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The Portland Victims Are Proof That America Never Stopped Being Great

Michael D. Tanner

Rick Best was a 53-year-old Republican who had unsuccessfully
run for county commissioner on a conservative platform that
stressed his opposition to tax increases and excessive spending. He
was a 23-year army veteran who had served tours in both Iraq and
Afghanistan. And he was married with three teenage sons and a
twelve-year-old daughter.

Taliesin Namkai-Meche was Best’s political opposite, a
23-year-old liberal environmentalist. He graduated from Reed
College just last year, and was working for Cadmus Group, a
consulting firm that stressed the importance of “green energy,”
among other things. He had just bought his first house.

Micah David-Cole Fletcher, just 21, struggled with autism. He
worked at a pizza shop while attending Portland State University.
In his free time, he wrote poems, including one on tolerance that
had won a local contest.

They put themselves in
harm’s way to defend the dignity and safety of two complete
strangers. What could be greater than that?

These three men couldn’t have been more different. They didn’t
know each other, and, under other circumstances, probably would
never have met. Yet, last week, all three of them intervened to
protect two teenage Muslim girls from a knife-wielding racist who
accosted them on Portland’s light-rail system. Best and
Namkai-Meche were killed by the attacker, while Fletcher was badly
wounded.

Anyone looking for American exceptionalism need look no farther
than the courage of these three men.

>It is easy to focus on the things that divide us right now.
And there is no doubt that we are divided. There is a climate of
hate, intolerance, and intimidation that infects both sides of the
political debate. On one side, mobs resort to violence to silence
speakers with whom they disagree. On the other, the denizens of the
alt-right and their fellow travelers spew the worst kind of bigoted
filth. In a time of fear, it is far too easy for people to retreat
into a primitive tribalism that can be used as an excuse for the
most inexcusable behavior. When a professor is beaten in Vermont
for inviting a controversial speaker to campus, or others cheer the
assault of a reporter in Montana, it is the climate is ripe for
someone such as the Portland attacker.

On social media and in comment sections, the incivility that has
come to characterize so much of our political discourse is on full
display. Terms such as “traitor” and “fascist” are tossed around
indiscriminately. Entire religions are denigrated. Racial slurs are
tolerated or even condoned as a check on political correctness run
amok.

These agents of hate are not America. America is the millions of
people from across the political spectrum who practice charity,
tolerance, and basic decency every day. America is all those who
stand up for what is right, even when it is not popular. America is
about a Republican, a Democrat, and an autistic poet putting their
lives on the line to protect young women from a different faith and
culture simply because it is the right thing to do. You want
diversity and tolerance? We just saw it.

Yes, this country is imperfect. An honest look at our history
shows that we have often treated African Americans, Latinos, women,
gays, and other minorities abhorrently. Yet, no country has
peacefully come so far so fast from such an ugly past. It is the
character of the American people that has helped transform the
political and legal landscape to overcome the old bigotries. Full
equality may still be aspirational, but it is part of the American
character to have such aspirations.

We hear a lot these days about the need to “make America great
again.” But America is already great – and so long as we continue
to produce men such as Rick Best, Taliesin Namkai-Meche, and Micah
Fletcher, it always will be.

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

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Time for a (Different Kind of) Change in Afghanistan

Erik Goepner and A. Trevor Thrall

With the dust still settling from Wednesday’s horrific car
bombing in Kabul, the plan for America’s
new strategy in Afghanistan
now sits on Trump’s desk. The
National Security Council has
proposed a plan
that calls for more troops, who will operate
with fewer restrictions, accompanied by an expanded drone campaign
and increased support for Afghanistan’s police and military
forces. The goals for the new strategy include driving the Taliban
to the
negotiating table
,
eliminating the terror threat
and getting America to
start
winning
” again.

Unfortunately, the past 16 years strongly suggest these changes
will fail to accomplish any of the administration’s goals.

From August 2009 through August 2013
, the U.S. had between
60,000 and 100,000 service members fighting in Afghanistan as part
of President Obama’s “surge.”

Unfortunately, the surge neither defeated the Taliban nor led to
a peace deal.
Exploratory
peace talks in 2013 soon stalled.
In 2015
, Afghan and Pakistani officials said Taliban leadership
had “signaled they were willing to open peace talks with
Kabul.” In late 2016, “informal
talks
” reportedly took place.

Continued intervention
will not achieve U.S. goals, and it may actually slow the
development of Afghanistan’s capacity to manage its own
affairs.

Moreover, despite U.S. efforts, the security situation in
Afghanistan has become even bleaker. As of this past February, the
Afghan government controlled or influenced
60 percent
of all districts, down from 72 percent a year and a
half earlier. This deterioration occurred despite the Afghan
National Army and Police reportedly totaling
330,000
troops, a level they have
sustained
since 2012. Meanwhile,
the Taliban
only numbers approximately 25,000, although their
end-strength has apparently quadrupled over the past decade.

Today, with only
9,000
U.S. troops in Afghanistan, American citizens may soon be
told that an additional five to ten thousand will be sufficient to
coerce the Taliban to the negotiation table. But given the failure
of the previous surge and the situation on the ground, there is
simply no reason to think additional troops will drive the Taliban
to the negotiating table.

Nor will a few thousand more troops materially reduce the terror
threat. Some observers argue that continued effort in Afghanistan
is necessary to eliminate possible terrorist safe havens, but the
reality is that the majority of ISIS, al Qaeda, and fighters from
its affiliates operate in Iraq, Syria,
Pakistan
,
Yemen
, and other nations in North Africa and the Middle
East.

