Soviet Gender Equality and Women of the Gulag

Chelsea Follett

Many hoped the Bolshevik Revolution one hundred years ago would
usher in a new era of gender and class equality. Following the
revolution, Soviet Russia declared “International
Women’s Day” an official holiday, and “Marxist
feminists” romanticize communism to this day. Women of
the Gulag
, both a remarkable book and a documentary film,
highlights the disparity between the Soviet Union’s alleged
gender equality and the reality of life for women under
communism.

It is now popular to claim — in the New York Times no less — that
Soviet women “enjoyed many rights and privileges unknown in
liberal democracies at the time,” so it is worth noting some
of the ways that communism tyrannized women in particular. Those
who claim the Soviet Union liberated women would do well to learn
the stories of the women of the Gulag.

The Gulag forced labor camp system, created under Lenin and
massively expanded under Stalin, was only one of many horrors in
the Soviet Union. At least five million prisoners toiled in the
camps at any given time during the system’s peak from 1936 to
1953, mining radioactive material, hauling logs barefoot in winter,
or performing other forms of slave labor. The camps were allegedly
for “class enemies” (anyone insufficiently poor) and
traitors.

“[S]ome 18 million people passed through this massive
system,” with millions more compelled to migrate to special
settlements with similar conditions, according to Pulitzer
Prize-winner Anne Applebaum, author of Gulag: A History. It is estimated that harsh conditions and summary executions
killed off at least 10 percent of the Gulag’s total prisoner
population each year. Although only between 10 and 15
percent of Gulag inmates were women, their imprisonment had some
uniquely horrible features.

First, they were almost all arrested for the alleged crimes of
their husbands or fathers. Communist officials saw women as just
another means of punishing men, rather than as individuals with
distinct identities. One of the few ways for a woman to avoid
arrest alongside her husband was, perversely, to accuse him of
treason before anyone else did.

Signed by the head of the NKVD on August 14, 1937, Operational
Order of the Secret Police No. 00486, “About the Repression
of Wives of Traitors of the Motherland and the Placement of Their
Children,” stated:

That brings us to the second horror unique to women’s
persecution. Upon a mother’s arrest, the Soviet system
declared her children orphans and sent them as far away as
possible. After regaining freedom a woman would often never learn
of their fate. In the state-run orphanages, children of traitors
and class enemies faced social stigma. They were taught to feel
shame and loathing for their parents.

The book describes how the secret police kidnapped Maria
Ignatkina’s children and “before their horrified eyes…
beat her to the ground.” Her husband was tortured into giving
a false confession and killed. Maria spent eight years in a Gulag
for the crime of being married to him. She attempted suicide but
failed. Fortunately, her children were rescued from the orphanage
by an aunt. Maria was eventually able to reunite with them and meet
her grandchildren-a rare happy ending.

Finally, in addition to all the other horrors of the Gulag –
forced labor, hunger, beatings, harsh cold, and unsanitary
conditions — women prisoners were also subject to the
experience of institutionalized sexual violence. A woman named
Elena gave an unsettling account of how on a ship
transporting prisoners to the Gulag, women were raped by multiple
men, beaten and doused with cold water in an organized process
called a “Kolyma streetcar,” and the bodies of the
women who did not survive were thrown overboard. Other similar accounts corroborate her story.

Of course, the Gulag system was not the only way the Soviet
Union harmed women. Its disastrous economic policies led to far
deeper and more widespread poverty and scarcity than under
capitalism (which has helped bring global poverty to an all-time low), affecting women and other
vulnerable members of society the most. Still, the Gulag system
serves as a stark example of how, despite a proclaimed commitment
to gender equality, the Soviet Union accomplished the exact
opposite of “liberation” for women.

Chelsea
Follett
is managing editor of HumanProgress.org, a project of
the Cato Institute.

Republican Tax Plan Is No Revolution but It Will Boost the US Economy

Ryan Bourne

The legislative tax reform process in the United States is the
political equivalent of sausage making — a process so ugly it
risks turning you off the end product.

As a result, the package working its way through both houses of
Congress
now sits far from the lofty ideals of the fundamental
overhaul Republicans promised.

Nevertheless, it is reasonable to think that, on net, it will
improve US growth prospects. The plan, after all, substantially
lowers business taxation, cuts marginal tax rates on income and
eliminates a host of implicit subsidies within the tax code.

The key reform is that the US’s 35pc corporate tax rate
(currently the highest in the OECD) would be permanently cut to
20pc. As the economist Martin Feldstein has noted, this will
attract substantial capital to the US corporate sector, by
increasing the after-tax return on investment, encouraging profit
repatriation and more headquartering in the US, and shifting
capital from less productive sectors.

Higher investment, encouraged by this and the introduction of
full and immediate expensing for equipment investment for five
years, can be expected to boost productivity and wages. The
magnitudes here are hotly debated, but reasonable economic
estimates suggest this alone could raise GDP by between 1pc and 4pc
over 10 years.

Changes to the federal income tax have been less ambitious, but
could boost GDP further. The Republicans want lower marginal tax rates, paid
for by eliminating deductions that taxpayers are able to make.

The package of reforms would see a huge fall in the number of
households who seek to “itemise” — the wasteful
(from an economic perspective) filing of complex returns to
minimise their tax bills.

Though unlikely, there’s still even a chance the final
bill might restrict the mortgage interest deduction — widely
acknowledged by economists to lead to the over-consumption of
housing.

In order to make all this palatable, the GOP are doubling their
equivalent of the personal allowance and expanding credits for
families too. These will do little for growth, but tax reform is as
much about politics as economics.

