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Reexamining the data on extreme poverty - Reexamining the data on extreme poverty - AEI

Sun, 08/19/2018 - 14:52

On this episode of the AEI Events Podcast, AEI’s Robert Doar and Bruce Meyer lead a panel discussion on reexamining the data on extreme poverty.

Dr. Meyer presented his new Comprehensive Income Dataset, which aggregates several different types of survey and administrative data to provide a more accurate picture of the conditions of low-income Americans. He noted that many studies pointing to high amounts of extreme poverty in the United States — characterized by individuals living on less than $2 per day — fail to account for important benefits such as in-kind transfers, public assistance, and unreported earnings. After adjusting for these discrepancies, he finds that extreme poverty is nearly nonexistent in the US. Additionally, Dr. Meyer noted that many families previously counted as poor have actually risen out of poverty entirely.

The panelists commended Dr. Meyer and reaffirmed the importance of the new data set in framing the poverty conversation. Some expressed concern, however, with technicalities of the aggregating process. For instance, while noting the importance of in-kind transfers, Laura Wheaton of the Urban Institute and James Ziliak of the University of Kentucky emphasized how cash transfers can help poor communities. They encouraged policymakers to focus on the practicality of various forms of assistance when designing antipoverty programs.


This event took place on July 10, 2018.

Watch the full event here.

Subscribe to the AEI Events Podcast on Apple Podcasts.

Rethinking globalization: How do we rebuild support? - AEI - American Enterprise Institute: Freedom, Opportunity, Enterprise

Sat, 08/18/2018 - 12:45

On this episode of the AEI Events Podcast, listen as scholars from AEI and the Brookings Institution launch “Reconceptualizing Globalization,” a joint project to address globalization, anti-globalization, and engagement.

AEI’s Neena Shenai explained that the 2016 election cycle revealed divides among US citizens regarding international trade. She recognized that while globalization has benefited the US, the current constituency for globalization has failed to communicate to the American public how trade liberalization has underpinned US prosperity.

RiceHadleyGates’ Stephen J. Hadley emphasized that anti-globalization sentiment indicates a need to revalorize the international system, noting that opponents of trade liberalization will not concede until the US fixes pressing domestic issues. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ Jared Bernstein agreed that, historically, elected officials are reluctant to admit the negative consequences of international trade.

Tufts University’s Daniel W. Drezner argued that a growing majority of Americans support globalization and that the Trump administration blames international trade for unrelated domestic problems. Columbia University’s Merit Janow stated that while the US can celebrate gains from globalization, it must equally manage the concentrated economic losses. The Brookings Institution’s Joshua Meltzer concluded that domestic policy has failed to address economic dislocation and that a new and diverse constituency must support a new wave of trade liberalization in the US.

This event took place on July 11, 2018.

Watch the full event here.

Subscribe to the AEI Events Podcast on Apple Podcasts.

Criminal justice reform in 2018: A conversation with Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) - Criminal justice reform in 2018: A conversation with Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) - AEI

Fri, 08/17/2018 - 18:45

On this episode of the AEI Events Podcast, AEI’s Brent Orrell hosts Reps. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and Doug Collins (R-GA) for a conversation about their bill, the FIRST STEP Act. Among other things, the bill would expand opportunities for rehabilitation and vocational training in federal prisons and increase the use of risk assessment tools.

In their opening remarks, Reps. Jeffries and Collins discussed the importance of finding common ground in the midst of a polarized Congress, and Rep. Jeffries noted that criminal justice reform has become a bipartisan issue where some forward movement is possible. While both members conceded that the new bill does not address every issue they would like to see resolved, it captures what Rep. Collins dubbed “the art of the possible.”

The Q&A centered on how the two members found areas of agreement and on the nature of the bill itself. The bill, both men noted, intentionally does not address sentencing reform. This is because sentencing reform tends to be much more contentious in Congress, with many members feeling that it gives people a free pass for bad behavior. They noted, however, that doing nothing would be a disservice to incarcerated individuals and their families, who deserve change.

This event took place on July 12, 2018.

Watch the full event here.

Subscribe to the AEI Events Podcast on Apple Podcasts.

To help fair-housing opportunity, HUD should slow unsustainable home price boom and focus on housing supply - Criminal justice reform in 2018: A conversation with Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) - AEI

Fri, 08/17/2018 - 15:00

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced Monday its intention to increase fair-housing opportunity by streamlining and enhancing the Obama-era Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule. HUD Secretary Ben Carson is expected to focus on restrictive zoning codes, which could drive home prices up and make it more difficult for low-income families to afford housing.

In a new op-ed, Codirector of AEI’s Center on Housing Markets and Finance Edward Pinto suggests that HUD take several steps to increase fair-housing opportunity:

  • While HUD should condition federal grant dollars on incentives created by state and local governments to increase supply, this will take many years to achieve the desired impact. In the meantime HUD should take immediate steps to slow the unsustainable home price boom that is being fueled by excessive leverage, almost all of which is provided by Federal Housing Administration, or by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac competing with the FHA.

  • Increase home supply. For example, condition federal dollars on state and local policy changes, give back to property owners the right to build at higher densities, and create higher-density single-family and multifamily zoning where infrastructure is already in place.
  • Reduce development costs. For example, eliminate or reduce off-street parking requirements; offer property tax abatements, tax-increment financing, and other incentives for building economically without the use of housing subsidies; and adjust upfront impact fees (charges in addition to property taxes for schools, parks, etc.).

  • Address the inflationary role federal credit easing has played during the current six-year-old housing price boom in order to achieve the goals of the Fair Housing Act of 1968. When the current housing boom goes bust and real house prices inevitably revert to their trend growth path, low-income and minority home buyers will again be subjected to more volatility, greater loss of equity, and higher rates of loan default. HUD should immediately begin taking steps to slow the boom and help borrowers from over-leveraging themselves.

