induce caution on the part of Western policymakers, recent developments have also cast doubt on the narrative of Iraq Kurdistan as a stable, prosperous, democratic entity. The Erbil government has faced increasing financial woes over the past year, especially with the plunge in global oil prices, which has greatly eroded the KRG’s principal source of revenue. That problem is exacerbated by blatant cronyism and corruption.

As Kurdistan’s economic success story has faded, so too has the region’s reputation as a bastion of democracy. Human Rights Watch slammed the government’s recent behavior, especially that of the dominant political party, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) headed by Masoud Barzani, who has been the President of the KRG since 2005. Joe Stark, Deputy Middle East Director for Human Rights Watch, is especially caustic. “The KDP claims to be rights–respecting,” he notes, but it “has a history of shutting down critical voices.”

The political trend is not encouraging. Barzani has remained in office despite the expiration of his legal mandate. Worse, his government has engineered a crackdown on the two opposition parties, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and Goran (“Change”). The culmination occurred in late October when the KDP unilaterally removed four opposition ministers from their government posts and replaced them with KDP loyalists. At the height of the controversy, KDP-controlled security forces even prevented the speaker of the regional parliament from returning to Erbil. Those forces also closed down two television channels, including one controlled by Goran, which had been critical of Barzani. Much to the dismay of Kurdistan’s Western supporters, the KRG increasingly looks like a Putin-style, illiberal democracy riddled with cronyism and corruption.

Although Kurdish forces may be useful military allies against ISIS, Western leaders need to go into any alliance with their eyes wide open. Cooperating with the Kurds entails a number of troubling outcomes that directly contradict other official US and NATO goals. Those objectives include preserving the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Iraq and Syria and not supporting measures that cause problems for a fellow NATO member, Turkey. Western leaders face some difficult and potentially risky choices.

Ted Galen Carpenter is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.

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Start-Up Nation: Israel’s Market Reforms

Daniel J. Mitchell

Since I’m a big fan of the Laffer Curve, I’m always interested in real-world examples showing good results when governments reduce marginal tax rates on productive activity.

Heck, I’m equally interested in real-world results when governments do the wrong thing and increase tax burdens on work, saving, investment, and entrepreneurship (and, sadly, these examples are more common).

My goal, to be sure, isn’t to maximize revenue for politicians. Instead, I prefer the growth-maximizing point on the Laffer Curve.

It seems that Israel’s tax cuts under Prime Minister Netanyahu provide a real world example of how to increase investment and wealth.”

In any event, my modest hope is that politicians will learn that higher tax rates lead to less taxable income. Whether taxable income falls by a lot or a little obviously depends on the specific circumstance. But in either case, I want policy makers to understand that there are negative economic effects.

Writing for Forbes, Jeremy Scott of Tax Notes analyzes the supply-side policies of Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Netanyahu… argued that the Laffer curve worked, and that his 2003 tax cuts had transformed Israel into a market economy and an engine of growth… . He pushed through controversial reforms… The top individual tax rate was cut from 64 percent to 44 percent, while corporate taxes were slashed from 36 percent to 18 percent.

“… Netanyahu credits these reforms for making Israel’s high-tech boom of the last few years possible… . tax receipts did rise after Netanyahu’s tax cuts. In fact, they were sharply higher in 2007 than in 2003, before falling for several years because of the global recession… . His tax cuts did pay for themselves. And he has transformed Israel into more of a market economy… In fact, the prime minister recently announced plans for more cuts to taxes, this time to the VAT and corporate levies.”

Pretty impressive.

Though I have to say that rising revenues doesn’t necessarily mean that the tax cuts were completely self-financing. To answer that question, you have to know what would have happened in the absence of the tax cut. And since that information never will be available, all we can do is speculate.

That being said, I have no doubt there was a strong Laffer Curve response in Israel. Simply stated, dropping the top tax rate on personal income by 20 percentage points creates a much more conducive environment for investment and entrepreneurship.

And cutting the corporate tax rate in half is also a sure-fire recipe for improved investment and job creation.

I’m also impressed that there’s been some progress on the spending side of the fiscal ledger.

“Netanyahu explained that the public sector had become a fat man resting on a thin man’s back. If Israel were to be successful, it would have to reverse the roles. The private sector would need to become the fat man, something that would be possible only with tax cuts and a trimming of public spending… . Government spending was capped for three years.”

The article doesn’t specify the years during which spending was capped, but the IMF data shows a de facto spending freeze between 2002 and 2005. And the same data, along with OECD data, shows that the burden of government spending has dropped by about 10 percentage points of GDP since that period of spending restraint early last decade.