Nevertheless, given the bills substantially cut a damaging tax,
trim marginal income tax rates and eliminate deductions —
long considered the holy grail of tax policy — why has the
Republican plan generated such fierce criticism?

From the Left, the plan is most commonly denounced as a sop to
the rich. Progressive economists highlight that the biggest cash
gainers are at the top of the income distribution. But this is in
part a statistical artefact, arising firstly because most on the
lowest incomes do not pay federal income taxes already and, second,
because procedural rules on future deficits mean that many
individual tax cuts are notionally scheduled to
“expire” in future years.

My colleague Chris Edwards calculates that in 2019,
when both corporate and individual tax cuts apply, all affected
income groups will see tax cuts on average
, with the biggest
coming for those earning between $40,000 (£30,000) and $50,000, who
see their tax bill halved on average. In comparison, those earning
over $1m would see their average tax bill fall by just 5.8pc.

A more legitimate economic concern is the effect on the US
public finances. The bill is forecast to add $1.5 trillion over 10
years to the national debt — lower once the macroeconomic
effects on growth are factored in; higher again if the tax cuts are
not allowed to expire.

This sum is unlikely to have catastrophic consequences for the
US’s ability to borrow, not least because it’s
relatively small compared to capital available on global markets.
But with the potential impact of a future recession and the
headwinds of an ageing population to come, there is a case for
getting the US’s fiscal house in order and this inevitably
will not help. Republicans have been right to highlight over many
years how, at a first approximation, the US’s terrifying debt
outlook is driven by rising entitlement spending caused by an
ageing population.

But they may find it that bit harder to make the case for
cutting future healthcare or pensions spending if they are seen to
be blasé about the debt in relation to tax cuts today.

Ryan Bourne
holds the R Evan Scharf Chair for the Public Understanding of
Economics at the Cato Institute.

Trump Owns These Quagmires: Despite Being Skeptical about Foreign Entanglements, He’s Getting America Bogged down Overseas

A. Trevor Thrall and Erik Goepner

As North Korea’s nuclear weapons continue to dominate the
headlines, President Trump has quietly sunk the United States ever
more deeply into a series of foreign policy quagmires. In Syria,
Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia, the United States is trying
to influence the course of civil conflicts that have nothing to do
with the United States and little to no impact on America’s
national security.

None of these situations will end soon, nor will any of them end
well for the United States. That this is happening with a new
commander-in-chief who as a candidate urged America to get smart
about foreign engagements is ironic but hardly surprising.

The “quagmire strategy,” as we’ll call it, has
four main elements.

First, the White House embroils the United States in a civil
conflict with no end in sight and often without any “good
guys” to support.

Second, leaders define success in political terms that America
has neither the power nor the willpower to achieve.

Third, the U.S. uses military force and military aid which
destabilizes the nation, amplifies the conflict, and fuels higher
levels of terrorism.

Finally, political leaders complain that America cannot leave
because the conflict has not ended and other intractable problems,
like terrorism, have grown.

The occupations of Iraq
and Afghanistan have failed to prevent the rise of the Islamic
State or the resurgence of the Taliban, and both nations suffer
from more terrorism and political conflict than ever.

The administration’s announcement that it will keep troops
in Syria in order to influence future political settlements
represents the most recent evidence of Trump’s pursuit of the
quagmire strategy. This strategy makes little sense given the fact
that Bashar Assad, supported by Russia and Iran, has only grown
stronger. It makes even less sense now that the Islamic State
— the initial reason for being there at all — has been
sent fleeing.

Afghanistan provides another example. Despite his initial
qualms, Trump decided to surge 5,000 more troops into Afghanistan,
bringing the total to 14,000 alongside 25,000 or so civilian
contractors.

Ostensibly designed to increase pressure on the Taliban, there
is little hope for success in light of Obama’s failed (and
much larger) surge in 2009. Instead, Trump’s surge will
result in U.S. casualties and billions of dollars added to the
debt, while doing nothing to move Afghanistan closer to a political
resolution.

The quagmire strategy has spread across the Middle East, where
Trump has increased the number of troops and civilians by 33%. The
United States supports Saudi Arabia and their murderous
intervention in Yemen’s civil war, bombs the militant group
al-Shabab in Somalia, while in Iraq there is still no end in sight
to the U.S. commitment that began in 2003.

Nor are those nations likely to be the last quagmires the United
States jumps into: Libya remains at war with itself ever since the
NATO intervention in 2012, with three rival factions seeking
control, one of which is allied with Islamist fighters.

The quagmire strategy leaves much to be desired. Most obviously,
it does not work. Research shows that foreign-imposed regime change
rarely produces positive results, while studies of civil war show
that external intervention often simply prolongs conflicts.

America’s experiences over the past 16 years confirm the
research. The occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan have failed to
prevent the rise of the Islamic State or the resurgence of the
Taliban, and both nations suffer from more terrorism and political
conflict than ever.

But perhaps the most troubling aspect of the quagmire strategy
is how Trump has managed to entangle the United States ever more
deeply without any real public debate. Not only has the Pentagon
shied away from revealing the complete numbers of troops serving
abroad, Congress has also abdicated its role as a counterbalance to
the White House.

Trump’s strategy rests on the same 2001 Authorization to
Use Military Force that President Bush used after 9/11.

Legally, the existing AUMF does not provide anything close to
the authority assumed by President Trump and President Obama before
him. Politically, the fact that the United States is waging war
around the world without full transparency or Congressional debate
and authorization is a stain on our democracy.