Read the full piece: How HUD Can Help the Housing Market

A church in denial, still - Criminal justice reform in 2018: A conversation with Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) - AEI

Fri, 08/17/2018 - 14:18

“I don’t think this is some massive, massive crisis,” said Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the Catholic archbishop of Washington, D.C., in a statement that could not possibly be more wrong. Speaking three weeks after revelations about his predecessor’s sexual predation against boys and young priests, Wuerl said he was aware that a harrowing Pennsylvania grand-jury report would soon document the sexual abuse of 1,000 children by Catholic clergy and criticize Wuerl’s own treatment of some abusers.

Cardinal Archbishop Emeritus Theodore McCarrick waves to fellow bishops as attends the midday prayer service at the Cathedral of St. Matthews in Washington REUTERS/Jonathan Newton/Pool

Wuerl allowed that the news about his predecessor, Theodore McCarrick, was “a terrible disappointment.” He also said that “we need to have something that would also be a mechanism for when a bishop has not been as faithful as he needs to be, even if the charges go back 40, 50 years.” Even amid that march of euphemism and evasion, one phrase should leap out. In the context of discussing a predecessor who had done a lot to destroy a boy’s life – who had raped him for years – Wuerl spoke of a bishop who “has not been as faithful as he needs to be,” a comment that could more aptly be applied to someone who had neglected to say his morning prayers.

Let it not be said, however, that Wuerl is slow to appreciate all dangers. He had what can only be described as a P.R. website ready to go when the report was released. It provoked an immediate outcry and was taken down a few hours after launching.

Wuerl is an egregious case. But he isn’t alone in failing to treat this disaster – the appalling abuse, the cover-ups, or even the anguish it is causing the Catholic faithful – with the gravity it deserves. In my own parish, in Alexandria, Virginia, where many in the pews have had contacts with McCarrick over the years, I have heard no priest mention any of these things at Sunday Mass. Our bishop, Michael Burbidge, included only the most elliptical reference to them in a recent homily: “There are moments in life where we seem to need God’s consolation and reassurance more than ever. And in light of some unsettling times in our church and recent revelations, it certainly seems to be one of those moments.”

Unsettling times? Some bishops have been forthright about the rot in the church. I suspect there are Catholic priests and bishops who fear that such talk will shake people’s faith. But it is the rot itself that is doing that, and it is a poor faith that imagines that Jesus needs our dishonesty or our silence.

Something else is impeding the reckoning that must come: church politics. During the first wave of the abuse scandal in 2002, conservative Catholics sometimes dragged their feet in recognizing the evidence. They blamed the enemies of the church for sensationalizing it; in some cases they knew and thought well of the abusers. This time it is liberal Catholics who are more prone to this reaction. Because they considered Wuerl and (especially) McCarrick to be their allies, some of them are insisting on ferreting out the critics’ alleged motives rather than maintaining a focus on the victims, and on preventing future victims.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has announced “an investigation into the questions surrounding Archbishop McCarrick.” But we do not yet know if that investigation will be as independent of the bishops as promised, will have full access to all the information it seeks, or will lead to full cooperation by church officials with law enforcement in the future. Nor do we know, finally, if Pope Francis will take this occasion to accept Wuerl’s resignation.

Only when we have those answers will we know whether the Catholic Church in America is taking seriously what is certainly the worst crisis it has experienced since I was received into it, 14 years ago, by one Theodore McCarrick.

No more bishops investigating bishops: appoint Frank Keating to do that - Criminal justice reform in 2018: A conversation with Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) - AEI

Fri, 08/17/2018 - 13:42
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In anticipation of a Pennsylvania grand-jury report exposing hundreds of priests accused of sexual abuse since the 1940s, the bishop of Harrisburg last week ordered that the names of former bishops from those years be stripped from churches. This purge is a symbolic gesture — an expression of the reality that bishops who protect abusers should hold no place of honor in the Church.

Today, so many years after the sexual-abuse scandal in the U.S. Catholic Church erupted in Boston in 2002, more than symbols are needed.

This is on my mind, of course, because of the revelations of the appalling — and, indeed, evil — behavior of Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington. Like nearly every Catholic with whom I’ve spoken since the whole world learned what had been quietly whispered in rectories, church halls, and cathedrals, I am a combination of heartbroken and outraged by the allegations that McCarrick sexually abused minors, seminarians, and young priests. It is infuriating and stupefying that the bishop who became the public face of the Church’s response to the sex-abuse scandal was apparently guilty of abusing minors himself.

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The McCarrick affair makes it impossible for Catholics to comfort themselves with the thought that the problems in the Church are limited to a small share of priests abusing children and to a small share of bishops protecting them. Instead, McCarrick’s apparent crimes make clear that the moral rot within the Church’s leadership runs wide and deep. We’ve learned from McCarrick’s career, beyond specific instances of abuse, that the culture at the top of the Church is severely broken.

It’s time for Turkey and NATO to go their separate ways - Criminal justice reform in 2018: A conversation with Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) - AEI

Fri, 08/17/2018 - 13:32

“If the internal stress in the U.S. goes on like this, the possibility of another 9/11 is not all that remote,” wrote columnist Abdurrahman Dilipak in Yeni Akit, a paper close to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his political party, the Justice and Development Party (AKP). Such threats and incitement may sound strange coming from a NATO member, but they have become the new normal in Turkey.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu together with the Turkish delegation arrive for the second day of a NATO summit in Brussels, Belgium, July 12, 2018. Tatyana Zenkovich/Pool via REUTERS

In 2004, Metal Storm, a fictionalized account of war between Turkey and the United States, shot to the top of Turkey’s bestseller list. The Turkish newspaper Radikal wrote that “the Foreign Ministry and General Staff are reading it keenly” and “all cabinet members also have it.” After a U.S.-based energy firm began drilling in Cyprus’s waters in September 2011, Turkish Minister Egemen Bagis warned, “This is what we have the navy for. We have trained our marines for this; we have equipped the navy for this. All options are on the table; anything can be done.” More recently, Erdogan threatened U.S. forces in Syria with an “Ottoman slap.” Both Dogu Perincek, an intellectual godfather of the Turkish military, and Adnan Tanriverdi, Erdogan’s military counselor, are both fiercely anti-NATO.