Here’s the big picture from the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World. As you can see from the data on Israel, the nation moved dramatically in the right direction after 1980. And there’s also been an upward bump in recent years.


Since I’m not an expert on Israeli economic policy, I don’t know the degree to which Netanyahu deserves a lot of credit or a little credit, but it’s good to see a country actually moving in the right direction.

Let’s close by touching on two other points. First, there was one passage in the Forbes column that rubbed me the wrong way. Mr. Scott claimed that Netanyahu’s tax cuts worked and Reagan’s didn’t.

“Netanyahu might have succeeded where President Reagan failed.”

I think this is completely wrong. While it’s possible that the tax cuts in Israel has a bigger Laffer-Curve effect than the tax cuts in the United States, the IRS data clearly shows that Reagan’s lower tax rates led to more revenue from the rich.

Second, the U.S. phased out economic aid to Israel last decade. I suspect that step helped encourage better economic policy since Israeli policy makers knew that American taxpayers no longer would subsidize statism. Maybe, just maybe, there’s a lesson there for other nations?

Daniel Mitchell a long standing contributor to The Commentator, is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute, the free-market, Washington D.C. think tank.

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Does Climate Change Actually Fuel Terrorism?

Patrick J. Michaels and Christopher A. Preble

It is customary for politicians to say that we are beset by dangers, and that they alone are what stands between voters and certain doom, but Bernie Sanders’ November 14 claim that “climate change is directly related to the growth of terrorism” is certainly a twofer — hitting two things that people seem most worried about. But is it correct?

No. On its face, it’s absurd. Global surface temperature has risen about 0.8°C in the last 125 years. The surface temperature you experience will rise, on average, that much if you drive 150 miles south. Raleigh, North Carolina, does not typically send terrorists to Washington.

But wait. Sanders could point to a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) last year that connected global warming to the mess in Syria.

Here’s how it supposedly works. Subtropical regions around the planet are dominated by warm and dry high pressure systems, which is why there is so much desert about twenty degrees north of the equator. Computer models say that these systems should become even stronger with planetary warming, so that should increase drought. And, indeed, there’s been a tendency for below normal rainfall in Syria in recent years.

Never mind that Syria has a history of horrifically bad water management policies, or that the number of people there has tripled in the past 35 years. Which creates more water scarcity problems — 10 percent less rain, or 300 percent more people consuming it?

Politicians are quite adept at identifying a dizzying array of possible threats. But they are lousy at putting those threats in perspective.”

The climate models found no statistically significant rise in surface barometric pressure in the region. Further, the climate models actually predict rainfall changes as well as surface pressure. The precipitation changes in the Middle East are highly correlated with various patterns of temperature over the world’s oceans. The computer models couldn’t properly reproduce those, and only simulated rainfall declines when the right oceanic temperatures were fed into the computer beforehand. In college, putting down the known-to-be-correct answer in a laboratory experiment is called fudging. The Syrian rainfall was fudged.

We can’t expect Sanders, or any of the myriad politicians trying to tie global warming to the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria to know these details.

In reality, the rise of ISIS can largely be traced to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. ISIS’s predecessor was Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), a group of Sunni extremists that rose up to fight U.S. forces and that eventually broke from core al-Qaeda because their tactics, especially towards other Muslims, were too brutal. After taking advantage of the power vacuum provided by the civil war just over the border in Syria, AQI morphed into ISIS.

Faced with a political and pundit class that exaggerates the ramifications of climate change and inflates the threat of terrorism, Americans should be aware of H.L. Mencken’s famous epigram that “the whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.”

We are not living in the most dangerous time in human history, or even in our lifetimes. There are dangers in the world; there always have been, and there always will be. Politicians are quite adept at identifying a dizzying array of possible threats. But they are lousy at putting those threats in perspective.

Your likelihood of being killed by terrorists if you live in United States is about one in 4 million. You’re more likely to drown in your bathtub, or be killed by falling furniture, than you are to be killed by a terrorist, even the new and scary ISIS ones.

But it’s actually worse than just exaggerating threats. Politicians also repeatedly misdiagnose the problem, proposing remedies that are often worse than the problems they purport to solve.

Our specific responses to terrorism since 9/11, for example, have proved many times more costly than the attacks themselves. The litany of costly and counterproductive measures that politicians have visited on the American people, and the world, ostensibly on the grounds of preventing future terrorism attacks, include the Iraq war, and the prolonging of the mission in Afghanistan, long after al Qaeda had been driven from its safe havens there. None of the advocates for these policies can actually prove that any of them have reduced the risk of terrorism.

Similarly, the proposals being floated for next month’s UN climate conference will certainly cost a lot of money, but the advocates cannot prove that any one of them will have a meaningful effect on climate.