As energetically as the Taliban have fought the United States
and the Afghan government, the United States has not labeled the
group a terrorist organization. And although the threat of
terrorism does exist in Afghanistan, illustrated by the
recent killing
of an ISIS leader there, Department of State
testimony in September 2016 indicated that only the “remnants
of al Qaeda and its affiliates are still operating in
Afghanistan.

There is also little evidence to suggest that military
operations are the right tool for confronting terrorism. Since the
U.S. initiated the war on terror, the threat posed by Islamist
terror groups has risen substantially. The number of groups, based
on the Department of State’s Country Reports on Terrorism,
has more than tripled. Additionally, the number of fighters
comprising those groups has spiked from 32,000 to nearly 110,000.
Over the past 16 years, America has invaded two countries, toppled
three regimes, and conducted military operations in seven nations,
yet the Islamist-inspired global terror situation has worsened.

Clearly, Afghanistan is not going to be a quick win for the
Trump administration.

But debate over American plans to save Afghanistan miss a larger
point: Only Afghans can assure enduring change in their country.
For 16 years, U.S. officials have acknowledged that point while
simultaneously arguing that Afghans need just a little more outside
assistance before becoming self-sufficient. But the data again
point to the inadequacy of such arguments. Last year Transparency
International ranked the Afghan government as
more corrupt than 96 percent of all other countries
.

That assessment has actually worsened from the first rating,
done in 2005, when the government ranked as more corrupt than 74
percent of other nations. Additionally, the Afghan defense and
security forces continue to be incapable (or unwilling) to secure
the population despite being 13 times larger, better equipped and
better trained than the Taliban.

Well-intentioned American efforts since 2001 have failed to
produce peace and stability. Continued intervention will not
achieve U.S. goals, and it may actually slow the development of
Afghanistan’s capacity to manage its own affairs. It is time
for Afghans to take responsibility for their own future.

Erik Goepner commanded units in Iraq and Afghanistan, and is
currently a doctoral candidate at the Schar School of Policy and
Government at George Mason University. Trevor Thrall is a
senior fellow in defense and foreign policy at the Cato Institute
and associate professor at the Schar School of Policy and
Government at George Mason University.

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Fed Must Stop Rewarding Banks for Not Lending

Norbert Michel and George Selgin

Federal Reserve officials are beginning to call for shrinking the central bank’s bloated balance
sheet. That’s good news. Doing so reduces taxpayer risk, and undoes
the Fed’s massive allocation of credit to its preferred sectors,
government and housing. This will close a chapter on one of the
most controversial periods in the Fed’s history. The bad news: If
the Fed doesn’t simultaneously stop paying banks to hoard money,
the Fed will create the next recession.

During the financial crisis, the Fed put its traditional tools
of monetary control on ice, and switched to experimental ones. One
of those new tools, paying interest on excess reserves, started in
October 2008. It encouraged banks to park money at the Fed instead
of lending to businesses and households.

What drove Fed officials to discourage lending in the throes of a financial
meltdown? It was an especially odd move given that the Fed was
concurrently making so-called emergency loans to keep financial
institutions afloat. But Fed officials feared that unless they got
banks to hoard the fresh reserves created by their emergency
lending, the flood of extra dollars would send the federal funds
rate to zero – well below their 1.5% target.
Influencing the federal funds rate was traditionally one of the
Fed’s key methods for controlling the growth of credit and meeting
its employment and inflation goals.

The experiment failed dramatically. The federal funds rate
dropped toward zero anyway.

The balancing act won’t
be easy, but it’s both possible, and worth it.

The Fed did succeed, however, in getting banks to sit on those
fresh reserves, curbing new loans banks would typically make when
fresh deposits show up. It was thanks to interest on excess
reserves that the Fed ended up stimulating so little in the
economy, despite its efforts to ease so much.

The new policy appeared intended to enhance the Fed’s
traditional methods of monetary control. But in fact, it rendered
those methods almost entirely impotent.

Returning to “normal” monetary policy means undoing all
of those changes that made old-fashioned monetary policy
ineffective in the first place. Shrinking the Fed’s balance sheet
isn’t enough. In fact, on its own it’s dangerous. If the Fed keeps
paying banks not to lend at the same time it starts slimming its
balance sheet, we could be in for very tight money.

In 1936, the Fed faced a similar situation. Fearing an outbreak
of inflation, the Fed responded by raising banks’ legal reserve
requirements. But, like today, banks wanted those big reserve
cushions. To keep them, they clamped down on credit. The outcome
was the notorious “Roosevelt Recession.”

Another recession is the last thing this economy needs. But if
the Fed sticks to its present normalization plan, that is exactly
where we are headed.

To normalize without inviting a new recession, the Fed needs to
combine its plan for shrinking the balance sheet with one for
phasing-out interest on excess reserves.

Shedding assets tightens credit, but discouraging banks from
holding reserves loosens it. By doing both at once — reducing
assets and lowering interest on excess reserves — the Fed can
keep money from becoming either too loose or too tight.

The balancing act won’t be easy, but it’s both possible, and
worth it.

Oddly, the Fed has been moving in the opposite direction,
raising the interest rates it pays banks and other financial
institutions to keep excess reserves. And the public, having had
its fill of “low interest rates,” has been buying it as a step in
the Fed’s “normalization” plan. But so long as the Fed encourages
banks to hoard money, it is not returning to the pre-crisis
approach of monetary policy.

During the financial crisis the Fed ran many risky monetary
policy experiments. One set of experiments added trillions of
dollars of fresh reserves to the banking system and distorted
credit markets. Another encouraged banks and other financial
institutions to hoard those reserves, instead of lending or
investing them.