Nor is Turkish hostility limited to words: Turkish nationalists have attacked American sailors when U.S. ships are docked in Turkish ports. And AKP apparatchiks have demanded the arrest of U.S. personnel based at Turkey’s Incirlik Air Base. Several American citizens, including the pastor Andrew Brunson, are already in prison on dubious national-security charges.

It wasn’t always this way. Thousands of Turks fought alongside American forces during the Korean War. Turkey lobbied furiously for inclusion in the Western-defensive alliance. It was “imperative that democracies work in complete harmony, without competition among themselves or differences in policy objectives,” Foreign Minister Mehmet Fuat Koprulu told George C. McGhee, the U.S. ambassador to Turkey, in January 1952, shortly before Turkey joined NATO.

And Turkey’s contributions to NATO have been valuable. If the United States was the alliance’s backbone, Turkey was its muscle: even today, it has more men under arms than France and Germany combined. And not only is it one of only two NATO countries to border the Soviet Union, but it also serves as a bulwark against radicalism and terrorism emanating from the Middle East.

But all that was before Erdogan. Does Turkey, today, still belong in NATO?

Matt Bryza, a former National Security Council official and deputy assistant secretary of state, argues against any turn away from Turkey: “Abandoning Turkey now would weaken NATO, forfeit U.S. influence in the Middle East and threaten the coalition whose fight against ISIS is far from finished.” Likewise, former U.S. ambassador to Turkey James F. Jeffrey and his colleague Michael Singh insist that “cutting Turkey loose would constitute a self-inflicted wound. Turkey is not just President Erdogan but a regional geographic and economic giant that stands as a buffer between Europe and the Middle East, and between the Middle East and Russia.”

That all sounds good in theory. What Bryza, Jeffrey and Singh ignore, however, is just what 15 years of Erdogan has done to the United States’ former ally. In short, they confuse Turkey of yesteryear with Turkey today.

Consider Turkey’s military: Whereas the Turkish army was once a secular bulwark against Islamism, Erdogan has changed its character. Almost all the officers, up to lieutenant colonel, have spent their entire careers under Erdogan’s leadership. Erdogan has also used a series of fanciful coup plots to derail the promotion of professional and more secular officers so that he could appoint political sympathizers in their place. He purged almost anyone with any significant service in NATO: Even before the abortive 2016 coup, Erdogan had imprisoned one out of five generals.

The question of what Turkey might do if the United States cuts it loose is valid. But when Turkey’s proponents cite its importance in the war against the Islamic State, they neglect to mention that the Islamic State only thrived because Turkey allowed foreign fighters and equipment to cross its borders.

Writing in the New York Times, Erdogan himself warned that continued “disrespect will require us to start looking for new friends and allies,” an unsubtle threat that he might pivot toward Russia. But, in many ways, he already has. Erdogan has made it clear that he aims to purchase Russian S-400 missiles, which, if integrated into Turkish air-defense systems, might compromise NATO air-defense secrets to Russian engineers. Those counseling a softer line point out that Erdogan’s strategy is, in part, transactional. This is true, but that is all the more reason to second-guess Turkey’s role in collective defense. After all, when a crisis erupts, NATO members must rally together, not engage in bidding wars with Washington and Moscow over who deserves its loyalty.

Indeed, the real danger to NATO is not that Turkey will withdraw or pivot to Russia, but rather that it remains inside. Because NATO decisions are consensual, Turkey can play the proverbial Trojan Horse to filibuster any action when crisis looms.

It is true there is no clear mechanism to expel NATO members – but NATO’s survival nonetheless requires purging Turkey. The West should call Erdogan’s bluff.

Congress must step up sanctions game to play hardball with Russia - Criminal justice reform in 2018: A conversation with Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) - AEI

Fri, 08/17/2018 - 13:18

Sanctions have become the default hammer designed by Congress to fill the void left by the bewildering flattery of Vladimir Putin by President Trump. A credible legislative message should indeed be sent in response to continued and future Russian misdeeds, including election meddling and irredentism. But Congress may be overlooking a straightforward and systemic solution that would go beyond either haphazardly targeting individuals or the entire Russian economy.

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a session of the BRICS summit in Johannesburg, South Africa July 27, 2018. Sputnik/Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin via REUTERS

The effectiveness of current approaches in deterring Kremlin misconduct is contested, but their propensity to severely disrupt global supply chains is proven. Reports of new sanctions bills sent the Russian ruble into free-fall. The sanctions mallet affects economic outcomes, but in battling a politically revisionist Putin, those advocating a sanctions strategy should remain cognizant that there is still opposition to Putin in Russia, and there are plenty of Westerners that work and invest there. When ordinary Russians, Americans, and Europeans start losing their jobs as an unintended consequence, sanctions legislation runs the risk of playing straight into Putin’s hands.

The Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act (DASKAA) has the potential to be an effective deterrent to bad Russian behavior, but to be credible it needs two things. First, the clear support of US-based multinational firms across all sectors. Second, language to provide a tool for truly undermining the economic foundations of Putin’s authoritarian kleptocracy: a provision requiring corporate beneficial ownership transparency.

This might seem like a surprising observation, but beneficial ownership requirements are key to tracking down the personal wealth of the Putin oligarchy, much of which is believed to be sitting in the form of American and British real estate. Tucked in the back of the 104-page, leaked DASKAA draft is a provision to make an obscure Treasury Department pilot scheme, called Geographic Targeting Orders (GTOs), nationwide and permanent. GTOs require title insurance agents in certain US jurisdictions to disclose the identity of customers behind shell companies used in high-value real estate deals. Since they were introduced in 2016, GTOs have driven the volume of such deals down by a staggering 95 percent in Miami and 70 percent nationwide. If the customers behind the shell companies purchasing property have innocent intentions, what explains their sudden flight when asked to divulge their identities to US law enforcement?