Spending money like that impedes our ability to address things that actually threaten us today, or might in the future. They reduce our ability to adapt, by diverting resources away from economically viable energy sources to uneconomical ones. Whereas wars kill and maim people today, measures to slow or halt the use of fossil fuels threaten to trap the poorest people in the world in their present desperate state for many years to come. Sensible policies would allow the poorest of the poor to use all the tools and technology that humanity has perfected over the years, and to allow them to achieve a level of income security and well-being that the rest of the world has enjoyed for decades.

You’d think Bernie Sanders would know this. We can’t expect him to be conversant with the gory details in climate models — but common decency requires that he not exploit public fears in order to further his political agenda.

Patrick Michaels is director of the Center for the Study of Science at the Cato Institute. Christopher Preble is vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute.

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Does NATO Require America to Go to War over the Paris Attacks?

Christopher A. Preble

In the immediate aftermath of last week’s tragic attacks in Paris, several commentators suggested that NATO should invoke Article 5, treat the attacks on France as the functional equivalent of an attack on all 28 member nations, and immediately prepare military action. Retired Navy Adm. and Former NATO Supreme Commander James Stavridis explained that “NATO can no longer pretend the conflict does not affect its most basic interests,” and urged the alliance “to defeat the Islamic state in Syria and destroy the infrastructure it has created there.”

NATO historian Stanley Sloan is skeptical. He notes that France is jealous of its sovereignty, and therefore not particularly enthusiastic about a NATO-led mission, given that such a mission “would likely be dominated by the United States.” NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander (SACEUR), recall, “is, and always has been, American.” “French President Francois Hollande,” Sloan predicts, “most certainly would like U.S. and allied support and cooperation but also would like to be seen as taking strong national action, not just as a member of a NATO operation.”

Perhaps the terrible events in Paris will prompt Congress to finally do its job?”

The suggestion that NATO should invoke Article 5 after the terrorist attacks in Paris is curious in several other respects. Although NATO countries did invoke Article 5 after 9/11, they did not do so after the 7/7 attacks in London or the attacks in Madrid in March 2004, nor, for that matter, after numerous IRA bombings in the UK in the 1970s, or the Libyan-sponsored bombings in Berlin in 1986. In that last case, a number of countries, including France, did not support the use of force against Libya in retaliation. U.S. jets launched from Great Britain were required to fly around French airspace to carry out their strikes.

Others have suggested that the attacks require a response, and that the North Atlantic Treaty explicitly empowers the President of the United States to circumvent Congress, and thus avoid a messy public debate. At the Washington Post online, Ilya Somin claimed that the Paris attacks gave “the Obama administration an opportunity to legalize its previously unconstitutional war against ISIS.” And that Article 5 “gives him the same authority to use force as he would have in the event of an attack on the United States itself.”

But NATO members who do invoke Article 5 are not obligated to carry out an armed response. The precise form of support for an ally attacked is solely at the discretion of each member state, and, as noted by international legal scholar Julian Ku, “Article 9 of the North Atlantic Treaty states that “[t]his Treaty shall be ratified and its provisions carried out by the Parties in accordance with their respective constitutional processes.” (emphasis added).”

This would appear to contradict Somin’s claim that Article 5 was meant to circumvent each member countries’ established legislative processes.

Given that NATO’s Article 5 does not obligate the United States to wage war on France’s behalf, Congress should debate whether that is the best course of action. A declaration of war, or, at a minimum, a renewal or replacement of the 2001 AUMF, would be needed to prosecute such a war. Such a debate is in fact long overdue, as Sen. Tim Kaine noted at the Cato Institute in August. Perhaps the terrible events in Paris will prompt Congress to finally do its job?

Christopher Preble is vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute.

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Economic Lessons from Europe

Michael D. Tanner

It has become common wisdom on the Left that the United States needs to be more like Europe. Democratic candidates like Hillary Clinton and, especially, Bernie Sanders can hardly contain their enthusiasm for the European model of the modern social welfare state. As Sanders puts it, “I think we should look to countries like Denmark, like Sweden and Norway, and learn from what they have accomplished for their working people.”

Obviously, this ignores Europe’s many problems — staggering debt, slow economic growth, high unemployment — but maybe Sanders et al. are onto something. Maybe there are some things we could learn from Europe.