In a tragic irony, it seems that the President does not
understand the path he has charted. In a recent tweet, he spoke of
“bringing peace to the mess I inherited in the Middle East. I
will get it all done, but what a mistake, in lives and dollars (6
trillion), to be there in the first place!”

If Trump indeed believes it was a mistake to engage in all of
that military intervention and nation building as part of the war
on terror, someone might want to tell him how much further down
that road he is taking the country.

A. Trevor
Thrall
is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute’s Defense and
Foreign Policy Department and associate professor at George Mason
University’s Schar School of Policy and Government. Erik Goepner, a
retired colonel from the U.S. Air Force, is now a visiting research
fellow at the Cato Institute.

Supreme Court’s Sports Betting Case Could Redefine Relationship between Feds and States

Ilya Shapiro

While everyone’s focused on the Colorado baker who chose not to
make a cake for a same-sex wedding, whose case the Supreme Court
hears Tuesday, an equally colorful case to be argued the day before
will likely have broader impact on American governance. Chris
Christie v. National Collegiate Athletic Association
involves
sports betting in New Jersey, of all things, and it could have
ramifications for the regulation of everything from marijuana and
guns to immigration and health care.

Anyone who knows anything about the American system of
government knows that Congress can’t force states to do its
bidding. If the Drug Enforcement Agency wants local sheriffs to
enforce federal drug laws, it has to sign cooperation agreements
with them. If U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement wants state
troopers to implement new immigration priorities, it’s welcome to
bribe them offer financial incentives, but can’t order them
to do so.

The case involves sports
betting in New Jersey, of all things, and it could have
ramifications for the regulation of everything from marijuana and
guns to immigration and health care.

States are separate sovereigns that deserve as much respect as
the federal government. They work with the federal sovereign all
the time on various matters, but they can’t be compelled to
do so. The technical legal term for this principle is that the
Constitution forbids Congress from “commandeering” the
states, as the Supreme Court explained in New York v. United
States
(1992) and Printz v. United States (1997).

What the Supreme Court Says about
Commandeering

New York involved a federal law purporting to require
states to either regulate nuclear waste according to federal
standards or take possession of it. Printz concerned a
federal law that would’ve required state officials to perform
background checks on gun buyers. These precedents are so clear that
the Supreme Court hasn’t taken any follow-up cases in the two
decades since.

Indeed, the closest case was probably the constitutional
challenge to Obamacare, National Federation of Independent
Business v. Sebelius
—not the individual-mandate part,
but the 7-2 ruling that the Affordable Care Act can’t force
states to expand Medicaid or lose all federal health funding. But
that aspect of NFIB concerned coercive conditions on
federal funds, which Chief Justice John Roberts likened to “a
gun to the head,” not out-and-out congressional commands.

That brings us to the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection
Act (PASPA). Congress enacted PASPA in 1992 to effectively outlaw
sports gambling. The law has exceptions for the sports lotteries in
Delaware, Montana, and Oregon, the licensed pools in
Nevada—Las Vegas sports books—as well as pari-mutuel
betting on horses, dogs, and jai alai. It also had a one-year
window for states with long-time casino gambling to legalize sports
betting, a carve-out clearly designed for the Garden State.

New Jersey’s boat missed that safe harbor, however, as the
state legislature didn’t get around to passing its Sports
Wagering Act until 2011—after a referendum showed that a
large majority of residents wanted to get in on the action. This
state law authorized regulated sports betting at casinos and
racetracks.

The NCAA and the four major professional sports leagues sued and
were granted an injunction against the New Jersey law. The U.S.
Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed, holding that the
Sports Wagering Act violated PASPA’s prohibition against a
state’s authorizing sports betting, but also adding that
nothing in PASPA’s text “requiresthat the
states keep any law in place.”

Accordingly, New Jersey passed a new law in 2014 that repealed
essentially all state bans on sports betting at casinos in Atlantic
City and racetracks throughout the state. When this second
legalization effort was also challenged, the Third Circuit
abandoned its previous distinction between
“authorization” and “repeal,” again
deciding in the NCAA’s favor.

But how can this be? According to the lower courts, New Jersey
is forced to maintain laws that its elected officials had acted to
eliminate. This appears to be an obvious violation of the Tenth
Amendment, which says that states and the people retain all powers
not delegated to the federal government, and the anti-commandeering
principle.

This Is a Catch-22 Against States’
Citizens

Indeed, as the Supreme Court held in New York (the same
year PASPA was enacted), “the Constitution has never been
understood to confer upon Congress the ability to require the
States to govern according to [its] instructions.” Yet PASPA
does just that by dictating what states’ own sports-betting
laws shall be. If the Constitution forbids Congress from compelling
states to enact or enforce federal laws, it can hardly countenance
congressional compulsions to continue administering old state laws
after they have proven ineffective, unpopular, or both.

In effect, the feds are saying that New Jersey officials and
voters have no say in the state’s own gambling laws, because
any reform would “authorize” actions that violate
federal law. This argument goes beyond even the federal
government’s approach to marijuana; while Congress maintains
the federal ban through the Controlled Substances Act, the Justice
Department has never sued states to prevent them from legalizing
medical or recreational marijuana as a matter of state law.

In Christie v. NCAA, the Supreme Court can clear all of
this up. That’ll be a big deal for sports gambling, which a
bipartisan majority of Americans support legalizing. Seventy percent support allowing the people of
each state to decide the issue. But it’ll be an even bigger
deal for our entire conception of the relationship between
governments in this era of increased pushback by both red and blue
states against the dictates of the Washington swamp.