GTOs might seem out of place in a Russian sanctions bill, but they drive straight at the contemporary model of transnational kleptocracy. Oligarchs and corrupt officials rely on the ability to spirit stolen money out of Russia, bounce it through offshore secrecy havens, and stash it in real estate in Miami, New York, and other glamorous locations around the world. Often, the money is just there for safekeeping. But members of the Russian elite are frequently beholden to the Kremlin.

Once their illicit funds have been safely integrated into the US economy, they can be deployed for darker purposes, such as election meddling, influence peddling, assassinations, bribery, and hiring thugs back in Russia to harass opposition groups and independent media. This process not only corrupts and undermines our own democratic, legal, and financial institutions, but it also distorts markets and decreases the profitability of American firms. This corrosive dynamic is a major reason why US businesses should support deterrence efforts like DASKAA and demand it include a provision on beneficial ownership.

A beneficial ownership rule needs to be applied broadly and overseen by the US Treasury Department for two reasons. First, there are few ways of knowing which companies are Russian. After all, oligarchs do not name them “Putin’s Laundry LLC.” Second, a Treasury due diligence (beneficial ownership) database would make American markets more competitive, as it will reduce the quickly growing costs of compliance departments.

Another DASKAA provision illustrates why this is so important in practice. DASKAA would establish a “National Fusion Center” to counter the hybrid threat posed by Russian aggression, including “the covert transfer of illicit funds through shell corporations and financial institutions to facilitate corruption, crime, and malign influence activities, including through political parties and interest groups.”

This is a welcome and overdue measure, but impossible to enact without an accompanying beneficial ownership provision. How are US intelligence agencies and law enforcement supposed to monitor shell corporations for malign Russian activity when they have little in the way of knowing who owns or controls them? For that matter, how are sanctions under DASKAA — or the Magnitsky Act, CAATSA, and broader counter-terrorism regime — supposed to be enforced when US law enforcement can’t see who owns what in its own country?

When one shines a light on pests, they either freeze or scatter. In this case, that light is a credible threat that there will be consequences. Sanctions are important, but tackling the corporate secrecy on which Putin’s regime depends is what he fears most. Adding a beneficial ownership provision and securing the support of American multinational businesses will make the light of legislation like DASKAA shine even stronger.

Clay Fuller is a Jeane Kirkpatrick fellow in foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute and Nate Sibley is program manager of the kleptocracy initiative at the Hudson Institute.

Oregon overshoots on opioids - Criminal justice reform in 2018: A conversation with Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) - AEI

Fri, 08/17/2018 - 13:08

The Oregon Health Authority is contemplating a radical plan to end opioid coverage for many chronic-pain patients enrolled in the state’s Medicaid program. Beginning in 2020, physicians would have one year to fully taper off doses of medications such as Percocet, Vicodin and OxyContin. OHA’s chief medical officer says the agency believes “pain patients have been put at higher risk with regard to overprescribing.”

Oregon’s proposal is a more extreme version of increasingly common policies that position dose reductions as the key to patient safety. But the available evidence does not show a safety benefit from mandatory, across-the-board opioid tapers. Instead of targeting those most at risk of overdose, the mandate would needlessly exacerbate suffering for thousands of patients.

The risk of opioid overdose among chronic pain patients is real but low—less than 0.3% a year at typical doses, according to a 2011 study. It tends to occur among specific groups of opioid users: those who suffer from mental illness or other major medical problems, and those who mix opioids with alcohol or other drugs.

To read the full article click here. The article will be posted in full on Monday August 20th. 

Like Obama before him, Trump is abandoning the political center - Criminal justice reform in 2018: A conversation with Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) - AEI

Fri, 08/17/2018 - 10:30

If there’s a single idea that has defined the politics of the past 70 years, it is the notion of “the center.”

What constituted the center of American politics has always been up for debate. Did the center mean mushy moderation? Was it the “reasonable” midpoint between the right and left, where most American voters clustered? Was it a set of clear principles most Americans rallied around? Or was the center whatever positions could win over enough people who called themselves “centrists” or “independents”?

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to reporters upon his departure from the White House in Washington, U.S., August 17, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

The truth is, it varied from one political moment to another. Politics is about building coalitions of support, and how that is done can change with the times and the personality.

When Barry Goldwater was seen as too extreme in 1964, Lyndon Johnson won in a landslide. In 1968, the perceived inability of liberals to keep the Left in check tilted the country to Richard Nixon.

Some politicians had the base in their pocket and needed to persuade the moderates, like Reagan in 1980. Some politicians had the moderates in their pocket but needed to persuade the base that their heart was in the right place, like George H. W. Bush in 1988.

But this idea that each party had to win over enough of the great American middle in order to be the majority party informed pretty much every presidential election since the end of World War II.

All of that seems to have vanished.

Donald Trump is the first president in living memory who seems utterly contemptuous of even appearing to care about voters outside of his base in a sustained way. He often refers to “my people” as if he were president of his fan base and no one else.

The bizarre irony is that Trump is less extreme on (some) policy issues than media coverage might lead you to believe. Trump doesn’t want to touch entitlements, and neither do most voters. When pressed, most Americans don’t like it when NFL players kneel for the national anthem. On countless other issues, from trade and foreign policy to immigration, Trump’s underlying positions are much less controversial than the way he talks about them and the way he handles them. Most Americans don’t want immigration increased, and most Americans don’t like the way Trump talks about immigrants. Most Americans don’t want to see Confederate statues toppled, and I suspect that most Americans don’t like the way he talks about that issue, either.