For example, we could well benefit from adopting a Swiss-style “debt break.” By law, the Swiss government cannot run a budget deficit over an economic cycle. This is not, strictly speaking, a requirement for an annual balanced budget, but rather it limits the growth in government spending to no more than the average of revenue increases over a multiyear period, after adjusting for the cyclical position of the economy (as calculated by Switzerland’s Federal Department of Finance). This allows the government to smooth budgets during economic slowdowns, when revenues decline and expenditures rise, but prevents ongoing deficit spending. Nor can the Swiss easily raise federal taxes to finance more spending. Maximum tax rates at the national level — an 11.5 percent income tax, an 8 percent value-added tax, and an 8.5 percent corporate tax — are set by the constitution. They can be raised only through a referendum, in which the proposed increase would have to win both a majority of the national vote and a majority of the vote in more than half the Swiss cantons. The equivalent in the United States would be that every tax hike had to be approved by a majority of all American voters and a majority of voters in at least 26 states.

Europe has plenty to teach us. But it’s not what Bernie and Hillary think.”

Speaking of taxes, perhaps we should emulate European business taxes. Every country in Europe has a lower corporate tax rate than the United States. Our current corporate rate is 39 percent. In contrast, the highest corporate rate in Europe is 34.43 percent, in France. In Bernie Sanders’s beloved Denmark, it is just 23.5 percent. On average, the EU corporate rate is just 22.8 percent. Much of Europe also has lower capital-gains taxes than we do. It’s an article of faith among liberals that we need to raise taxes on capital and investment. But Belgium, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Slovenia, and Switzerland have no capital-gains tax at all. (Overall taxes in Europe are higher than in the United States, but that’s primarily because of regressive VATs, not taxes on the wealthy.)

Let’s learn some more lessons from Europe. How about labor policy? The Democrats are fighting over whether the U.S. should raise our minimum wage to $12 (Clinton) or $15 (Sanders); neither of the candidates seems to be asking how many jobs these proposals would kill. But there is no national minimum wage in Austria, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Italy, Norway, Sweden, or Switzerland, although there are minimums for some specific professions in Denmark, Iceland, and Norway, and wages may be set by collective bargaining (including a government role) for certain industry sectors in some of the other countries.

But if we don’t want to go that far, why not a subminimum wage for young people, such as the one in Great Britain? There, the minimum wage for someone between 18 and 21 years old is just 79 percent of the minimum for an older adult, and the minimum is even lower for those under 18. This allows young people with few skills and little job history to climb that first rung on the economic ladder. Similarly, Germany does not apply its minimum-wage requirement to hiring the long-term unemployed (for their first six months of work), teenagers, and young workers participating in the country’s extensive apprenticeship program.

Speaking of helping young people, while American politicians are in hock to the teachers’ unions, parents in Europe have much more choice about where their children go to school. In fact, in Belgium and the Netherlands, more than two-thirds of students attend private schools. In Denmark, a quarter of students are in private schools. And even in Sweden, one out of seven students attends private school.

Of course, when those on the Left praise Europe, they are looking at its enormous welfare state. But even here, Bernie and Hillary might want to think twice. Various European countries are making significant cutbacks to that welfare state: cutting the length of unemployment benefits, adding work requirements for welfare benefits, imposing additional cost-sharing in their health-care systems. In many cases, European countries are becoming more aggressive about reforming their welfare systems than the United States.

In fact, when it comes to the biggest welfare program of them all, public pensions (the European version of Social Security), liberals might be surprised to learn that Sweden has partially privatized its program. Younger workers are required to invest a portion of their payroll taxes in personal accounts. Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Latvia, and Slovakia also have an individual-account component.

Overall, it’s worth noting that, according to the latest Economic Freedom of the World report, Switzerland, Ireland, and the United Kingdom all score better than the United States.

Obviously no one wants the United States to become Europe. But when Hillary, Bernie, and the rest say we should adopt European best practices, they should be careful what they ask for. It might not be quite what they think.

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

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Suppression of Free Speech in Academia Is Out of Control

Nat Hentoff

Hostility to the exercise of free speech on American college campuses is nothing new. But what happened at Yale University, the University of Missouri and other colleges over the past two weeks is something new and frightening. The suppression of speech in academia has begun to spiral out of control.

Nicholas Christakis is a professor at Yale who lives with his wife in a student residence hall on campus. An internationally renowned physician and sociologist, Dr. Christakis was surrounded by dozens of angry students who showered him with curses and threats. Dr. Christakis’ offense? He refused to publicly apologize for his wife’s email that defended free speech and urged tolerance of offensive Halloween costumes.

Greg Lukianoff, the President of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), was on the Yale campus to attend a free speech symposium and witnessed the incident. In the video Lukianoff posted on FIRE’s website, Christakis appears on the verge of being physically assaulted.

“Nicholas addressed the crowd for more than an hour, even after it became clear that nothing short of begging for forgiveness would satisfy them,” Lukianoff wrote in The Washington Post. “I’ve witnessed some intense campus disputes during my 14 years fighting for free speech, but nothing like this.”