Just how helpful these experiments were in ending the crisis, or
promoting recovery, remains unclear. Only one thing is certain: If
we want “normal” monetary policy without creating a recession, the
Fed must shrink its balance sheet andstop paying banks not to
lend.

Norbert Michel is a senior research fellow in financial regulations and monetary policy at the Heritage Foundation. George Selgin is director of the Center for Monetary and Financial Alternatives at the Cato Institute.

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How Paid Family Leave Hurts Women

Vanessa Brown Calder

The White House released its full budget last week, and one of
President Donald Trump’s
campaign promises
materialized along with it: paid
family leave
. The details of the program remain hazy, but what
we do know is that states would be required to design and finance
six weeks of paid parental leave for workers. It would cover
mothers and fathers.

This surely sounds like a boon to working women, who (on
average) do more child rearing and housework than working men do. To
those who object to some of the budget cuts to social programs, the
administration’s policy on family leave may even seem
heartwarmingly egalitarian.

Unfortunately, a review of states and countries with
government-mandated paid leave programs indicates they harm young
women, whether they’re available to fathers or not. This is because
parental leave policies are associated with an increase in
leave-taking and childbearing, which leads to lost labor or
increased health care costs for companies. As a result, employers
may assume women will cost more to employ than before the policy,
and company decisions to hire, promote, train or pay women less can
reflect that, at women’s expense.

Deregulating industry
will provide women with more professional choices, and amending
rigid labor laws will endow employers with the flexibility to
provide flexibility.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Government can create a
buyer’s market for labor through a variety of deregulatory
initiatives. For instance, reforming occupational licensing laws, which prevent
women from working in certain occupations, and relaxing zoning
regulations, which increase low-income women’s commute times, will make it easier for mothers
to participate in the labor force on their terms. Meanwhile,
eliminating the tax exclusion for employer-sponsored health
insurance, which ties women to jobs with abysmal maternity
benefits, will enable women to take jobs that line up better with
their personal needs. Finally, deregulation of inane child care
regulations, such as Washington, D.C.’s new requirement that child care workers obtain
college degrees, will make work economically practical.

Lawmakers should also look closely at an alternative that
Congress is considering: the Working Families Flexibility Act of 2017. The
bill allows interested employees of either gender to bank overtime
hours and use them as time off later as government employees and
some unionized workers already do. Remarkably, private companies
are prevented from compensating employees this way under the
Fair Labor Standards Act. Because women highly
value flexibility at work, the ability to reach this type of
working agreement is more essential than ever.

Ignoring these ideas may be costly, and California provides a
ready example of why government-mandated paid leave is a less
effective way of imparting leave benefits. The state instituted a
six-week paid leave program in 2000, and research indicates a noticeable increase in
young women’s unemployment and unemployment duration lengthened by
4% to 9%. Hypothetically, this is because “firms decrease their
demand for these possibly more costly (female) workers,” according to the report. These results held
when researchers compared young women with Californian men, with
older Californian women and with young women in states that did not
adopt the policy.

Still, defenders of policies such as California’s argue it
hasn’t been around long enough to see a full range of social
benefits. In that case, Europe serves as a shining example of how
government-mandated paid leave can be a letdown, even in the long
term. In the Nordic countries, which are often cited as the gold
standard for gender equity, research suggests family-friendly policies are
a “costly solution” and may have inadvertently created a
“system-based glass ceiling” for women.

And indeed, paid leave policies in Norway seem to have done just
that: Women in the United States occupy, according to a project of
the Cato Institute, about 40% more of the nation’s legislative, senior
official and managerial roles than Norwegian women do in their home
country.

So why is it that paid leave policies, which are ostensibly
created to help women, end up hurting them? For one thing, even in
places where paid leave programs are gender-neutral, female
employees utilize the benefits at higher rates than men do. In
Sweden, for instance, only about 14% of men share the days equally
with their partners despite government subsidies providing bonuses
and tax credits to motivate parents’ identical pision of paid
leave. Woman probably take more leave for a variety of biological,
sociological and cultural factors.

Fortunately, the current proposal and its associated impacts are
not foregone conclusions: The administration’s leave policy still
needs congressional approval. Congress can choose another way:
Deregulating industry will provide women with more professional
choices, and amending rigid labor laws will endow employers with
the flexibility to provide flexibility.

Vanessa Brown
Calder
is a policy analyst at the Cato Institute, where she
focuses on social welfare, housing, and urban policy.

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Republicans and Democrats Are Both Wrong about Leaks from Intelligence Agencies

Julian Sanchez

It’s a Washington tradition as hoary as the White House
Easter Egg Roll: Power changes hands, and partisans suddenly swap
positions on an array of issues. Erstwhile champions of a strong
executive begin worrying about tyrannical overreach (and vice versa). Laments about obstructionism and gridlock fade
into paeans to our ingenious system of checks and
balances. And, perhaps most remarkably in the Trump era, the right
discovers the deep perfidy of the “deep state” while progressives pin their
hopes on the American intelligence community.

Yes, this is a bit of a caricature. Establishment
Washington’s coziness with the spookshow has long been a
bipartisan affair (see: Feinstein, Dianne). So has civil
libertarian opposition; the hippies at the American Civil Liberties
Union were singing “Kumbaya” with the bow-tie
brigade at the American Conservative Union to oppose the Patriot
Act way back in aught-one. All the same, it’s a weird state
of affairs.

Among the myriad sideshow oddities of the Trump era: Republicans
in Congress, as if suddenly awakening to the massive surveillance
apparatus they spent the past 15 years constructing, belatedly
echo civil liberties concerns they once
reflexively ridiculed; they even threaten to curtail some Bush-era
surveillance authorities. Meanwhile, many on the left grow positively giddy over leaked transcripts
of Americans’ National Security Agency-intercepted
conversations, provided said Americans work for the Republican
White House.

he FBI and its peers have
their own agenda, and it doesn’t align with either
party.