As we’ve seen in recent primaries, GOP candidates are taking their cues from Trump. The main issue in race after race was which candidate was more supportive of President Trump rather than any public-policy issue. It’s no wonder that only 33 percent of Americans think Republican congressional candidates are within the mainstream.

Meanwhile, Democrats, in part as a reaction to Trump’s base-appeasing style, have become policy extremists. The competition among Democrats is to see who can be the most reasonable-sounding defender of unreasonable policies, from midwifing a new socialist era to abolishing ICE. So it’s also no surprise that only 33 percent of Americans think Democratic congressional candidates are within the mainstream.

I don’t think Trump created this dynamic, but he’s accelerating it.

Much of this political transformation is downstream of a demographic transformation. Because of what has been called “the big sort,” Blue America is becoming bluer, and Red America is becoming redder. Thus, the political incentive for most politicians isn’t to cultivate the center to cobble together a majority coalition, but to gin up the base as much as possible.

Barack Obama refused to “pivot to the center” when he got the nomination in 2008. Instead, he brilliantly blew up the standard model by increasing turnout among minorities and young people. He received fewer votes in 2012, but the strategy worked for him again. It didn’t work very well for the rest of his party. In response to Obama, Republicans gained more elective positions than at any time since the 1920s. Moderate Democrats were all but wiped out as a force within the party, leaving what was left to be even more ideologically extreme.

The GOP didn’t moderate under Obama, either. Trump, blessed with an ideal 2016 opponent in Hillary Clinton, adopted a mirror-image strategy to Obama’s and torqued up white turnout.

For both parties, the notion of appealing to the center, or simply expanding their coalitions, faded from collective memory. The challenge for the GOP in the long run is that this strategy depends on an ever-shrinking supply of white voters.

What exactly is government’s role in addressing misinformation online? - Criminal justice reform in 2018: A conversation with Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) - AEI

Fri, 08/17/2018 - 10:00

Social media platforms’ ability to target content and advertising to specific audiences and facilitate the rapid sharing of information has revolutionized advertising and provided great benefits to consumers and the online and offline economies. Unfortunately, those seeking to spread political misinformation and propaganda online leverage these same capabilities, as has been well publicized in headlines and congressional hearings of the past year. In July, Axios published a white paper floated by Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) listing 20 regulatory options for “fighting politically oriented misinformation, protecting user privacy, and promoting competition.”

Via Twenty20.

Sen. Warner is looking to create effective laws and regulations that require social media companies to detect and suspend disruptive “fake” accounts and delineate these from genuine advertising and personal use. The challenge tech companies face is separating “real” from “fake,” but policymakers too face a daunting challenge in trying to structure potential regulations in a way that achieves the goal of mitigating political trolls while protecting free speech and vibrant entrepreneurship on the internet. Here are a few of the proposals in the white paper that caught my attention.

Detecting and mitigating “fake news” or information that has been fabricated or manipulated as part of a paid for propaganda campaign is challenging for everyone in the internet ecosystem. Bad actors take advantage of the internet’s decentralized architecture, which allows them to conceal themselves using tools designed to enable and protect free speech.

One of the proposals in the Warner paper is to “make platforms liable for state-law torts (defamation, false light, public disclosure of private facts) for failure to take down deep fake or other manipulated audio/video content.” Distributors of fake news are currently able to spread their disinformation in part because websites are under no legal obligation to actively remove false or defamatory content. “Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act [means that] internet intermediaries like social media platforms are immunized from state tort and criminal liability.”

Changing this status quo would effectively require companies such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon to have a proactive plan to stop the spread of content that includes disinformation on their platforms. This liability would also extend to companies such as Verizon, Comcast, and AT&T, requiring they monitor the transport of raw data across their networks and to each other due to their liability for its content.

The white paper also puts forward a stronger form of this liability, which would classify internet service providers (ISPs) as “information fiduciaries” for their users. While tort liability mainly requires a mere “duty of care,” the concept of information fiduciaries “would stipulate not only that providers had to zealously protect user data, but also pledge not to utilize or manipulate the data for the benefit of the platform or third parties.”

Another suggestion put forth by the Warner white paper is for federal standards of “algorithmic auditability,” which “would require service providers to provide consumers with the sources of data used to make algorithmic determinations or classifications” in such a way as to be “evaluated for efficacy/fairness . . . as well as for potential hidden bias.” These standards could be used to analyze how botnets take advantage of algorithms that organize posts as part of their disinformation campaigns, as well as the more organic spread of fake news. Such a requirement would raise questions about what it means to evaluate the efficacy, fairness, or bias of an algorithm — many of which are created through machine-learning techniques without strict human guidance.

The obvious overarching question here is how to distinguish between bots and “real” users and between “inauthentic” and “authentic” accounts. But who will be the arbitrator of that decision? And how can companies or government agencies make these classifications while preserving citizens’ anonymity, should they choose it? The white paper does acknowledge political problems — such as encouraging totalitarian governments — that legislators would have to navigate in constructing legislation along these lines. But there may be further unintended consequences domestically.

The white paper’s suggestion that ISPs be liable for state-law torts is among the most significant, as it would amount to a repeal of Section 230. Yet there are already laws and regulatory actions, such as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, that enable legal entities to take down illegal or false information. Finding a way to add to these existing protections in a way that enables our democracy to thrive while combating malicious actors is a tough challenge.

Sen. Warner and staff’s efforts should be given credit for starting a needed dialogue, but the big challenge moving forward will be finding a balance between protecting democracy and protecting freedom of speech. The internet is not the cause of the problem, it’s just the most recent tool being used in a long-running game of control by those interested in manipulating citizens.

Learn more:

How HUD can help the housing market - Criminal justice reform in 2018: A conversation with Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) - AEI

Thu, 08/16/2018 - 23:04

The Department of Housing and Urban Development announced Monday its intention to increase fair-housing opportunity by streamlining and enhancing the Obama-era Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule. This newspaper reported HUD Secretary Ben Carson “plans to focus on restrictive zoning codes,” as these have “limited home construction, thus driving up prices and making it more difficult for low-income families to afford homes.”