The next evening — at a William F. Buckley, Jr. Program conference on free speech that had been planned months in advance — Greg Lukianoff’s speech was interrupted by a student who rushed the podium, shouting, before he was dragged out of the building by campus police. Attendees then braved a gauntlet of angry Yale students who cursed and ridiculed them. The Yale Daily News reported that “several attendees were spat on as they left.”

At the University of Missouri, a student photographer freelancing for ESPN was confronted by a mob of angry anti-racism protesters who tried to eject him from the public commons area where they had gathered. After he refused to leave, the students begin a coordinated effort to both psychologically and physically intimidate the reporter into leaving.

The protesters subjected him to intense ridicule, sometimes chanting in unison, as they gradually forced him backwards. They then began to falsely accuse the reporter of the very conduct that they themselves were directing against him.

MU’s student body vice president later tried to justify the students’ self-imposed restrictions on the press during an interview on MSNBC. She suggested that the First Amendment “creates a hostile and unsafe learning environment.”

Later that same week, a Christian street preacher, speaking within the campus “free speech circle,” was physically assaulted and had his microphone appropriated by an anti-racism protester.

At Amherst College, a student group called Amherst Uprising issued a list of demands to administrators that included individual public apologies for what they claimed was a hostile environment of ethnocentric racism on campus. The list also included a demand for a written statement from administrators acknowledging that students who distribute leaflets defending free speech rights are subject to disciplinary action for being “racially insensitive,” and that any students disciplined for such an offense must “attend extensive training for racial and cultural competency.”

At Cornell, a well-meaning white student was forced to issue a public apology after he scheduled his own anti-racism protest without first getting the approval of the Black Student Union. He was accused, in multiple social media posts, of mocking the efforts of the BSU.

One commentator put him on notice that “if you are to be in (sic) ally, you have to acknowledge what you’ve done to hurt us.” Within hours of scheduling the event, the offending student canceled the protest and issued a public apology thanking his critics “for calling me out on my ignorance.”

These are not isolated incidents, but represent the organized adoption of mass public shaming tactics. Mass public shaming — traditionally used by autocratic regimes to silence their critics — is a particularly insidious form of censorship. It is designed to chill future speech by humiliating the speaker. Psychological manipulation and intimidation are used to impose forced speech as a means of social control.

Universities in the United States should not tolerate or appease such public shaming techniques. In his March 20, 2015, New York Times op-ed, “China’s Tradition of Public Shaming Thrives,” author Murong Xuecun writes that “cases of public shaming show us how in the name of some great cause, individual rights, dignity and privacy can all be sacrificed.”

President Obama recently offered some advice to students and faculty who feel that the First Amendment creates a hostile and unsafe learning environment.

“You don’t have to be fearful of somebody spouting bad ideas.” Obama said during an interview last Sunday on ABC News. “Just out-argue them. Beat ‘em. Make the case as to why they’re wrong. Win over adherents. That’s how things work in a democracy.”

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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Force against ISIS Is the Wrong Tactic

Emma Ashford

The tragic acts of terrorism committed in Paris on Friday have led to renewed calls for a more aggressive campaign against ISIS. Such calls are understandable given the shock and horror which always follows such barbarism. But simple revenge risks repeating the strategic mistakes of the last decade.

As we learned from Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, military victory is easy. Securing the peace can be almost impossible. If we truly want to defeat ISIS, we must focus not on military victory, but on what comes after ISIS. Without resolution of the diplomatic and political conflicts which have allowed ISIS to bloom, what replaces it could be just as bad—or worse.

The events in Paris, the deadliest terrorist attacks in the West since 2004’s Madrid train bombing, were horrifying. In a free society, we can reduce the likelihood of such attacks, but we can never achieve absolute safety. In light of such an attack, fear is unavoidable and calls to respond with overwhelming force are inevitable.

A military defeat of ISIS today will not solve Syria’s problems, or prevent the rise of similar groups.”

Yet any new military action against ISIS—or even intensifying current efforts—risks repeating past mistakes. The fear-driven environment following the 9/11 attacks undoubtedly contributed to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, as policymakers paid too little attention to what would replace Saddam Hussein. The result was an effective military campaign followed by a decade of instability, insurgency and bloodshed which provided fertile ground for the growth of groups like ISIS.

Likewise, in a knee-jerk response to mass killings in Libya in 2011, NATO airstrikes helped to topple the Muammar Gaddafi regime. Yet a lack of effective pre-planning led policymakers to overlook that the only shared interest of the many local groups and regional powers involved was Gaddafi’s removal. After his death, multisided flows of weapons and renewed violence undermined any hope for a stable Libya.