The facile, cynical read on this would be that the only bedrock
principle in politics is tribal advantage — which is probably
half the story. But seen through a more charitable lens, this
recent inversion both obeys a shared underlying logic and reflects
a common underlying confusion.

The underlying logic is this: Excessive autonomy from, and
excessive domination by, the political branches of government have
long been recognized by intelligence scholars as the twin perils of
spycraft. Excessive autonomy gives rise to what we could dub the J.
Edgar Hoover problem, after the legendary and infamous FBI director
whose umbral half-century tenure saw the bureau run as a personal
fiefdom, largely insulated from political accountability. The trove
of embarrassing secrets — personal and political —
about prominent Americans stored in Hoover’s files gave his
nominal overseers in Congress and the White House good reason to
fear crossing him.

Concerns of this sort have traditionally been more prominent on
the left, in no small part because of the long and ignominious
history of intelligence abuses directed at that end of the
political spectrum. More recently, the intelligence bureaucracy
that conservative demonology now dubs the “deep state” was the subject of
Tufts international relations scholar Michael Glennon’s
“National Security and Double Government” (later
expanded into a book of the same name). Contemporary invocations of
the concept routinely veer into the realm of conspiracy theory, but
the core idea — that there is an entrenched national security
establishment with significant power to advance its own aims, even
in the face of opposition from the political branches — is
neither novel nor fantastical.

Excessive subordination to the political branches, however, is
no less dangerous. Call that the Richard Nixon problem, recalling
how a Senate investigation concluded that the president had
“authorized a program of wiretaps which produced for the
White House purely political or personal information unrelated to
national security.” It is entirely too easy to imagine a
political loyalist at the head of the FBI, directing the bureau to
selectively investigate Fox News’s villain of the day while
turning a blind eye to potential misconduct by those close to the
White House. This seems to be exactly what former director James
Comey feared.

Because both poles represent genuine dangers, determining which
is the more urgent risk ultimately comes down to a judgment call
about which looms closer under present circumstances. So it’s
probably inevitable that your level of alarm depends on your
assessment of the current president and his propensity to abuse
power. The error partisans tend to make is to pretend that only the
threat about which they’re currently most concerned is
real.

That’s linked to another fundamental mistake by both
sides: the tendency to use current partisan attitudes as the lens
through which law-enforcement phenomena can be understood. When
Comey recommended that no charges be filed against Hillary Clinton
for mishandling classified information, Republicans blasted him for
carrying water for Democrats. When Comey later informed members of
Congress that the FBI was (briefly and without consequence, as it
transpired) resurrecting the Clinton investigation, liberals
accused him of deliberately seeking to throw the election to Donald
Trump. Both accounts are mistaken. Whatever you think of
Comey’s judgment, the intelligence community and the people
who staff it follow the institutional logic and interests of their
agencies. That may mean that their actions overlap with the agenda
of either party at any given time, but that agenda is rarely the
driving force.

The failure or refusal to understand this prevents partisans
from comprehending what’s going on when intelligence and
politics parlously intersect. It also leads them to cheer or damn
developments more wisely regarded with cautious ambivalence.

Consider a story broken by Reuters recently. Contrary to
White House denials, it said, Trump campaign officials had numerous
undisclosed contacts with the Russian government, both before and
after the November election. Michael Flynn, the former national
security adviser, and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak
“discussed establishing a back channel for communication
between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin that could
bypass the U.S. national security bureaucracy, which both sides
considered hostile to improved relations.”

That account is ascribed to “four current U.S.
officials,” so it seems reasonable to infer that it was
derived from intelligence intercepts of Kislyak and Flynn’s
conversations. It’s not hard to imagine why intelligence
officials might view the disclosure of such information as both
legitimately in the public interest and, in the wake of
Comey’s dismissal, even necessary. One need not speculate about “Obama holdovers”
(a phrase often deployed by conspiratorially minded commentators on
the right as a synonym for “career intelligence
professionals”) dedicated to undermining the administration
to explain such a leak. We had, after all, an incoming national
security adviser — later revealed to have been acting as an unregistered paid agent of Turkey,
as well as to have accepted undisclosed payments from Russian
state media — collaborating with the ambassador of a country
that had just meddled in a presidential election to avoid scrutiny
by American intelligence agencies. With the administration taking
drastic steps that appeared calculated to tamp down an investigation into
the “made-up” question of collusion between
the Trump campaign and Russia, intelligence officials with no
particular partisan ax to grind might view going to the press
(a felony, incidentally) as the only way to
prevent facts with significant national security implications from
vanishing down the memory hole.

Yet in addition to Nixon’s “purely political”
wiretaps, history provides numerous examples of intelligence abuses with origins in
some inquiry with a plausibly legitimate national security purpose.
(The FBI’s notorious COINTELPRO operation, for instance,
initially targeted radical groups advocating armed violence before
metamorphosing into a campaign of harassment against peaceful
left-leaning activists.) And it’s probably impossible to know
how any public-spirited motives for the latest Flynn disclosure
might be colored by widely reported resentment within the FBI
toward the dismissal of a well-loved director, in a peremptory
manner that many viewed as an insult. This leak ought, then, to
give even the administration’s fiercest critics pause.

If we take it at face value (leaving aside whether that’s
proper), the Flynn intercept reveals a president-elect apparently
worried that his foreign policy would be undermined by his own
government’s intelligence agencies. It would be easier to
dismiss that fear as yet another fit of Trumpian paranoia if it
didn’t seem like we were learning about that conversation
from wiretaps.