But the federal government has limited control over state and local land-use policy. So what should HUD do to increase supply? Condition federal dollars on state and local policy changes. Start with zoning. Give back to property owners the right to build at higher densities. Create higher-density single-family and multifamily zoning where infrastructure is already in place. Add density bonuses for building near jobs. Replace static density requirements with equalized ones that take into account unit size. Thus if a 1,500-square-foot home is the maximum unit size that may be built at nine units an acre zoning density, a developer proposing to build 600-square-foot units would have a right to build 22 units an acre.

How about reducing development costs? Start with streamlining permitting processes and timelines. Eliminate or reduce off-street parking requirements. Offer property tax abatements, tax-increment financing and other incentives for building economically near service and line-production jobs without the use of housing subsidies. Adjust upfront impact fees—charges in addition to property taxes for schools, parks, roads, sewers, water and police. Provide for code variance with waiver and modification procedures based on “good enough” and “substantial equivalence” standards. Allow an expedited appeal process for relief from code requirements…

The full article is available now for Wall Street Journal subscribers. It will be posted here on August 20, 2018.

Episode 54: Bonfire of the norms - AEI - American Enterprise Institute: Freedom, Opportunity, Enterprise

Thu, 08/16/2018 - 20:14

With the dog days of summer emptying D.C., Jonah drags Matt Continetti, editor-in-chief of the Washington Free Beacon, back onto the Remnant for some rank punditry, some Trumpsplaining, and some conservative nerdery.

You can subscribe to The Remnant with Jonah Goldberg on iTunesGoogle PlayStitcher, and TuneIn. You can also download this episode here.

This podcast was originally published by National Review.

Watch out for Campbell’s Law when cheering college completion - AEI - American Enterprise Institute: Freedom, Opportunity, Enterprise

Thu, 08/16/2018 - 19:29

Our valued colleague Angela Rachidi yesterday penned an AEIdeas post highlighting a new MDRC study which suggests that some community college programs have successfully boosted college-readiness and graduation rates. Having just finished a major project on the astonishing dropout rate that plagues American higher education (which included a look at the specific programs examined by MDRC), we’re gratified to see a colleague tackling this subject. Yet, for all that, Rachidi’s enthusiastic post left us nervous about the lessons she drew from the analysis. In AEI’s spirit of a genial, collegial competition of ideas, we thought it worth sharing a brief response.

Campbell’s Law in brief: “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.” It applies to college completion rates, too. Image via Twenty20.

The MDRC study does report some impressive results for City University of New York (CUNY) students randomly assigned into the programs in question. After one semester, students in CUNY’s “Start” program were 8 to 25 percent more likely to be college ready in at least one subject-area. Unclear, however, is how CUNY schools define “college-ready,” how that definition may have changed over time, or whether faculty have been easing coursework requirements.

CUNY’s Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (“ASAP”) provides intensive advising, tutoring, and financial support to students. All good, but one key ASAP requirement is that students remain enrolled full-time. Well, full-time students typically complete at much higher rates than part-time students (who may struggle with family or work obligations). As MDRC notes, ASAP thus selects for students who are more likely to make it through. Indeed, program requirements geared to such students could well wind up narrowing the opportunities available to students who can’t afford to take time out of the workforce or enroll full-time.

Rather than huzzahs, what’s needed is careful scrutiny of just how these programs work and how readily results may translate to other institutions and students. Yet, both the MDRC analysis and Rachidi’s commentary exhibit scant attention to distinguishing between productive increases in completion rates from statistical manipulation and mere gamesmanship. As more colleges seek to emulate programs like CUNY’s, they’ll do well to appreciate that enhanced financial aid, advising centers, and tutoring efforts are not cheap — and that trying to make them all work together is challenging.

If we have learned anything from No Child Left Behind and the more recent high school graduation rate scandals in K-12, it’s that Campbell’s Law applies with a vengeance when it comes to education. If educators know they’re supposed to move completion rates, they’ll find ways (good and bad) to move them.

That means caution is warranted. These programs may prompt institutions to lower academic standards, find ways to pass students along by pretending they’re learning (what K-12 types call “social promotion”), or wind up enrolling students they view as more likely to complete. We’ll be best served if we tackle the college completion problem with our eyes wide open, and avoid the temptations to celebrate promised elixirs until we know more about potential side-effects.

Learn more:

High school to JP Morgan in seven seconds: How businesses gain an edge by providing ladders of opportunity - High school to JP Morgan in seven seconds: How businesses gain an edge by providing ladders of opportunity - AEI

Thu, 08/16/2018 - 18:24

There is a deep chasm separating the millions of Americans with limited access to college degrees from professional life. Gerald Chertavian, founder and CEO of Year Up, describes how his organization steps into this void, erecting ladders of opportunity to well-paying jobs while supplying leading businesses like Microsoft and JP Morgan with talent that would otherwise go overlooked. Where will one of their graduates end up this fall? No spoilers here.

This podcast was originally published by Harvard Business School.

AEI’s Sally Satel on the CDC’s new drug overdose estimates - High school to JP Morgan in seven seconds: How businesses gain an edge by providing ladders of opportunity - AEI

Thu, 08/16/2018 - 17:52

In 2017, President Trump declared the opioid crisis a national public health emergency and implemented a $1 billion grant program to help fight the epidemic. New preliminary estimates from the Center for Disease Control indicate that about 72,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2017, a record 10 percent increase from the previous year.

AEI Resident Scholar Sally Satel, M.D., a practicing psychiatrist who specializes in drug addiction, has published research and analysis examining the underlying causes for the crisis and the best path forward to help combat it.

Satel identifies the need to find a demand-side solution to combat the larger crisis in her piece “The Myth of What’s Driving the Opioid Crisis.”

