Friday, July 18, 2014

Cruising the Web

This seems to be a time of perverse incentives leading to unintended consequences. Time after time, we've witnessed a policy choice by this administration that seems to be based more on wishful thinking than on a clear-eyed vision of what the results would be. And when the policy choices contain incentives for people to act a certain way, the administration has ignored that people will indeed respond to incentives even if that leads them to take actions that weren't the intent of the initial policy.

We're seeing that now with the crisis on the border. President Obama's motives for announcing that he would not deport children who had been brought here illegally might have been based on totally benevolent motives. Who wouldn't sympathize with the situation of people who had been brought here as children now having to face a life in the shadows because of decisions their parents made? However, that announcement did provide incentives for other parents in Central American countries facing a hellish life to roll the dice and gamble that their children would benefit from the President's policy. Scott Johnson links to a report from the El Paso Intelligence Center based on interviews with the immigrants crowding across the border and why they said they came here now.
The EPIC report indicates that the belief among the illegal immigrants that they would receive permisos and be allowed to stay was the driving factor in their choices to come to the United States and that the crisis will continue until 'misperceptions' about U.S. immigration benefits were no longer prevalent . The report also states that the migrants cited Univision and other other outlets as having shaped their views on U.S. immigration policy. Another implication of the report is that family members already in the U.S. are encouraging the minors to come and organizing the travel with smugglers. EPIC is a widely respected intelligence analysis group and was initially staffed by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
That was totally predictable and we're seeing the result now.

We also see the effect of perverse incentives in much of how Obamacare is affecting the job market. Robert Samuelson writes about how employers have reacted to the way the law was written to cut back on hiring full-time workers and switching to part-time jobs in order to avoid the requirements of the ACA. As Samuelson writes, it's still a bit early to lay the full blame for the increase in part-time employment over full-time on Obamacare, but the signs are all there.
Still, the economy could be slowly acquiring a part-time bias, as Zuckerman worries. The Great Recession doubled the number of part-time workers who wanted full-time jobs. It’s still more than 3 million higher (almost 75 percent) than in 2007. Moreover, the incentives from Obamacare to hire part-time workers — defined by the ACA as less than 30 hours a week — are powerful; companies with 50 workers or more would have to pay thousands to buy insurance for their workers. The next few employment reports ought to tell us whether June’s figures were a statistical blip — or the start of a part-timers’ boom.
Whenever this disincentive within the law for hiring full-time workers has been brought up, the Democrats have pooh-poohed that employers would think that way. But people do respond to how the government policy pushes them even if that response is not what the policy-makers envisioned. Perverse incentives strike again.

And we also see the result in foreign affairs. When the administration decides not to do much of anything in Syria despite Obama's supposed "red line," the message was received that there would be no penalty for continued brutality. When the administration made it clear over and over again that they'd prefer to negotiate with Iran even though it is clear that Iran is just playing us, why wouldn't Iran continue to pretend to negotiate with us while still pursuing their nuclear goals. As Jim Geraghty writes, there seems to be nothing Iran can do that will make Obama and John Kerry walk away from their negotiations.
If you’re always willing to extend the deadline, then it’s not really a deadline, now is it? On paper, we’re watching negotiations between two parties with diametrically opposed interests — we want the Iranians to have as little of a nuclear program as possible, they want one as big (and easily switched to military applications) as possible. But in practice, we’ve got two parties with the same interest: the Obama administration wants negotiations to continue, so they can claim their approach is working, and the Iranians want negotiations to continue so that their program keeps advancing and those centrifuges keep spinning. So both sides want the talks to go on indefinitely. At this point, we’re negotiating about the conditions for continuing negotiations.

What would it take for President Obama, John Kerry, and the rest of his administration to conclude, “These guys aren’t serious about a deal, they’re stalling for time, we’re playing into their hands by continuing these negotiations”?

It seems that as long as the Iranians don’t reach across the table and behead the other negotiators, this administration is willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

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And when there was such a weak response to Russia's incursions into Ukraine and their military support for the Russian separatists from both the U.S. and the rest of Europe, why wouldn't Putin continue to send arms to those separatists and give them free rein in their fight. We saw the tragic result of Putin's policies today. Remember how one of Obama's first actions regarding this area of the world was to end plans put in place by the Bush administration to place a missile defense system in Eastern Europe. What if he had gone ahead with those plans and then extended that same defense technology to Ukraine. Or if there had just been a viable threat that we would send that technology to Ukraine. Who knows how things might have been different today?

Who knows if Putin would have been less willing to supply the separatists in Ukraine with the technology to shoot down airliners if he'd encountered more of a pushback when this all started. Or if it would have been possible to have brought European nations on board with stricter sanctions. But it is clear that the very limited response from the U.S. and Europe did nothing to stop him. And today's tragedy is the result. Some reset, huh? And yet another example of how people, even national leaders adjust their behavior according to what they perceive the incentives or disincentives are for their actions. And the incentives in both domestic and international policy have led to some perverse results.

Somehow, seeing the President taking a few seconds to comment on the downing of the Malaysian airliner in between another photo op and still more fundraisers doesn't convey a real sense of gravitas. Contrast the response of Ronald Reagan when the Soviets shot down Korean Airline 007. Watch that speech and try to imagine Barack Obama making a similar speech. And, in addition to a tough address to the American people, we took definite actions to respond to the Soviets. The Russian government has as much culpability in the attack today as the Soviets had back in 1983. They sold those missiles to the Russian separatist militants. But today, President Obama went out to buy burgers in Delaware and to fundraisers in New York. Quite a contrast.

