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.

The Two Koreas to Talk on Thanksgiving: Should Americans Give Thanks?

Doug Bandow

Whenever North Korea heads to the negotiating table one remembers the traditional description of a second marriage: the triumph of hope over experience. We’ve been here before. Or, more accurately, the two Koreas have. Many times.

Still, that’s not a criticism. As Winston Churchill famously said, “to jaw-jaw always is better than to war-war.” The last Korean conflict left millions of casualties and refugees. Even a minor-league war could be catastrophic.

Nevertheless, the Seoul should have no illusions about the negotiations scheduled for Panmunjom, the traditional international meeting point on the border, on November 26, America’s Thanksgiving. Nothing much is likely to emerge from that gathering. And nothing that emerges is likely to survive very long.

Diplomatic dialogue requires two parties. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) always prefers a monologue. Kim Jong-un is most concerned about preserving his rule through what has evolved into a family dynasty, where the monarch wears a Leninist crown.

Seoul should attempt to turn the negotiations into something more substantive and meaningful.”

To the good, Kim evinces no suicidal impulses. And despite the regime’s consistent rhetoric about destroying enemies near and far, nothing suggests Pyongyang’s leadership actually believes the DPRK to be capable of defeating Seoul backed by America. When I visited North Korea years ago my interlocutors commented on how U.S. planes had reduced the capital to ruins during the Korean War. It would be even easier for America to do so now.

However, Kim suffers no liberal sentimentality. Over the last four years he, or at least his government, has executed some 400 officials, including his uncle, once seen as the regime number two. There are no soft landings in Pyongyang.

In any talks with the ROK humanitarian concerns will never be more than a gloss for the DPRK. The objective is never going to be far from extortion. Thus, Seoul’s objectives also should be eminently practical.

Take last August. The South restarted propaganda broadcasts along the demilitarized zone after two of its soldiers were injured by landmines. This triggered a surprisingly ferocious response from the North, with the Kim regime making more than its usual angry threats. Why the issue proved so sensitive is hard to say, but the two Koreas reached a deal in which Seoul unplugged the speakers and Pyongyang expressed its “regret.” The two also agreed in principle to further discussions to reduce tensions. The meeting on November 26 is supposed to help set such talks in motion. “The game’s afoot,” said Yonsei University’s John Delury.

So what does each side want? Pyongyang almost certainly hopes to persuade Seoul to restart economic aid and investment suspended in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship and the bombardment of a South Korean island. While there’s nothing in principle wrong with Seoul attempting to buy good behavior, so far the DPRK never seems to stay bought.

For its part, Seoul must decide what it most desires out of Pyongyang. One goal should be continuing dialogue, even if the results are largely inconsequential and the process frustrating. North Korea dislikes making concessions, but it craves attention and respect. In general, it has proved less likely to provoke militarily while engaged diplomatically. So Seoul should push to institutionalize talks of some sort. One possibility might be to propose lodging a “special” if not quite official representative in each other’s capital.

A more substantive objective for South Korea should be to lessen the North’s conventional threat. North Korea’s military is unsophisticated, but its advanced positioning puts Seoul at risk. ROK aid and trade should only follow demonstrated goodwill from the DPRK, and that could be best shown by reducing the military threat to the South’s industrial, political and population heart.

To test Pyongyang’s interest, the government led by South Korean president Park Geun-hye should indicate that North Korean flexibility would open up topics heretofore off-limits. For instance, if North Korea reduces the security threat to South Korea, then Seoul would consider limiting or eliminating joint military exercises with the United States—and perhaps even America’s troop presence. But these would require a serious DPRK commitment to negotiations, significant confidence-building steps and a cessation of inflammatory provocations.

The United States should offer its full endorsement for the talks and indicate its readiness to step both forward diplomatically and back militarily if the two Koreas strike a deal. Indeed, overextended Washington should actively press for a more pacific peninsula. While little that Pyongyang says can be accepted at face value, even paranoids have enemies. America’s propensity for regime change likely unsettles the North. Reducing the threat environment facing the DPRK would offer a good test of the latter’s intentions. Is the Kim regime serious about economic development? If so, the South Korean and American offer would be attractive.

Moreover, Seoul should use the prospect of talks with the North to intensify its dialogue with China. Beijing appears to be increasingly unsettled over the misbegotten behavior of its erstwhile ally in Pyongyang. Nevertheless, the People’s Republic of China has resisted applying more pressure, instead urging the United States to engage the North and reduce the insecurities that Beijing presumes to underlie the North’s push for nuclear weapons. Following the Chinese script would allow Seoul to request an extra push from Beijing.