Progressives who’ve recently learned to stop worrying and
love the surveillance state should think hard about the precedent
such leaks set — and the implicit message they send to
political actors — even if any particular instance can be
justified as serving the public interest. The leaks may not be, as
conservative media would have it, the only real scandal, but nobody
should be too enthusiastic about the prospect of living in a
country where officials who antagonize spy agencies find their
telephone conversations quoted in news headlines.

Trump fans, meanwhile, should not make the mistake of thinking
that the only reason to worry about the deep state is that it
remains Barack Obama’s deep state. The most effective bulwark
against abuse of the intelligence community’s power is not
the bodies charged with overseeing the spy agencies — all
ultimately depend on candor and disclosure from the agencies
themselves — but the fragile culture of restraint that
fitfully emerged in the aftermath of the scandals of the 1960s and
’70s. Whatever remains of that culture 16 years into the war
on terrorism, hollowing out the intelligence bureaucracy to make
room for appointees selected for their personal loyalty to Trump
would probably finish it off.

Julian
Sanchez
is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and studies
issues related to technology, privacy, and civil liberties.

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Ending Obama EPA’s Ban on Alaska’s Pebble Mine Is Right for American Energy

Ned Mamula and Catrina Rorke

The Environmental Protection Agency is again drawing the ire of
environmentalists, this time by lifting an Obama-era ban on development of
Alaska’s Pebble Mine
. It’s part of a dramatic pivot
driven by the Trump administration, with rule changes, proposals
and executive orders all intended to realign U.S. public lands
policy with the White House’s development-minded
approach.

If the changes are implemented successfully, the administration
has the opportunity to create much-needed jobs in the western half
of the country. And if the Pebble Mine is any example, it could
finally unchain the United States from what has been a dangerous
dependency on critical mineral imports.

The proposed Pebble Mine in southwestern Alaska would bring to
market 6.44 billion metric tons of copper, gold, molybdenum and
silver, four commodities in the group known as “critical and
strategic minerals.” These minerals are critical for the
manufacture of goods as varied as medical devices, agricultural
products, and electronics, and contribute to industries that added
$2.78 trillion to gross domestic product last year. Critical and
strategic minerals get their designation because they’re not
just economically vital; they’re also essential to national
defense. The Pentagon maintains 37 mineral commodities as part of
the Defense National Stockpile.

Informed, data-driven
consideration of our mineral resources would allow the United
States to better reconcile its economic needs with its devotion to
environmental protection.

As recently as 1990, the United States was the world’s
largest producer of mineral resources. Geologically speaking,
we’re rich. The American West hosts one of the largest, most
diverse and most unusually concentrated mineral belts in the world,
extending from Colorado to the Pacific Ocean. That geological
terrain hosts world-class deposits of chromium, copper, fluorine,
gold, molybdenum, platinum and uranium, to name just a few.

But quite a different trend has emerged over the last three
decades. Earlier this year, the U.S. Geological Survey reported that, of 88
important minerals they track, the United States is more than 25
percent import-dependent for 62 of them. For 20 of those minerals,
the United States is 100 percent reliant on imports. Many of those
20 key minerals are absolutely critical to the economy and national
defense.

The risks are underscored when one considers just how reliant
the country has become on imports specifically from Russia and
China. China, by far the world’s largest source of minerals,
has already used its rare earth mineral wealth as a diplomatic
weapon. As Chinese statesman Deng Xiaoping said in 1992: “The
Middle East has its oil, China has rare earth.”

Resources can be powerful economic weapons. Consider the 1973
Arab Oil Embargo, prompted by international support for Israel in
the Yom Kippur War. In retaliation, Arab countries cut production
and prohibited exports to a number of countries. Oil prices more
than quadrupled, consumers and corporations had trouble accessing
supplies and the global economy raced toward recession. Only after
significant concessions were made by the United States and its
allies was the embargo lifted by the oil cartel.

The embargo pushed industry and government agencies to launch
ambitious research and resource development programs that developed
new technologies and unleashed our current fossil-fuel abundance.
We shouldn’t wait for a similar precipitous event involving
critical minerals. Quite simply, U.S. minerals policy needs to
return to its founding in the “conservation ethic.”

In his memoir, Gifford Pinchot, the founding chief of the U.S.
Forest Service, defined conservation as “the wise use of the
earth and its resources for the lasting good of men.” In the
last few decades, lands policy has instead tipped toward
“preservation” — the view that resources have more inherent
value than productive value. The tangible results of this shift, in
terms of exploring and mining minerals, have been excessively long
permitting timelines, land withdrawals and capitulation to
environmental opposition. Federal lands management agencies are
failing in their obligation to be wise stewards of the public
domain.

Solutions are in the pipeline. The president has launched an
ambitious new approach to resources and Congress isn’t far
behind. Earlier this year, members of the Nevada and Idaho
congressional delegations introduced in both chambers the National
Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act,
which would charge the Interior and Agriculture departments with
more efficiently developing critical and strategic minerals on
federal lands. More substantive policy reforms to expand domestic
minerals mining and production could and should follow. Informed,
data-driven consideration of our mineral resources would allow the
United States to better reconcile its economic needs with its
devotion to environmental protection.

America is blessed with expansive mineral deposits and a more
secure mineral future is within reach. Conscientious policy reforms
to cultivate a smaller, less intrusive and more focused government
minerals policy can successfully reconcile economic growth with
environmental protection, empower the marketplace and shift the
United States away from over-reliance on imports of critical and
strategic minerals, especially from China and Russia.