Ilya Shapiro
is a senior contributor to The Federalist. He is a senior fellow in
Constitutional Studies at the Cato Institute and Editor-in-Chief of
the Cato Supreme Court Review.

It Is up to Somalia to Combat Al-Shabab

Charles V. Peña

According to U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), there have been 18
airstrikes to date this year in Somalia — more than four
times the average for the previous seven years. At the same time,
the number of U.S. forces inSomalia has more than doubled. The
target of the U.S. military inSomalia is al-Shabab, an Islamist
militant group allied with al Qaeda and now considered the
deadliest terrorist organization in Africa.

The Islamic State (ISIS) has also established a small presence
inSomalia and a break-away group of al-Shabab has pledged
allegiance to ISIS, but the two groups are more in competition with
each other for influence in Somalia — which demonstrates that
radical Islam is not monolithic.

Certainly, al-Shabab is a threat to the Somali government and
the civilians killed by its attacks. The worst attack was in
October when a truck bomb packed with several hundred kilograms of
military grade, homemade explosives was used to kill more than 300
people and injure hundreds more in the city center of Mogadishu
— making it one of the deadliest terrorist attacks anywhere
in the world.

The data does not bear
out the logic that killing would-be terrorists overseas in places
like Somalia will make us inherently safer.

According to the U.S. mission in Somalia, “Such cowardly
attacks reinvigorate the commitment of the United States to assist
our Somali and African Union partners to combat the scourge of
terrorism.” But an amorphous “scourge of
terrorism” — especially in Somalia — is not a
direct threat to America that warrants the sacrifice of U.S. lives
— such as U.S. Navy SEAL Senior Chief Kyle Milliken, who was
killed on a mission inSomalia in early May.

Yet, every radical Islamist everywhere in the world is not a
direct threat to the United States. ISIS is primarily a threat in
Iraq and Syria. Boko Haram is a threat in Nigeria. al-Shabab is a
threat inSomalia. As such, it is up to those countries and their
neighbors — who are most imperiled and have the most to lose
— to take primary responsibility for combating the terrorist
threats in their own backyards.

More important, we must recognize that the threat that al-Shabab
really represents is the civil war raging within Islam. Ultimately,
al-Shabab — like al Qaeda, ISIS, and Boko Haram — is at
war with its fellow Muslims who do not agree with and do not want
to live by their radical version of Islam. Involving the U.S.
military only puts us in the middle of their civil war — U.S.
troops should stop terrorists from killing Americans, not from
killing each other.

And as brutally violent as al-Shabab is, it is not targeting
America as al Qaeda did on Sept. 11, 2001.

Indeed, since 9/11 there hasn’t been a successful attack by a
foreign terrorist organization. The real threat has been lone wolf
and largely homegrown terrorism.

According to the Global Terrorism Index, since 2006, 98 percent
of all deaths from terrorism in the U.S. have been from attacks
carried out by lone actors, resulting in 156 deaths. And according
to the New America Foundation, of those accused of jihadist related
terrorism crimes in the U.S., more than 80 percent of them were
either U.S. citizens or U.S. legal residents, and about half were
American born citizens.

The data does not bear out the logic that killing would-be
terrorists overseas in places likeSomalia will make us inherently
safer. So continuing to pursue such a strategy is folly.

In 1993, the U.S. military was inSomalia on a humanitarian
intervention mission that was neither vital nor important to U.S.
national security. The mission resulted in the tragic deaths of 18
U.S. Army Rangers. Today, the U.S. military is inSomalia to help
Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo wage a war against
al-Shabab — a war neither vital nor important to U.S.
national security. If the first time was simply a tragedy, the
second time is foolhardy.

Charles V.
Peña
, a senior fellow with Defense Priorities, is the
former director of defense policy studies at the Cato Institute and
author of “Winning the Un-War: A New Strategy for the War on
Terrorism” (Potomac Books).

Iran’s ‘Behavior’ Isn’t Threatening Americans. Don’t Use That Pretense to Scrap the Nuclear Deal.

John Glaser

In a speech Tuesday at the Wilson Center in
Washington, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the Trump
administration is “committed to addressing the totality of
the Iranian threat,” asking America’s allies “to
join us in standing up to all of Iran’s malign
behavior,” including its “support for terrorist
organizations” and “active ballistic missile
development program.”

He echoed President Trump’s rationale last month for decertifying the Iran
nuclear deal, an Obama-era agreement that put a lid on Iran’s
nuclear program by imposing a set of restrictions and a
comprehensive inspections regime. Like Tillerson, Trump cited two
issues that lie outside the deal itself: Iran’s support for proxy groups such as Hezbollah in
Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza and Houthi rebels in Yemen; and Iran’s
development of ballistic missiles.

But the obsession with these Iranian policies amounts to threat
inflation. Neither poses a serious threat to America’s
domestic security or core national interests and they don’t
warrant jettisoning a thus-far successful nuclear nonproliferation
agreement.

This is just a way for
Trump and Tillerson to attack an agreement they don’t
want.

As Thomas Juneau recently argued for The Post, “Tehran’s
support for the Houthis is limited, and its influence in Yemen is
marginal.” They aren’t primarily Iranian proxies, but
characterizing them as such serves a narrative perpetuated by the
Saudi Arabian government, the Iranian regime’s chief regional
rival. Hamas barely holds on to power in Gaza, one of the most
impoverished, densely populated and smallest slices of territory in
the world.