Continued North Korean intransigence would warrant additional discussions between Seoul and Beijing. What guarantees regarding security, nuclear weapons, security and economic concessions would be necessary to involve China more directly in resolving the “North Korea problem”? Washington should indicate its willingness to support any such effort.

All of this goes well beyond the working-level discussions planned for Thursday. While another desultory round of short-lived talks aren’t likely to benefit anyone, Seoul should attempt to turn the negotiations into something more substantive and meaningful. Doing so is a long shot. But if successful such an effort would be something for which all of us could give thanks.

Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute. A former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan, he is the author of several books, including Foreign Follies: America’s New Global Empire (Xulon Press).

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.

Business as Usual at the Paris Climate Conference

Patrick J. Michaels

As the world reels following the tragic terrorist attacks in Paris, world leaders say they are determined to press on with the U.N. Climate Conference there, scheduled for the end of this month. But judging from past international climate agreements, attendance might not be worth the imposition.

There will be a new climate agreement. Last year’s U.N. climate show, in Lima, produced a requirement that countries that signed on to the 1992 Framework Convention on Climate Change produce an “Intended, Nationally Determined Contribution” of reductions in emissions of carbon dioxide long before Paris. So far, nations responsible for 91 percent of current global emissions have done so. That’s close enough to 100 percent to be able to claim a global agreement.

By having everyone provide their own plan (even if it’s not much of one), no one can complain that this supranational body is cramming anything down their throats, so that usual source of climate bickering won’t happen. And the plans are free to be meaningless.

Manhattan Institute scholar Oren Cass has shown that, in aggregate, the nations of the world have pledged to do nothing more than business as usual. Nations with maturing economies naturally see their emissions begin to level off. Those with developing economies will increase their emissions, but the amount they emit per capita, known as the emissions intensity, will eventually drop due to economies of scale.

This year’s global-warming meeting will produce plenty of hot air.”

China is one of those maturing economies. They have said they “intend” to start holding emissions constant “around 2030.” Between now and then, their emissions will rise by 50 to 100 percent. Experts at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory calculated four years ago that China’s emissions would peak around then. So the Chinese are doing nothing.

India says it will reduce its emissions per capita by 33 to 35 percent. Earlier this year, India’s own Centre for Policy Research concluded that this was the most likely outcome in the absence of any serious attempt to reduce emissions. In testimony to a House science panel this week, Oren Cass notes that this is about half of India’s intensity drop in recent years. In other words, India proposes to do something that is marginally less than nothing.

The U.S. is actually doing more than most countries. The Obama administration says it “intends to achieve” a total emissions reduction of 26 to 28 percent below 2005 values by 2025, with hope that it will go to 30 percent by 2030. This is less than what we proposed at the 2009 Copenhagen climate conference, the last serious stab at a climate treaty — which failed.

So the world’s largest emitter (China) and the third-largest one (India) aren’t doing anything, but we are, and it’s going to cost. Here’s one reason: Under Obama’s Clean Power Plan, substitution of natural gas for coal in electrical generation isn’t going to increase, even though it produces only half the carbon dioxide per kilowatt of electricity as coal. Instead, his EPA says power companies have to substitute unreliable, expensive “renewables,” mainly solar energy and wind. These are mighty expensive compared with new natural-gas power. And even the Clean Power Plan won’t meet our Paris target.

That’s going to be made up by mandating that the average passenger car and pickup truck get 55 miles per gallon by 2025. Even a Prius sedan doesn’t get that much in the real world, according to the true-mileage site fuelly.com. Honda and Toyota’s clear reluctance to stay away from mega-battery cars like Tesla probably means something — maybe they’re just going to continue to be toys for the rich. And don’t hold your breath until the hydrogen infrastructure required for their new fuel-cell cars materializes.

In other words, unlike those of the other big emitters, America’s plan is going to cost us a bunch.

Speaking of money, that’s where there’s going to be trouble in Paris. Poor countries are demanding at least $100 billion every year from the developed world (read: us) so they can buy dodgy renewables, and to pay for the climate “damages” we have caused (hint: none). Last year they were rumbling about upping the tab to $150 billion. President Obama is desperate to come away with a finalized agreement so he can claim to have saved the world, even though Congress will never appropriate that money.