Ned Mamula is
an adjunct scholar with the Cato Institute; Catrina Rorke is a
senior fellow with the R Street Institute.

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The Scientific Argument against the Paris Climate Agreement

Patrick J. Michaels

Last May, Donald Trump vowed to “cancel the Paris climate
agreement.” It was a scripted remark in a prepared text, an
unusual speech for the then-presidential candidate.

Since then, he has reportedly been under pressure from his
daughter Ivanka — who has set up an intensive review process
on climate change policy — along with her husband Jared
Kushner and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to remain in the deal.
But Ivanka’s left-leaning tendencies have likely colored her
choice of scientists allowed into the discussions.

All of this ignores a heretofore unrecognized fact: The Paris
Agreement is based upon a fundamental misconception of climate
history and science. The objective is to hold temperatures to
“well below” 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial
levels, and to “pursue efforts” to limit the increase
to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The Paris Agreement is
based upon a fundamental misconception of climate history and
science.

The key misconception is that all of the warming since the
Industrial Revolution — 0.9 degrees Celsius — is a
result of human activity.

Hardly. Since the beginning of reliable global temperature
records in the late 19th century, there have been two periods of
significant warming that are statistically indistinguishable in
magnitude. The first period ran from 1910 through about 1945, with
a temperature increase of around 0.5 degrees Celsius. There could
only be minimal human influence on this period, simply because
humans had not emitted very much carbon dioxide.

After a slight cooling, the second one began sometime around
1976 and ended with the big 1998 El Nino. This period was likely in
part due to a greenhouse effect.

The reason this period was affected by greenhouse warming is
because the lower stratosphere cooled at the same time, which is a
prediction of greenhouse theory. If, as some people maintain,
“it’s all the sun,” then the whole atmosphere
would warm.

Interestingly, when the lower atmospheric warming paused after
1998, the stratosphere also stopped cooling. What’s happening
now is quite unclear as surface temperatures are constantly being
readjusted.

So, after allowing for a small bit of other influence on the
second warming, we’re left with the notion that the maximum
warming caused by humans is somewhere between 0.4 and 0.5 degrees
Celsius — half of the total since the Industrial
Revolution.

This has huge implications. If, as the Paris Agreement
erroneously assumes, all of the warming of 0.9 degrees is a result
of human activity, there is no way that the aspirational goal of
1.5 degrees can ever be met. Thanks to the huge thermal inertia of
the ocean, current models show there’s between 0.4 degrees
and 0.6 degrees of warming on the way, even if emissions were capped at
2000 levels.

That’s a total of 1.5 degrees already guaranteed. Meeting
the 2 degrees objective allows only an additional half of a degree
in wiggle room. The Paris Agreement only mitigates about 0.2
degrees of warming. Again, believing in those models, that would be
an additional warming of over 2 degrees Celsius this century.

So according to the United Nation’s own climate models, it
is scientifically impossible. President Trump, that’s grounds
enough to withdraw.

On top of that, the models that form the basis of the Paris
Agreement are predicting way too much warming in the lower
atmosphere, and erroneously predicting a dramatic warming of the
upper atmosphere over the tropics. Most precipitation on earth is a
result of the temperature difference between the lower layers and
what’s aloft.

Get that wrong, which the climate models do systematically, and
the models are of very little utility.

There are other, more reality-based approaches to estimating
future warming, and these point to a 21st century increase of
closer to 1.4 degrees Celsius. Adding that to the maximum human
contribution to-date of 0.5 degrees yields 1.9 degrees, meeting the
Paris objective without the Paris Agreement.

President Trump, that’s also grounds enough to
withdraw.

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

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Is Trump’s Saudi Arms Deal the Worst Arms Deal Ever?

A. Trevor Thrall

Over the weekend, President Trump inked an arms deal with Saudi
Arabia worth $110 billion — the largest single arms sale in
United States history. Trump’s rationale is that arming Saudi
Arabia will help in the fight against terrorism and help contain
Iran’s negative influence in the Middle East. The deal also fits
Trump’s “America First” vision of a transactional foreign policy
centered on U.S. economic interests.

Sadly, although Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared
Kushner
helped negotiate
the Saudis a great deal, the agreement will
come with a significantly higher price tag for the region and for
the U.S.

The administration has yet to release all the specifics, but
according to the State Department the deal would
“significantly augment”
Saudi Arabia’s military capabilities
(which were not too shabby to begin with). Land systems in the deal
include tanks, armored personnel carriers, helicopters, artillery,
and counter-mortar radar systems. The sea leg includes four of the
new (and oft-troubled) U.S. Littoral Combat Ships, as well as
patrol boats and associated weapons. The Royal Saudi Air Force will
receive new transport, light close air support, and ISR aircraft.
The deal will also provide missile defense systems like the
Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system and improvements
to cybersecurity and communications networks.

Trump’s decision to sell
billions of dollars of advanced weaponry to a nation with one of
the world’s worst records on human rights is not an example of
foreign policy realism—it is an abdication of American
principles.

The biggest losers in the short run will be the
citizens of Yemen
. The U.S. has backed the Saudis from the
beginning of the war, which has been justified by the desire to
root out al Qaeda elements and curb an insurgency believed to have
Iranian support.

But the cure has been far worse than the disease. Last month,
the United Nations
called Yemen
“the largest humanitarian crisis in the world.” In
just three years the war has displaced millions, killed thousands
of civilians, and now threatens most of Yemen’s citizens with
starvation and disease. Human rights organizations
have documented
numerous possible Saudi war crimes throughout
the campaign. Trump’s arms deal will allow the Saudis to escalate
their attacks in Yemen, ensuring American complicity in the
devastation that follows.