Hezbollah, a Shiite militant group and political party based in
Lebanon, functions as an Iranian proxy and has, in the past, been
linked to attacks on Americans: the group was implicated in the
1996 Khobar Towers attack; in Beirut in 1983 and 1984, Hezbollah
targeted the U.S. Marine Corps barracks and the U.S. Embassy annex,
respectively, killing 243 Americans, attempting to force a U.S.
military withdrawal. But unlike al-Qaeda and the Islamic State,
there’s not much today to suggest that Hamas’s,
Hezbollah’s or the Houthi rebels’ mission is attacking
United States.

Trump says Iran is “the world’s leading
state sponsor of terrorism,” while Sen. John McCain warns that, “A web of Iranian
proxies” threatens the “stability, freedom of
navigation and the territory of our partners and allies.”
Even though the Iran deal deliberately disaggregated Iran’s
support for these groups from the issue of its nuclear ambitions,
Trump has heaped the issues together rhetorically to argue that he
has no choice but to tear the deal up.

Not only does that obfuscate the aim of the deal, but it serves
to obscure the fact that the United States looks away as Iran’s
rivals engage in behavior that is similar, or worse, than Iran’s.
For several years now, the Saudis, with American support, have relentlessly bombed
Yemen in a campaign against the Houthis that has resulted in a
humanitarian crisis. In addition to being
investigated by the United Nations for war
crimes, one of the consequences of the Saudi’s military campaign
has been to bolster the position of al-Qaeda’s affiliate in
Yemen, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Saudi actions have had
greater negative impact on U.S. interests, in terms of regional
destabilization, intensification of a proxy war and the expansion
of al-Qaeda, than Iran’s support for the Houthis.

In contrast to the regional agendas of Hamas and Hezbollah, the
Saudis have long been implicated in promoting and exactly the kinds of Sunni militant groups that try to target the
U.S.: the Islamic State, al-Qaeda and other Sunni militant groups
boosted by the Saudis have perpetrated more than 94 percent of deaths caused by Islamic
terrorism since 2001.

If we can tolerate such behavior from an ally such as Saudi
Arabia, surely Iran’s support for its proxies is a poor
excuse for scuttling an agreement that effectively restrains an
Iranian nuclear weapons program.

According to the Center for Strategic & International
Studies, Iran is not
known to possess
and reportedly does not seek, missiles that can
reach U.S. territory. The Pentagon, as well as the U.S. Institute
of Peace, have repeatedly assessed in recent years that Iran’s military
posture is defensive in nature. Earlier this year, with respect to
Iran, Sen. Tom Cotton said, “I don’t see how anyone can
say America can be safe as long as you have in power a theocratic
despotism.” Presumably, though, Cotton makes an exception for
the despotic, theocratic regime in Riyadh that enjoys bipartisan
Washington support.

At any rate, Iran is profoundly unlikely to attack the United
States. America possesses an overwhelming nuclear deterrent; and we
remain the world’s largest economy, with a GDP 50 times that of Iran. Iran’s annual
military spending is around 5 percent of ours and 9 percent of their region’s total. Iran
has a large army — around a half million troops — but
can’t meaningfully project power beyond the Middle East.

Indeed, Iran’s regional behaviors are only a threat to the
United States to the extent that we continue to insist on meddling
unnecessarily in a region whose strategic importance has been
overstated for decades. We have thousands of troops and multiple
bases in the region, and we’ve been in a constant state of war there for years with
little to show for it. The prevailing strategic rationales for
America’s excessive over-involvement in the Middle East —
defending Israel, fighting terrorism and protecting the free flow
of oil — don’t even come close to justifying the costs of
pursuing them.

Even if Iran challenges other regional powers, that’s not a
reason to get rid of a deal that prevents it from gaining nuclear
weapons. It makes nonproliferation a more crucial security priority
than ever.

Abandoning the nuclear deal doesn’t make Israel any safer:
Most of Israel’s military and intelligence community agrees that facing an Iran with a nuclear
program under tight inspections and limitations is better than
facing an Iran with an expanding nuclear program hidden from
international monitors. When it comes to Saudi Arabia, we’re
applying a double standard. And when it comes to directly
safeguarding U.S. security, we’re safer when we don’t elect to adopt the region’s
problems as our own.

John Glaser is
director of foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute.

Individual-Mandate Repeal Makes GOP Tax-Reform Plan More Attractive

Michael D. Tanner

Tax reform was always going to be a difficult lift for
Republicans, so it came as something of a surprise when the Senate
added a new complication to the mix: a repeal of Obamacare’s
individual mandate. Yet it was the right thing to do.

The justification for repealing the mandate was the search for
money. Because some people might choose not to purchase insurance
if they are not forced to, the government will have to pay out
fewer subsidies. That means some $340 billion less in government
spending over the next decade. Senate Republicans were able to use
these savings to reduce tax rates by an additional half percentage
point across the board.

It should be pointed out that repealing the individual mandate
is itself a tax cut for many Americans. (We know the mandate is a
tax because Chief Justice John Roberts told us so.) In 2016, 6.5
million Americans paid more than $4.5 billion in penalties for
failing to enroll in an Obamacare-compliant health-care plan. Those
penalties, which averaged $695 per person in 2016 and over $2,000
for a family of four, are a particular burden for low and
moderate-income families. More than 92 percent of those hit with
the penalty earn $75,000 per year or less; nearly 80 percent earn
less than $50,000. That’s not exactly another tax cut for the
rich.

There’s a lot to be wary
of in the Republican plan, but getting rid of Obamacare’s most
onerous provision would be a win for everyone.