Still, it’s not likely that the Paris summit is going to agree to demand all that money. But in order to preserve an agreement, the first-world negotiators will promise that they will seriously work on a way to pay up in the next year. They’ll work on it until the first-class curtain closes on the return flight.

So, in summary, we get a climate agreement in Paris. It accomplishes nothing that wouldn’t have happened without it. The Third World won’t get its money, but, hey, in politics, a promise is a promise. If you like your climate agreement, you can keep your climate agreement.

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

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.

A Bounty of Good News

Richard W. Rahn

Your Thanksgiving dinner is going to be less expensive. This year the average person will need to work 2 hours, 21 minutes and 57 seconds to pay for all the items in a standard Thanksgiving dinner for 10 people — a work reduction of one minute and 8 seconds from last year. Back in 1986, the average person needed to work 3 hours, 12 minutes and 27 seconds to pay for the same dinner, or 50 minutes and 30 seconds longer than a worker today. This is the great beauty of the capitalistic system — in real terms, as measured by the time necessary to work to buy most anything, the price falls year after year.

If you wonder who calculates stuff like this, go the website HumanProgress.org, and you will find how my Cato colleague Marian Tupy put together the numbers. Many of the good-news facts that follow were put together by Mr. Tupy and his colleague Chelsea German and can be found in more detail at the Human Progress website.

There are terrible headlines about terrorists’ acts and claims that too much bacon, pesticides, radon or genetically modified food are going to cause cancer — and you are going to die as a result. Most of the scare stories are just not true in that a little bit of anything is unlikely to do you much harm and too much of anything will.

Human progress enables the average person to live a richer, healthier life.”

You have about one chance in 8,000 of being killed in an automobile accident in a given year. But the good news is the death rate per 100,000 has been cut almost in half since 1988, and is about one-third of what it was in 1939. Almost 3,000 Americans were killed by terrorists in 2001 (one in every 101,000), but the rate that horrible year was still less than one-tenth of the chance of getting killed in an automobile accident. In the years since, only a few-dozen Americans have been killed in the average year by terrorists — terrible for those involved, but only a tiny risk to most people.

Life expectancies have continued to grow both in the United States and worldwide (an amazing average increase of about three months per year for the last 150 years) — despite all of the scare stories about what is going to do you in. Life expectancy is a good proxy for overall levels of health.

Real gross domestic product per capita (inflation adjusted) is now about three times higher than it was in 1950, and can continue to increase forever because of endless innovation and productivity growth (which, of course, is dependent on sensible economic policies). For my entire lifetime, I have been reading stories of how the world is going to run out of food and that there will be mass starvation. It is true that there used to be famines in places like China and India, but now both export some foods. As recently as 1962, there were 51 countries where people consumed less than 2,000 calories per day; but in 2011, only Zambia was left on the list, and that was due to an incompetent and corrupt dictator who prevented his citizens from taking advantage of what had been a rich agricultural country.

There is no free-market country (as contrasted with socialist countries) where there is any danger of a food shortage. The global problem of increasing obesity is now a much greater danger for most people than starvation — but go ahead and enjoy Thanksgiving — it only comes once a year. Global food production has been growing faster than population for decades with no end in sight. World population growth is slowing, and within a very few decades it is likely to decline as it already has in countries such as Japan, Italy, Spain and others.

New World Bank data shows that world poverty will fall to a record low of only 9.6 percent this year, or about one-fifth of its level as recently as 1980. The fall in poverty is closely related to the rise in world economic freedom over the same period. Countries giving up socialism for free markets and moving toward free trade accounted for most of this improvement.

Most people are aware of how the invention of the semiconductor has greatly enhanced most everyone’s well-being by making all of the world’s information almost free and instantaneous — think of the iPad and smartphone. But there is another miracle that is often taken for granted — and that is air-conditioning. Productivity falls as temperature rises above an optimum — as anyone who has experienced an air-conditioning outage in a factory, office, store or home knows. Without it, many of the tropical areas of the world would still be poor. Imagine Singapore or even Florida without air-conditioning.

Finally, the really good news is that advances in the biological sciences are rising like computers at an exponential rate — which means that most aliments are likely to be cured within the next few decades, including the aging process.

Richard W. Rahn is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and chairman of the Institute for Global Economic Growth.

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.

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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.

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.

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.

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.