Longer term, this deal weakens the ability of the U.S. to
advance the cause of human rights around the world. Though human
rights concerns must sometimes take a back seat to security
concerns, criticism from
both sides
of the aisle makes it clear that this is not one of
those times. By failing to make human rights improvements a
condition of the deal or even to raise the issue publicly, Trump’s
decision to sell billions of dollars of advanced weaponry to a
nation with one of the world’s
worst records
on human rights is not an example of foreign
policy realism—it is an abdication of American
principles.

At the strategic level the deal also fails to pass muster. By
empowering Saudi Arabia, Trump believes he is combating terrorism
and containing Iran. In reality, the deal will do little if
anything to lower the risk of terrorism in the U.S. In fact, the
deal rewards a nation that has
worked hard
to support the spread of the radical Islamist views
that underpin Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. What the deal will
do, however, is further destabilize a region already in dangerous
flux thanks not only to terrorism but also to widespread civil and
sectarian conflicts.

In addition to directly fueling conflict in Yemen and creating
future anti-American terrorists, arming Saudi Arabia heightens
tensions with
Israel
and raises the likelihood of an arms race with Iran. But
adding more weapons to an already-fragile region won’t be the
catalyst for lasting peace. Only diplomacy can hope to solve the
deeply rooted animosities and security dilemmas that plague the
Middle East. Unfortunately, by taking sides the U.S. loses the
ability to play the role of neutral broker in future diplomatic
efforts.

Finally, this arms deal will help ensure that the U.S. remains
entangled in the Middle East for years to come. The past 16 years
of experience in the region should have taught us that American
intervention to combat terrorism is of limited value, and that
fighting other people’s battles is a losing cause. In spite of
this, Trump has enthusiastically committed the U.S. to a closer
partnership with Saudi Arabia that will give many people greater
reason to resent the U.S., encourage U.S. leaders to continue
meddling in Middle Eastern affairs, and further destabilize the
regional balance of power.

The Saudis may have given Trump a gold medal for his visit, but
it’s doubtful that history will do the same for this arms deal.

Trevor
Thrall

is a senior fellow for the Cato Institute’s Defense and Foreign
Policy Department and an associate professor at George Mason
University”s Schar School of Policy and Government.

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Puerto Rico’s Faux Pension Reform

Ike Brannon

It is official: Puerto Rico has entered into the “Title III”
bankruptcy that many feared would be the ultimate outcome of the
Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act
passed by Congress last summer. This includes the island’s largest
public pension plan, the Employee Retirement System, for which the
Commonwealth commenced bankruptcy proceedings this week.

Some conservatives initially rejoiced upon the passage of
PROMESA, believing that it could prove to be a formula to fix the
pension problems that plague many of the states, especially my home
state of Illinois. That seemed to have been the intent, at least:
When Congress passed PROMESA the House leadership made it clear
that it hoped to facilitate serious reforms across the Puerto Rican
government, including its underfunded pension systems.

PROMESA opens the door to significant pension reform through
three provisions. First, the legislation contemplates that the
board would engage an independent actuary to analyze funding and
the sustainability of existing benefits for any territorial pension
plan that is materially underfunded (as are every one of Puerto
Rico’s pension plans).

Congress passed
legislation that sought to help the commonwealth and establish a
formula for other states, but the resulting plan won’t fix
much.

Second, PROMESA requires that a fiscal plan only provide
“adequate” funding to pensions during the restructuring process
(that is, it does not specify that the board achieve “full” funding
at or near current benefit levels in perpetuity).

Third, it specifies that the Commonwealth and other covered
entities (such as its myriad public corporations) that are
participating employers are afforded the authority to restructure
their pension obligations as well under Title III.

However, it is important to note that the House Natural
Resources Committee responsible for drafting PROMESA clearly
indicated in its section-by-section summary of the bill
that the bill does not “reprioritize pension liabilities ahead of
the lawful priorities or liens of bondholders as established under
the territory’s constitution, laws, or other agreements.”

This provision was included to avoid a repeat of the costly
mistakes made in Detroit, where pension reform was shunted aside
and the city simply got out of its financial morass by forcing
bondholders to take a disproportionate share of the losses, often
out of line with the city’s legal debt hierarchy. To this day,
Detroit cannot access the municipal lending market on traditional
terms.

In spite of these explicit provisions, the oversight board
approved a fiscal plan that does just the opposite while doing
little to reform Puerto Rico’s retirement systems.

The oversight board retained Pension Trustee Advisors, a
Colorado-based firm, to undertake the required review of funding
and the sustainability of the pension system, but this has yet to
be done. Given the alacrity by which the island’s government
embraced bankruptcy,
PTA seems to have been retained instead to merely validate a
pre-wired, aggregate 10 percent reduction in pension
obligations
. This matches an
arbitrary number publicly proposed by the board in a January letter
to the commonwealth
.

This is a missed opportunity and is a manifestation of the
oversight board’s apparent ambivalence toward PROMESA.

The ostensibly independent actuary should have been permitted to
analyze the financial situation and offer creative solutions to
Puerto Rico’s pension problems, where—admittedly—one
size does not necessarily fit all. For example, contractually based
“basic” benefits earned through years of service should be treated
differently than legislatively based “system administered benefits”
(which include assorted bonuses and cost-of-living adjustments)
that might be taken away by the same legislative pen with which
they were bestowed. Likewise, existing retirees should be treated
differently than active employees, whose accumulated contributions
might be returned and invested in a 401(k) style system in lieu of
further accruing pension benefits.