But the biggest problem with the individual mandate is not a
question of money. The idea that government can force every
American to purchase a specific product, even for the common good,
is deeply offensive to the American idea of individual liberty.
There is a good reason why the individual mandate is the most
unpopular part of Obamacare: It runs contrary to the American
character, and fundamentally alters the relationship between
government and the individual. That alone would justify repeal.

Of course, as noted, without the mandate many Americans would
choose not to purchase health insurance. The Congressional Budget
Office estimates that within a decade as many as 13 million more
people will go without insurance. For many of those people,
forgoing insurance is not a wise decision. But it is still
their decision. Contrary to progressive talking points, no
one’s insurance is going to be taken away.

It is possible that, since young and healthy people are most
likely to decide against buying insurance, repealing the mandate
could speed the ongoing adverse-selection problem that afflicts
Obamacare, and raise some premiums over time. Still, if your
health-care model depends on a product so lousy and overpriced that
no one will buy it unless you force them to … well, perhaps you
should rethink it.

Moreover, the CBO has long overstated the impact of the power of
the individual mandate to induce insurance coverage. That’s one
reason why actual ACA enrollment has consistently fallen short of
CBO projections. An independent analysis released last week by
S&P Global concluded that repealing the individual mandate
would result in just 3-5 million fewer people purchasing insurance
over the next decade. That would mean a smaller reduction in
government spending, but also a smaller impact on premiums.

The Senate is expected to vote on its version of the tax bill as
early as Thursday. Right now, its fate is said to hang on the votes
of roughly eight senators who are undecided or have expressed
concerns about the package (Collins, Corker, Daines, Flake,
Johnson, Lankford, McCain, and Moran). There are reasons to be
skeptical of the bill, including its impact on the deficit. But
there should be no doubt that individual-mandate repeal makes it a
more attractive proposition.

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

The Duplicitous Superpower

Ted Galen Carpenter

For any country, the foundation of successful diplomacy is a
reputation for credibility and reliability. Governments are wary of
concluding agreements with a negotiating partner that violates
existing commitments and has a record of duplicity. Recent U.S.
administrations have ignored that principle, and their actions have
backfired majorly, damaging American foreign policy in the
process.

The consequences of previous deceit are most evident in the
ongoing effort to achieve a diplomatic solution to the North Korean
nuclear crisis. During his recent trip to East Asia, President
Trump urged Kim Jong-un’s regime to “come
to the negotiating table” and “do the right
thing”—relinquish the country’s nuclear weapons
and ballistic missile programs. Presumably, that concession would
lead to a lifting (or at least an easing) of international economic
sanctions and a more normal relationship between Pyongyang and the
international community.

Unfortunately, North Korean leaders have abundant reasons to be wary of such U.S.
enticements. Trump’s transparent attempt to renege on
Washington’s commitment to the deal with Iran known as the
Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—which the United
States and other major powers signed in 2015 to curb Tehran’s
nuclear program—certainly does not increase Pyongyang’s
incentive to sign a similar agreement. His decision to decertify
Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA, even when the United
Nations confirms that Tehran is adhering to its obligations, appears
more than a little disingenuous.

North Korea is likely focused on another incident that raises
even greater doubts about U.S. credibility. Libyan dictator Muammar
Qaddafi capitulated on the nuclear issue in December of 2003,
abandoning his country’s nuclear program and reiterating a
commitment to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. In exchange, the
United States and its allies lifted economic sanctions and welcomed
Libya back into the community of respectable nations. Barely seven
years later, though, Washington and its NATO partners
double-crossed Qaddafi, launching airstrikes and cruise missile
attacks to assist rebels in their campaign to overthrow the Libyan
strongman. North Korea and other powers took notice of
Qaddafi’s fate, making the already difficult task of getting
a de-nuclearization agreement with Pyongyang nearly impossible.

The Libya intervention sullied America’s reputation in
another way. Washington and its NATO allies prevailed on the UN
Security Council to pass a resolution endorsing a military
intervention to protect innocent civilians. Russia and China
refrained from vetoing that resolution after Washington’s
assurances that military action would be limited in scope and
solely for humanitarian purposes. Once the assault began, it
quickly became evident that the resolution was merely a fig leaf
for another U.S.-led regime-change war.

Beijing, and especially Moscow, understandably felt duped.
Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates succinctly described Russia’s reaction,
both short-term and long-term:

The Russians later firmly believed they had been deceived on
Libya. They had been persuaded to abstain at the UN on the grounds
that the resolution provided for a humanitarian mission to prevent
the slaughter of civilians. Yet as the list of bombing targets
steadily grew, it became obvious that very few targets were
off-limits, and that NATO was intent on getting rid of Qaddafi.
Convinced they had been tricked, the Russians would subsequently
block any such future resolutions, including against President
Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

The Libya episode was hardly the first time the Russians
concluded that U.S. leaders had cynically misled them . Moscow asserts that
when East Germany unraveled in 1990, both U.S. Secretary of State
James Baker and West German Foreign Minister Hans Dietrich Genscher
offered verbal assurances that, if Russia accepted a unified
Germany within NATO, the alliance would not expand beyond
Germany’s eastern border. The official U.S. position that
there was nothing in writing affirming such a limitation is
correct—and the clarity, extent, and duration of any verbal
commitment to refrain from enlargement are certainly matters of intense controversy . But invoking a “you
didn’t get it in writing” dodge does not inspire
another government’s trust.