Such prior failures highlight that no matter how raw emotions may be after brutality like that of the Paris attacks, policymakers need to take the long view. Syria remains a muddled quagmire of differing rebel groups and regional acrimony, which military action alone cannot solve.

The downsides of extreme options like a large-scale invasion of Syria are obvious. Certainly, there is no doubt that the U.S. military could easily destroy ISIS, or even the Bashar al-Assad regime. But there is nothing to fill the gap such actions would leave. As in Libya, regional powers and local militias barely accept the need to cooperate on ISIS; they will not suddenly cooperate in its absence.

But the current U.S. strategy is equally problematic. Increased bombing raids, more special operations forces, or funneling arms to Syrian rebel groups may provide gains on the ground against ISIS. But when ISIS collapses, what comes next? The scenario is the same: anarchy and further bloodshed in Syria, from which future ISIS-like groups can spring.

If we are to avoid this, policymakers must first build the diplomatic and political bridges that lead to a stable post-conflict Syria. A clear and effective diplomatic accord to end the Syrian civil war is key, though it may involve substantial compromise on the part of the U.S., especially on the timing of Assad’s departure. Deals with dictators are seldom pleasant, but as many have noted, any peace in Syria is better than the current war.

The U.S. will need to work closely with regional allies and even adversaries to enforce and sustain this peace. A political settlement is meaningless if the ceasefire is not observed, or if regional states continue to supply weapons to favored rebel groups as they did in Libya.

And U.S. leaders must use this period of political and diplomatic work—which could last several years—to build a more effective coalition against ISIS. This doesn’t mean greater institutionalization of current efforts, or the involvement of NATO: the Obama administration may boast of a 64-member coalition, but in reality, almost none of these countries contribute militarily, especially inside Syria.

Instead, U.S. leaders should seek to build a broad coalition of all states with a vested interest in defeating ISIS, even traditionally unfriendly states like Russia and Iran. Such a coalition by necessity would not resemble the close military cooperation of today’s anti-ISIS coalition. Yet it would allow for the identification and coordination of all viable Syrian and Iraqi forces to engage ISIS on the ground, and a more robust peace following the group’s final defeat.

Acts of terrorism like those of recent days add to the impetus to do whatever we can to defeat ISIS. Yet the unfortunate truth is that a military defeat of ISIS today will not solve Syria’s problems, or prevent the rise of similar groups. Policymakers must lay the political and diplomatic groundwork for a stable post-conflict Syria first, before destroying ISIS. In doing so, perhaps they can finally short-circuit the cycle of violence that has dominated the Middle East in recent years.

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

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James Bond’s ‘Royale’ with Cheese

Gene Healy

“Why so serious, son?” Heath Ledger’s Joker rasps in what’s supposed to be a chilling monologue in “The Dark Knight.” You could ask the same about Christopher Nolan’s pretentiously dreary Batman films—and the ongoing fad for making comic-book movies grim and foreboding.

Sure, James Bond got his start in a series of spy thriller novels penned by Ian Fleming, an ex-spook with a flair for the dramatic (as a British Naval intelligence attaché in World War II, he used to carry a combat knife and a trick pen with a cyanide cartridge). But 007 is, at bottom, a comic-book superhero. Like Bruce Wayne’s caped crusader, Bond relies on wits, gadgetry, and superlative fighting ability to vanquish a succession of  grandiose supervillains. He’s Batman with a supercharged libido and a better tailor.

The best Bond movies always had a laddish sparkle: they were playful, quippy, and front-loaded with thrills. Say what you will about Roger Moore, but I’ll put the first few minutes of  1977’s “The Spy Who Loved Me” up against anything in the series’ 53-year run. Canoodling with a ski bunny/double agent, Bond gets an urgent fax on his watch, skis past a commie hit squad, shooting one with a weaponized ski pole, and soars off a cliff into the void before hitting his Union-Jack parachute—cue Carly Simon and shadowy nude gymnasts twirling around Bond’s gun barrel. Plus, later on there’s a sports car that turns into a submarine!

By the 20th Bond film, “Die Another Day” (2002), which opens with Pierce Brosnan’s 007 kite-surfing a tsunami into North Korea, you could make a case that the camp had gone too far. But a New Seriousness was in the air after September 11th, and it was all but inevitable that we’d have to grit our teeth for yet another “gritty reboot.”

It’s high time James Bond got a ‘campy reboot.’”

The Spy Who Bored Me

“We were making Die Another Day and 9/11 happened,” Bond producer Barbara Broccoli explains in the 2012 documentary “Everything or Nothing: The Untold Story of 007”. After the attacks, “we had to make a change in direction. It didn’t seem appropriate for Bond to be at all flippant or fantastical in the post-9/11 world.”