  • “What we need is a demand-side policy. Interventions that seek to reduce the desire to use drugs, be they painkillers or illicit opioids, deserve vastly more political will and federal funding than they have received. Two of the most necessary steps, in my view, are making better use of anti-addiction medications and building a better addiction treatment infrastructure.”

She also writes that rehabilitation drugs and enhanced access to treatment are essential in fighting the opioid epidemic in “Naloxone, Yes, But 3 Other Drugs Are Essential to Fight the Opioid Epidemic.”

  • “For many opioid users, the efforts to get them into treatment and engage them in recovery begin with resuscitation from overdose. Naloxone brings drug abusers back to life. Methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone can help keep them there.”

In 2018, AEI economists Alex Brill and Scott Ganz published a per-capita cost of the opioid epidemic by state and by county. Find their maps here.

To arrange an interview with Sally Satel, M.D., please contact Victoria Bellucci at victoria.bellucci@aei.org or 202.862.7155. AEI’s 24/7 media contact is mediaservices@aei.org or 202.862.5829.

‘The Blob’: Should Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac be shrinking or expanding their activities? - High school to JP Morgan in seven seconds: How businesses gain an edge by providing ladders of opportunity - AEI

Thu, 08/16/2018 - 17:52

On this episode of the AEI Events Podcast, panelists discuss whether Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac should be shrinking or expanding their activities.

AEI’s Edward J. Pinto likened government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to the 1958 cult classic “The Blob” due to their continued expansion of the credit box.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will soon “celebrate” their 10th anniversary of being in government conservatorship. They are under the total control of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, have virtually zero capital, and are utterly dependent on the guaranty of the US Treasury, which is the de facto owner.

Should they be shrinking their activities or expanding them? How can private companies compete with their infinite leverage, broad regulatory exclusions and benefits, and government backing? What kind of regulatory approvals should be required before Fannie and Freddie exploit these powers in new lines of business? Can a future capital regime address the market distortions Fannie and Freddie otherwise create?

This event took place on July 12, 2018.

Watch the full event here.

Subscribe to the AEI Events Podcast on Apple Podcasts.

The Taliban declares war on humanitarian aid - High school to JP Morgan in seven seconds: How businesses gain an edge by providing ladders of opportunity - AEI

Thu, 08/16/2018 - 16:59

The Taliban proved that it continues to be a ruthless and effective fighting force after a brutal assault last week on the city of Ghazni. But its renewed war against humanitarian aid workers poses just as real a threat to the people of Afghanistan and the broader international humanitarian system.

An Afghan security forces convoy patrol after a Taliban attack in Ghazni city, Afghanistan August 14, 2018. REUTERS/Mustafa Andaleb

On August 14, the Taliban publicly withdrew its security commitment to the International Committee of the Red Cross (commonly known as the Red Cross) for safe passage and operations in Afghanistan. Ostensibly, the Taliban disapproved of the Red Cross’s decision to provide lifesaving medical assistance to those wounded in the assault on Ghazni and chastised the organization for failing to provide sufficient support to hunger-striking Taliban and al Qaeda prisoners.

In announcing its decision (days before #WorldHumanitarianDay), the Taliban put the entire humanitarian aid system on notice:

Other international organizations working in Afghanistan should also take notice and understand that if they indulge in trivial or other irrelevant activities instead of focusing on the main needs of the oppressed people, the Islamic Emirate will treat them in a similar fashion as the decision taken against the Red Cross.

Humanitarianism under fire

The Taliban is well positioned to make good on this threat. Its forces control or contest most of the country, and even before the latest declaration, the Taliban did not exactly make Afghanistan hospitable to humanitarian assistance. Despite the billions of dollars in foreign aid pumped into the country every year, Afghanistan remains one of the most dangerous countries for aid workers. In 2017 alone, aid workers there were attacked 15 times. Overall, Afghanistan has seen 525 attacks on aid workers during the past two decades.

The Red Cross, which currently has about 1,600 staff members in Afghanistan, has been a major target of these attacks. In May 2013, multiple suicide bombers heinously attacked a Red Cross compound in Jalalabad. Six Red Cross workers were killed and two kidnapped in February 2017. In September of that year, a Spanish Red Cross doctor was killed by a patient. While these attacks were not claimed by the Taliban, they demonstrate that the Taliban’s commitment to protecting the Red Cross was already weak at best. The withdrawal of its security commitment will make humanitarian work in Afghanistan more perilous than ever.

Resisting pressure, preserving impartiality

In active conflict zones, like Syria and Yemen, both armed groups and governments attempt to strategically control the flow of foreign aid and humanitarian relief to influence battlefield outcomes and civilian support. But as I previously discussed, the responsibility of ensuring humanitarian access, the protection of civilians, and the humane treatment of detainees is a responsibility held by states, not by humanitarian organizations and certainly not by terrorist groups like the Taliban.

The repercussions of the Taliban’s decision — and the ensuing response by humanitarian organizations — could be far-reaching. Groups like the Red Cross are able to operate in conflict zones because they are seen as impartial and apolitical, refusing to take sides in a conflict. The Taliban has directly challenged this by demanding humanitarian organizations’ solidarity with its fighters instead of their attention to the country’s most pressing humanitarian needs. But if aid organizations yield to Taliban pressure, then the perceived impartiality of the humanitarian aid system will be put at risk. For true humanitarians, the appropriate response is clear: it’s better to pull out than to cave in.

Learn more:

Episode 6: Idea diversity on campus - High school to JP Morgan in seven seconds: How businesses gain an edge by providing ladders of opportunity - AEI

Thu, 08/16/2018 - 15:19

This episode explores the experiences of conservative professors on campus, and why ‘viewpoint diversity’ matters in academia. We hear from Josh Dunn, Professor of Political Science at the University of Colorado and John Shields, Associate Professor of Government at Claremont McKenna College, who co-authored a book on conservative academics. Zack Beauchamp from vox.com joins Arthur in a discussion about de-platforming and freedom of speech on campus, and Professor Robert George talks about his experience at Princeton.