There seems to be no limit to Washington’s desire to crowd
Russia. NATO has even added the Baltic republics, which had been
part of the Soviet Union itself. In early 2008, President George W.
Bush unsuccessfully tried to admit Georgia and Ukraine, which would
have engineered yet another alliance move eastward. By that time,
Vladimir Putin and other Russian leaders were beyond furious.

The timing of Bush’s attempted ploy could scarcely have
been worse. It came on the heels of Russia’s resentment at
another example of U.S. duplicity. In 1999, Moscow had reluctantly
accepted a UN mandate to cover NATO’s military intervention
against Serbia, a long-standing Russian client. The alliance
airstrikes and subsequent moves to detach and occupy Serbia’s
restless province of Kosovo for the ostensible reason of protecting
innocent civilians from atrocities was the same
“humanitarian” justification that the West would use
subsequently in Libya.

Nine years after the initial Kosovo intervention, the United
States adopted an evasive policy move, showing utter contempt for
Russia’s wishes and interests in the process. Kosovo wanted
to declare its formal independence from Serbia, but it was clear
that such a move would face a certain Russian (and probable
Chinese) veto in the UN Security Council. Washington and an ad-hoc
coalition of European Union countries brazenly bypassed the Council
and approved Pristina’s independence declaration. It was an
extremely controversial move. Not even all EU members were on board
with the policy, since some of them (e.g., Spain) had secessionist
problems of their own.

Russia’s leaders protested vehemently and warned that the
West’s unauthorized action established a dangerous,
destabilizing international precedent. Washington rebuffed their
complaints, arguing that the Kosovo situation was unique. Under
Secretary of State for Political Affairs R. Nicholas Burns made
that point explicitly in a February 2008 State Department
briefing. Both the illogic and the hubris of that position were
breathtaking.

It is painful for any American to admit that the United States
has acquired a well-deserved reputation for duplicity in its
foreign policy. But the evidence for that proposition is quite
substantial. Indeed, disingenuous U.S. behavior regarding NATO
expansion and the resolution of Kosovo’s political status may
be the single most important factor for the poisoned bilateral
relationship with Moscow. The U.S. track record of duplicity and
betrayal is one reason why prospects for resolving the North Korean
nuclear issue through diplomacy are so bleak.

Actions have consequences, and Washington’s reputation for
disingenuous behavior has complicated America’s own foreign
policy objectives. This is a textbook example of a great power
shooting itself in the foot.

Ted Galen
Carpenter
, a senior fellow in defense and foreign policy
studies at the Cato Institute, is the author of 10 books, the
contributing editor of 10 books, and the author of more than 700
articles and policy studies on international affairs.

Disciplinary and Performance Problems Plague Border Patrol

Alex Nowrasteh

A new report by federal watchdogs at the U.S. Government
Accountability Office found that more U.S. Border Patrol agents are
leaving than can be hired. This should concern President Donald
Trump, who in January signed an executive order to hire 5,000 more
agents. The hires will likely come in the form of a bill introduced
in Congress by Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, last month, the Border
Security for America Act.

However, Border Patrol agents have significant disciplinary,
performance and even corruption problems that should be resolved
before hiring more agents.

Border Patrol is the second-largest federal law enforcement
agency in the country, with nearly 20,000 agents. They have
extraordinary powers to enter property close to the Mexican border
without a warrant and run checkpoints within 100 miles of any land
or sea border, yet without the oversight that is common in even
small-city police departments.

President Trump said that
hiring 5,000 additional Border Patrol agents will help “restore the
rule of law in the United States” – but such a laudable goal is
impossible if law enforcement officers are themselves riven by
corruption, misconduct, poor performance and a lack of
discipline.

James Tomsheck, the former head of an internal affairs
department that oversaw Border Patrol, recently said that it is
“conservative to estimate that 5 percent of the [Border
Patrol] force” is corrupt. This corruption and misconduct
ranges from the brutal to the commonplace. Border Patrol agent
Esteban Manzanares assaulted, kidnapped and raped three illegal
immigrants he apprehended while on the job and later committed
suicide when the police surrounded his apartment. The youngest of
his victims was still bound in his home at the time. Oscar Ortiz
was convicted of conspiring to bring at least 100 illegal
immigrants into the United States and, oddly enough, being an
illegal immigrant himself with a false claim to U.S.
citizenship.

These problems exist because Border Patrol isn’t monitored
properly. After 9/11, Congress created a new agency called Customs
and Border Protection (CBP) inside of the new Department of
Homeland Security, which eventually came to house Border Patrol.
Congress forgot to transfer Border Patrol’s old internal
affairs department and didn’t create a new one. Only in
August 2014 did Tomsheck’s internal affairs department
finally get the authority to investigate criminal misconduct.

Confusing and contradictory data make it difficult to gauge the
extent of corruption and misconduct problems at CBP. According to
one source, 158 CBP employees (which includes Border Patrol agents)
were convicted or charged with corruption from 2005 to 2016.
Another source claims there were 358 such convictions, but it
doesn’t distinguish between CBP employees and non-CBP persons
who conspired with them.

Fortunately, the Office of Personnel Management does report data
showing how many agents are terminated for disciplinary and
performance reasons. To be clear, not all of those terminations
represent corruption, but they do indicate performance issues – at
minimum. A new Cato Institute study analyzed OPM data from 2006
through 2016 and found that Border Patrol agents had the highest
termination rate of any large federal law enforcement agency.
Border Patrol agents were 49 percent more likely than other CBP
officers to be terminated for such reasons. They were 54 percent
more likely to be terminated than guards at the Bureau of Prisons,
six times as likely as FBI agents, 7.1 times as likely as Drug
Enforcement Administration agents and 12.9 times as likely as
Secret Service agents.