Enter Daniel Craig, a 007 for  the post-ironic age. Fleming’s Bond had “blue-grey eyes” and “dark, rather cruel, good looks.” Except for the hair color, Craig, with his craggy, weatherbeaten face, looked the part: a civilized hard man who could play it as cool and tough as ur-Bond Sean Connery (who oncedisarmed and decked a real-life mob enforcer).

But Craig and the Eon team seemed determined to prove that blonde Bonds have less fun. “Casino Royale” (2006) and “Quantum of Solace” (2008) stifled the quips and piled on the existential angst.  “We kept away from gadgets,” “Casino Royale’s” director huffed, “We couldn’t suddenly have John Cleese [as “Q”] storming in with a rocket car.” Accordingly, they cashiered Cleese and went “Q”-less for the first two films.

Maybe it was sour grapes that led the former “Monty Python” comic to complain last year about the post-9/11 Bond’s “gritty and humourless” tone. But Cleese was right that an essential part of the series’ appeal had gone missing: “I always felt you should let the audience share the joke.”

Jokes clearly weren’t a priority when, in 2012, Eon turned to “American Beauty” director Sam Mendes to helm the 23rd Bond. Mendestold the press that the film would explore 007’s inner demons: “a combination of lassitude, boredom, depression, [and] difficulty with what he’s chosen to do for a living, which is to kill.” The result, “Skyfall,” garnered heaps of critical praise, but I found it nearly as ponderous as Mendes’s description. (Unsurprisingly, the director acknowledged his debt to Nolan’s sullen Batman films.)

“Spectre,” which opened last week, brings Craig and Mendes together again, so I’d been expecting another grim, “lie back and think of England” affair. Not so: the good news is that, nearing the end of his contract—andthe end of his patience, apparently—Daniel Craig is becoming a less broody Bond. Being half-checked out of the role seems to have loosened him up: he’s smirkier and quicker with a quip than in the previous installments. The action doesn’t suffer: it’s “gritty,” even, with Craig as a blur of compact lethality. And only a prig would wonder how, on the hunt for supervillain Ernst Stavro Blofeld, he manages to fit several impeccable suits and a white tux into a tiny day bag.

Best of all, there’s a pre-9/11 sense of fun again. Craig can’t take himself tooseriously, having agreed to stand shirtless and poker-faced in the ridiculous opening credit sequence, which devolves into soft-core tentacle porn, courtesy of a gropey octopus. In the first three films post-reboot, the filmmakers recoiled in horror from any hint of Austin Powers. This time, Mendes is comfortable enough to flirt with self-parody: Blofeld’s cat is back, though the creature goes unstroked.

Thus far, the critics aren’t too fond of lighter tone. Writing in Vox, Peter Suderman finds the new entry too close for comfort to the “cheesy, glib Bond films of the 1970s.” After “Skyfall’s” “multi-generational reflection on loss and guilt and regret,”Deadspin’s Will Leitch grumbles, “we’re back in Cartoon Land”—“for the first time with [Craig] you can catch a small, unsavory whiff of Roger Moore.”

I’m with Cleese: Keep Bond Campy. After all, we’ve gotten in trouble in the past by taking the notion of the superspy too seriously.

Bond in the Cultural Cold War

It’s hard to believe that a pop-culture concoction as delightfully silly as James Bond ever had real-world influence. But during the ‘50s and ‘60s, Fleming’s fictional MI6 agent became a major phenomenon in the cultural Cold War, shaping how the public viewed work on the “dark side.”

The Brits took Bond seriously, Gordon Corera notes in The Art of Betrayal: The Secret History of MI6. Fleming’s novels provided an “alternative reality in which the British reader could be consoled by the thought that, even as the days of Empire and greatness were passing, Britain was still good at something.” “In a piece of sublime irony,” Corera writes, after the Suez debacle, disgraced Prime Minister Anthony Eden “set off for Jamaica to recuperate at Goldeneye, Ian Fleming’s simple, shuttered, cliff-top home where the former Naval Intelligence man was writing the James Bond books, his own antidote to the reality of post-imperial decline.”

The Soviets took Bond seriously, encouraging Eastern bloc writers to “challenge the cultural preeminence of 007.” In Avakoum Zahov vs. 07, serialized in Russian tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda in 1966, an urbane Bulgarian spy with a “passion for archeology and Mozart” does battle with Bond stand-in “07,” who’s portrayed as a thuggish sexual predator. (It isn’t much of a leap from Fleming’s novels: “you shouldn’t have a mouth like that if you’re going to be an osteopath,” Bond snarls in Thunderball, after forcibly french-kissing a comely physical therapist.)