At a minimum, the oversight board could greenlight a reform for
the Puerto Rico Teachers Retirement System—struck down in
2014 on a technicality—that would have provided an estimated
$3.7 billion of savings. There are myriad other ideas that an
engaged actuary and a motivated oversight board could explore to
achieve meaningful and sustainable reform for Puerto Rico.

The lack of serious reform is made all the more glaring by a
recent government move that served to exacerbate the pension issue.
Governor Ricardo Rossello signed into law a single employer
legislation, which creates the risk that all employee retirement
systems liabilities—including those of the commonwealth’s
municipalities and public corporations—could be shifted to
the commonwealth’s general fund. It’s problematic because the
commonwealth and its central government agencies were responsible
for only 60 percent of the unfunded actuarial liability, as just
one of many participating employers.

This faux reform will prove a costly mistake for many
stakeholders. Unfortunately, it seems that both Judge Laura Taylor
Swain, who is overseeing the bankruptcy proceeding, and Governor
Rossello may nonetheless support it. The governor has adopted an
increasingly populist tone toward protecting the pensions in full
since being elected on a platform of working with bondholders.
Meanwhile, Judge Swain recently made a point of stating that her
vision strived to “safeguard pensions.”

If “safeguard” means moving forward without serious reform, then
Puerto Rico is on the path to wasting this golden opportunity
presented by PROMESA to make significant changes to the
government’s various retirement systems that would make them
solvent over the long term. Any short-run political gain of the
sort that seems to preoccupy the current government will only
entail a far larger degree of long-run economic and financial pain,
as a post-Rossello and post-oversight-board Puerto Rico would be
left to grapple with the same spiraling problem down the road with
far less leeway to enact unilateral fixes. The unstated purpose of
the board—as it has been whenever it’s been used—is to
take the political heat off of the government and allow it to do
economically beneficial but politically unpopular reforms. Puerto
Rico’s government seems to not recognize this.

Ike Brannon is
president of Capital Policy Analytics and a visiting fellow at the
Cato Institute.

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Senator Manchin’s Latest Attempt at Curbing Opioid Addiction Is a Very Bad Idea

Jeffrey A. Singer

Earlier this month, in an effort to help stem the nation’s
rise in opioid addiction and overdose, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV)
introduced a bill that purports to
solve that problem. The bill would require the Food and Drug
Administration to revoke the approval of one opioid pain medication
for each new opioid pain medication the FDA approves for health
care practitioners to prescribe.

As a practicing surgeon who prescribes pain medication for my
postoperative patients, I think the senator’s proposal will
not only make the opioid problem worse, but also create new
problems as well.

This proposal essentially caps the number of arrows I may have
in my quiver. Every patient is unique. It is not unusual for a
patient in pain to have a poor response — or even an adverse
reaction — to a pain medication that works well in most other
patients. On many occasions, I need to try on my patient several
different types of opioids, sometimes in combination with other
types of analgesics, until I get my patient relief from pain. I
need as many options as possible. Demanding the removal of one
existing option for every new option that arises hampers and
intrudes on my ability to complete my primary mission: the relief
of suffering.

Sen. Manchin’s proposal
is another example of a well-intended but inappropriate intrusion
into the practice of medicine and the patient-doctor relationship
by people who presume the ability to engineer human
behavior.

It also invites unintended consequences. Suppose a new opioid is
approved that is found to be faster acting and more effective in
relieving pain, yet has a higher potential for addiction and
respiratory depression than those already approved. Is it really a
good idea to remove from doctors’ armamentarium a less potent
and less dangerous opioid to make room for the new one?

It is not rare for a newly
approved drug, several months after its introduction into the
marketplace, to be found to have serious adverse effects not
previously demonstrated during FDA clinical trials, and then be
pulled from the market by the manufacturer or the FDA.

Suppose this happens with a new opioid that replaced an older
one under Sen. Manchin’s bill? Does the old one get
re-approved? Or is the practitioner left with even fewer
options?

Finally, if Sen. Manchin thinks that limiting the number of
opioids legally available will prevent addicts from obtaining their
opioid of choice, then maybe he hasn’t heard about the Heroin
epidemic. Heroin was banned in the US in 1924, but remains readily available and
in fact has become a popular substitute for opioid addicts who are
cut off by their prescribers and turn to the black market for
relief. In 1924, morphine was the most common intravenous drug to
which people were addicted. When heroin was totally banned, it
became much more attractive than morphine for drug dealers to
promote, because they had no competition from the legitimate
market, and soon heroin overtook morphine in sales.

Removing popular opioids from the legal market merely transfers
drug options from health care practitioners to black market drug
dealers.

Sen. Manchin’s proposal is another example of a
well-intended but inappropriate intrusion into the practice of
medicine and the patient-doctor relationship by people who presume
the ability to engineer human behavior. I appreciate the
senator’s concern, but if he is looking for an answer to the
opioid abuse problem the answer lies in “harm
reduction.” Let doctors be
doctors
. Let them exercise their professional judgment and work
with patients who have opioid dependency, confidentially and
compassionately.

If a doctor decides it is less harmful for the patient to get a
refill of the opioid prescription than to send the patient to the
street, the doctor should be able to do so.

Naloxone is an effective antidote to the respiratory depression
that arises from an opioid overdose. It is available in
intravenous, subcutaneous (like an insulin injection), and nasal
spray form. Pharmacists should be allowed to dispense naloxone
without a prescription, and naloxone should be made more readily
available to first responders. This is already happening in
some states, such as New Mexico.

If Senator Manchin really wants to help solve the problem, he
should stop doubling down on the same strategy that has failed us
since the 1920s and try something new.

Jeffrey A.
Singer

practices general surgery in Phoenix, AZ and is an adjunct
scholar at the Cato Institute.