A good first step to fixing these personnel problems is
implementing the Homeland Security Advisory Council’s
recommendations to speed investigations and streamlining internal
affairs. One particularly important recommendation is bringing the
number of internal affairs officers up to 729, which would give
Border Patrol as least as much internal affairs oversight as the
New York City Police Department. Arizona Republican Rep. Martha
McSally’s amendment to McCaul’s border bill that
guarantees 550 full-time internal affairs investigators for CBP is
a good start.

Congress should go further and not authorize any additional
net-hires at Border Patrol until adequate oversight brings the
termination rate down to that of other large federal law
enforcement agencies.

The GAO should audit internal affairs at Border Patrol and use
its forensic audits and investigative services to conduct
undercover investigations to insure compliance. Communities should
also be able to form civilian review boards to oversee all
complaints made against agents, because law enforcement functions
better with local trust and cooperation.

President Trump said that hiring 5,000 additional Border Patrol
agents will help “restore the rule of law in the United
States” – but such a laudable goal is impossible if law
enforcement officers are themselves riven by corruption,
misconduct, poor performance and a lack of discipline. Restoring
the rule of law starts by holding law enforcement officers
accountable to the law before expanding their numbers.

Alex
Nowrasteh
is an immigration policy analyst at the Cato
Institute’s Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity.

‘Fiscal Phil’ Has One Chance to Live Up to His Namesake

Ryan Bourne

For five years, the Conservatives made deficit reduction the key
plank of their economic platform.

Yet, strangely, chancellor Philip Hammond now finds himself
under pressure from much of his own party to substantially loosen
the fiscal purse strings.

Conventional wisdom says the country is weary of austerity. More
money is needed for public services. Committed Brexiteers seem to
want the chancellor to bank on some future Brexit dividend to
justify yet higher spending and tax cuts. And there are still those
who believe that anything labeled “government investment” must by
necessity be economically beneficial and worthy of higher public
borrowing.

But the economic case for higher UK government spending right
now is weak.

Keynesian economists would suggest that so-called stimulus
spending through borrowing is needed when there is lots of spare
capacity in the economy and the Bank of England has exhausted
lowering interest rates.

But with unemployment at 4.3 per cent and the Bank having
recently raised rates, the country is not in any need of some
“demand-side boost” through more public spending, even if one
believes it could at other times be beneficial.

The key issue for the UK’s growth prospects is now the outlook
for productivity — or the supply-side.

The economic case for
higher UK government spending right now is weak.

Claiming more borrowing will be “good for the economy” is really
an argument that the borrowing will boost the country’s growth
potential.

Tax cuts and commitments to eliminate tariffs after we leave the
EU could play a role here. By sharpening incentives to save,
produce and invest, or by opening up industry to the
productivity-enhancing effects of competition, cutting taxes can
raise the potential size of the economy.

However, if the path of government spending (the true burden of
government) is not adjusted downwards too, tax cuts today are in
large part tax rises in future, and blunt much of this
growth-inducing impact.

Theoretically, some spending on infrastructure investment could
enhance productivity too, if the government invested well in
high-impact schemes. But that’s a big “if”.

Actual government experience of projection selection on
infrastructure suggests it unlikely. The UK 2010 Comprehensive
Spending Review, for example, deferred, cancelled or placed under
review strategic road schemes with average benefit-cost ratios of
6.8, 3.2 and 4.2 respectively, yet persisted with HS2 with an
estimated benefit-cost ratio of 1.2.

If anything, a government concerned about long-term economic
growth might be thinking about constraining spending further. With
the tax burden already set to hit the highest level as a proportion
of GDP since Harold Wilson was Prime Minister, cutting spending
would leave more resources in the private economy, and create space
for future cuts to marginal tax rates that will be good for
growth.

The case for more spending restraint can be justified from a
public finance perspective too.

The UK is still running a modest deficit of around 2-3 per cent
of GDP a decade after the crisis. The government’s independent
fiscal watchdog — the Office for Budget Responsibility
— considers this deficit almost entirely structural.

As a result, the UK’s national debt is rising and is headed
towards 90 per cent of GDP, leaving the UK government finances in a
vulnerable position given the unknown risk of a potential recession
and the known headwinds of an ageing population.

The government really should be seeking to get the debt-to-GDP
sustainably on a downward path in the coming years, rather than
continually pushing off fiscal balance. Again, the implication is
tighter control of spending, not loosening it.

All this is not to suggest the chancellor should be unambitious
this week. There is plenty of scope for him to use the upcoming
Budget for pro-growth tax reform.

As the main economic ministry, the Treasury should be pressing
colleagues to overhaul Britain’s growth-suffocating land-use
planning laws. Even for a given amount of funds, Hammond could
reorient spending to achieve a bigger economic return.

But calls for the chancellor to open the spending taps again are
deeply irresponsible.

Those who supported Brexit should be honest enough to recognise
that it comes with significant uncertainties in the near term.

To make it a success requires long-term economic liberalisation
with the newly repatriated powers over trade, regulation, and
public money. But that liberalisation requires actually doing the
hard work of regulatory reform, gaining public acceptance for freer
trade, and limiting the size of the state to enable low taxes.

All this could enhance growth in future and provide more
resources for public services. But to simply tell the chancellor to
be more optimistic about Brexit and use that as justification for
more public spending is to put the cart before the horse. The case
for fiscal restraint is as strong today as ever.

Ryan Bourne occupies the R. Evan Scharf Chair in the Public Understanding of Economics at the Cato Institute in Washington DC.