Worst of all, American political leaders took Bond seriously. In a 2013 article in theJournal of Cold War Studies, intelligence historian Christopher Moran argues that Fleming’s novels “may have played a part in encouraging the CIA down the path of fantasy.”

CIA director Allen Dulles “had a full set of Fleming’s thrillers in his library [and] rhapsodized about 007’s adventures in the press.” After a boozing session with the author in London in 1959, “with boyish enthusiasm, Dulles flew back to Langley and urged CIA technicians to replicate as many of Bond’s devices as they could.” Moran quotes a former director of the agency’s Office of Technical Service: “When a new Bond movie was released, we always got calls asking ‘do you have one of those?’ Folks didn’t care about the laws of physics or that Q was an actor in a fictional series.” At Dulles’s insistence, apparently, the CIA spent taxpayer dollars on a prototype of “From Russia with Love” villain Rosa Klebb’s “spring-loaded poison knife shoe.”

Jack and Bobby Kennedy were “ardent devotees” of Fleming’s novels as well. At a Georgetown cocktail party at the Kennedy home in 1960, JFK asked Fleming for advice on dealing with Fidel Castro. The dictator needed to be “humiliated,” Fleming insisted, outlining a scheme that involved circulating propaganda pamphlets “explaining that radioactive fallout from nuclear testing caused impotence and was known to be drawn to men who had beards.” Supposedly, “everyone, including John Kennedy, burst into laughter.” Yet the Kennedy-era CIA pursued plans that were equally wacky and more dangerous: a depilatory agent to make Castro’s beard fall out, LSD-laced cigars, an “exploding seashell,” and poison pills delivered through Mafia contacts. The Kennedys, LBJ exclaimed after taking office, “had been operating a damned Murder Inc. in the Caribbean.”

Nobody Did It Better

“Christ, I miss the Cold War,” Dame Judy Dench’s “M” mutters in “Casino Royale.” But detente came earlier to the film series than it did in real life. In the books and the movies, Bond battles mad capitalists and gangsters more often than Soviet or Chinese agents. Fleming invented SPECTRE (“Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion”) in 1959, suspecting, wrongly, that the superpower conflict was waning. A bad-guy supergroup made up of ex-Gestapo, ex-Soviet SMERSH, Mafia dons, and Turkish heroin kingpins, the organization lacked any political agenda beyond chaos and greed, and became Bond’s principal enemy for the rest of Connery’s run.

By the ’70s, with Roger Moore, the James Bond series had evolved into harmless, apolitical fun. These weren’t “message movies.” The paranoid thriller trend never made a mark on the 007 of the ‘70s, though the films incorporated elements of Blaxploitation and kung fu—the fun stuff from the era.

Unsurprisingly, the latest Bond movie makes a half-hearted stab at political relevance, unconsciously following one of Cracked’s satirical rules for the gritty reboot: “#3: Deal with Today’s Issues, But Not Too Much.” The idea is to work in something like drones, diamond-mining, or preventive war, to show “that your movie is serious, something that goes beyond shots of good-looking people punching each other and jumping out of buildings into helicopters.”

An attempt by “Spectre” at a serious plot revolves around “C,” the head of the UK’s new Joint Intelligence Service, who wants to shut down the double-0 program and replace it with a total surveillance state: “Orwell’s worst nightmare,” Ralph Fiennes’s “M” intones.

None of this makes much sense. The notion seems to be that there’s an inverse relationship between SIGINT and covert ops: add more surveillance, you get fewer assassins. In recent history, we’ve gotten more of both. Nevertheless, the result of this bureaucratic struggle, “M” warns, is that we’ll lose the humanizing element black operators provide: “A licence to kill is also a licence not to kill,” he tells “C.” Heavy! Whatever does it mean?

Who cares? Look to John Le Carré for the moral ambiguities of spycraft. When it comes to Bond, as Rita Coolidge sang in “Octopussy,” all we ever wanted was “a sweet distraction for an hour or two.” Happily, the incoherent message of “Spectre” doesn’t spoil the punching and the helicopter stunts.

You tend to bond with the Bond of your formative years, and as a Gen X’er, I’ve never been able to shake my preference for Roger Moore. Lately, I’m beginning to believe that youthful prejudice was right. With Moore, there was no danger of anybody taking all this too seriously. He had fun with the role, and it showed. “I was paid a lot of money to be a grown-up schoolboy,” “Sir Roger” sums up in “Everything or Nothing.” That’s the spirit. It’s high time James Bond got a “campy reboot.”

Gene Healy is a vice president at the Cato Institute and author of The Cult of the Presidency.