References and further reading:

Passing on the Right: Conservative Professors in the Progressive University | Jon A. Shields and Joshua M. Dunn

Data shows a surprising campus free speech problem: left-wingers being fired for their opinions | Zack Beauchamp

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You can subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, TuneIn, and ART19. The Arthur Brooks Show is published by The Vox Media Podcast Network.

A late summer budgetary nightmare - High school to JP Morgan in seven seconds: How businesses gain an edge by providing ladders of opportunity - AEI

Thu, 08/16/2018 - 14:27

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released new budget forecasts this summer that show the nation falling into an ever deeper financial hole. Unfortunately, very few Americans are aware this is happening. The media is distracted and hasn’t covered the federal budget outlook the way it has in prior years. Meanwhile, policymakers are acting as if the budget problem doesn’t exist because they don’t want to take responsibility for solving it.

The Trump administration’s new forecast, called the “mid-session review,” shows a sharp deterioration in the 10-year budget outlook compared to the projection released by OMB earlier this year. In February, OMB estimated that the federal government would run a cumulative “baseline” deficit over the period 2019 to 2028 of $10.8 trillion, assuming current laws and polices remain unchanged during this period. OMB’s new estimates, released in July, show a baseline deficit over the same period of $11.8 trillion, or $1 trillion more than was projected just six months ago.

Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Mick Mulvaney gives a presentation on proposals to consolidate executive agencies as President Donald Trump holds a cabinet meeting at the White House in Washington, June 21, 2018. Reuters

OMB’s estimates of deficits based on the president’s proposals show a similar erosion. In February, the agency estimated that the president’s budget would produce a cumulative deficit of $7.1 trillion over the period 2019 to 2028. In the mid-session review, the estimated 10-year deficit for the president’s budget is $8.0 trillion.

Trump officials have had very little to say about rising deficits and debt, beyond a vague promise from National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow that the administration will be tougher on federal spending in the future. The president never brings the subject up in public.

This month, CBO released a set of possible scenarios for long-term budget deficits and debt covering the next 30 years. The results are even more startling than OMB’s 10-year forecast. These new scenarios are built on different assumptions from CBO’s base-case projection, the “extended baseline,” which the agency released in June. That projection assumes current laws and policies remain in effect indefinitely, which means revenue rises rather sharply beginning in 2026 because many of the individual income tax cuts enacted in 2017 are scheduled to expire at the end of 2025. Even with this assumption in place, the extended baseline shows federal debt rising from 78 percent of GDP this year to 118 percent in 2038 and to 152 percent in 2048.

As alarming as this scenario is, it is clearly too optimistic. Republicans are committed to permanently extending the tax cuts they passed last year, and history shows that Democrats are not particularly effective at reversing tax cuts once they have gone into effect. Further, the extended baseline scenario assumes Congress will keep appropriation spending in 2020 and 2021 within the caps that were enacted in the Budget Control Act of 2011. That’s not going to happen. Congress and the president just blew through the caps for 2018 and 2019 by a combined $300 billion.

CBO identifies one of its new forecasts as the “extended alternative fiscal scenario.” In this scenario, all of the 2017 tax cuts are extended permanently, the tax on high-cost employer-based insurance plans (enacted in the Affordable Care Act) is repealed (it has already been delayed from 2018 until 2022), and spending on annual appropriations grows with inflation. With these assumptions, which are plausible, the federal government will run a budget deficit of 7.1 percent of GDP in 2028, up from 3.9 percent this year, and cumulative federal debt will climb to 105 percent of GDP in 2028, to 148 percent in 2038, and to 210 percent in 2048.

Americans should worry about running such large budget deficits on a sustained basis because they will slow economic growth and lower their incomes. As CBO notes, large budget deficits and growing debt crowd out private investment, and thus lower future productivity and income growth. Large deficits also push up interest rates, and thus raise federal borrowing costs. CBO estimates that, under the extended alternative fiscal scenario, real Gross National Product would be lower by between 0.2 and 2.5 percent in 2038 compared to the extended baseline, which already incorporates a slowdown in growth due to rising levels of federal debt.

The other two scenarios from CBO’s latest report show even sharper increases in federal debt than the extended alternative fiscal scenario because they assume lower levels of revenue based on historical experience.

Not too long ago, Republicans talked about balancing the budget in 10 years. That was never achievable, and it was the wrong goal anyway. Congress and the president should agree on targets for reducing debt as a percentage of GDP over the next three decades, and then begin to work on the reforms needed to hit those targets.

The budgetary hole is deep, but a handful of reforms would make a big difference. The ages of eligibility for Social Security and Medicare need to be recalibrated to reflect the longer lifespans of retirees. Medicare premiums should be higher for retirees with higher lifetime earnings. Medicare should also be converted into a premium support program, with the beneficiaries paying more for higher cost coverage and less for plans with lower premiums. Similarly, the tax break for employer-sponsored health insurance should be capped, which would provide an incentive for firms and workers to seek out lower cost options for insurance and medical care. Finally, Republicans would be smart to consider endorsing a carbon tax, both for the revenue it would raise and the effect it would have on climate change.

Enacting all of these policies at once would not be enough to solve the entire budget problem, but it would be a big step in the right direction. Of course, it won’t happen anytime soon since these reforms would mean lowering benefits and raising taxes for various voting groups. A deficit reduction plan would ideally include measures to strengthen, rather than weaken, the safety net, with higher benefits and lower taxes where appropriate. But including such provisions, wise as they may be, won’t make it much easier for politicians to support a large deficit reduction plan that, as a general matter, lowers benefits and increases taxes.

Given its complexity and the potential political costs, the budget problem is too big for either party to tackle on its own. At the moment, the deep partisan divide makes it hard to see how a deal might come together. Still, it’s a job that will have to be done at some point, even if it means some political careers come to a premature end.