When I first started teaching A.P. U.S. history, in the chapter on the 1980s, the textbook had a rather derisive paragraph about Reagan's plan for SDI and talked about how it was ridiculed as Star Wars and how experts all said it was impossible. And that was it. Well, that interpretation of SDI is now outdated. And we're seeing the real impact in the real world today as Israel uses their Iron Dome technology to protect their citizens from incoming missiles. As the Washington Examiner writes, Reagan's vision has been vindicated.
Three decades after Reagan's landmark proposal, the technical issue is moot. This week, the world has watched Israel's Iron Dome system -- partially funded by the U.S. and incorporating U.S. technology -- perform remarkably well against more than 1,000 Hamas rockets fired from the Gaza Strip. When rockets are launched, Iron Dome calculates almost instantly whether they are headed for populated areas, then intercepts them as needed. The Israeli military says Iron Dome has been 87 to 90 percent effective and is the key reason why there's been only one Israeli civilian fatality....

Regardless of what one thinks of the long-term conflict, Israel's response in Gaza or the Israeli willingness to make concessions, Iron Dome has deprived Hamas of missile terrorism against random civilians as diplomatic leverage -- just as SDI threatened to stop the Soviets from using international nuclear terror for diplomatic leverage against America. How is this bad? If there can be no negotiation without constant threats of random, lethal attacks on civilians, the conditions for fruitful negotiation likely don't exist.

For the same reason, President Obama erred in 2013 with his decision to scrap -- in response to Russian objections -- a planned system in Europe to defend against missile threats from the Middle East. Obama won no good will from the Russians, even as he forfeited an important opportunity to strengthen U.S. allies against future threats. Missile defense allows strong nations to defend themselves against weaker enemies without resorting to terrorist tactics or fighting bloody wars. This is a win-win, except for terrorists like Hamas and national rulers bent on aggression against neighbors.
By the way, in newer editions of that textbook, the tone of that paragraph on SDI has been edited and the tone is much more neutral.

Rich Lowry ridicules Obama's desire to act without Congress.
The lawsuit against the president undertaken by House Speaker John Boehner targets the serial delay of Obamacare’s employer mandate, just one of a number of seat-of-the-pants delays and alterations in the law. According to the text of the Affordable Care Act, the mandate was supposed to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2014. The administration nonetheless delayed it for an entire year via a Treasury Department blog post in July 2013.

Before his adoring audiences, the president says he has to act because Congress won’t. In this case, Congress was happy to act. In fact, the House passed a bill to delay the mandate until Jan. 1, 2015. President Obama threatened to veto it.
Last February, the administration delayed the mandate yet again. It made a distinction between employers with 50 to 99 workers (the mandate won’t apply to them until 2016) and employers with 100 or more workers (the mandate will apply to them beginning in 2015) that has no basis in the law, and layered on additional rules also created ex nihilo.

All of this is indefensible. Nicholas Bagley, a University of Michigan law professor and Obamacare supporter, wrote in a piece for The New England Journal of Medicine in May that the various ACA delays “appear to exceed the scope of the executive’s traditional enforcement discretion.” Even the forceful liberal pundit Brian Beutler of The New Republic concedes that, if the Boehner suit were to clear (formidable) procedural hurdles, the unilateral delays “would be hard for the Obama administration to defend.”

The left’s reaction to the Boehner suit has been to rip the speaker for, in effect, suing to achieve the complete and expeditious implementation of a law he opposes. It is also pointed out that, even if the suit goes forward and rockets through the courts, there is unlikely to be a resolution before the employer mandate goes into effect anyway. All of this is true, but it suggests that Boehner is trying to vindicate a principle, not achieve a policy outcome.

The principle is rather obvious. As Bagley writes, “the Obama administration’s claim of enforcement discretion, if accepted, would limit Congress’s ability to specify when and under what circumstances its laws should take effect. That circumscription of legislative authority would mark a major shift of constitutional power away from Congress, which makes the laws, and toward the President, who is supposed to enforce them.”
If the next president accepts Obama’s modus operandi, we will witness the effective institutionalization of a chief executive unmoored from the laws. So I sympathize with the impetus behind the Boehner suit, even if I am lukewarm on the suit itself.
That's about where I am on the suit. I hate the idea of going to the courts to decide what is, fundamentally, a political question. But it seems that the Constitution was never meant to allow the executive branch to repeatedly trample on the prerogatives of the legislative branch. Every year I teach about the structure of our government with its formal and informal checks and balances. In class we list what the President and Congress can do if they're in conflict. In recent years, we've had to add to the list of the tools available to the Executive that he can simply ignore laws and do what he wants. So in one part of the curriculum I can talk about what it means to say that we have a system that respects the rule of law and the principle that no one is above the law when we do the unit on the Constitution. Then a couple of units later, we're talking about how simply ignoring the law has now become a distressingly common tool used by the president. How discouraging this is.

Charles Krauthammer delineates the moral clarity there is regarding the conflict between Israel and Hamas. Actually, Netanyahu summed up the situation in one sentence.
“Here’s the difference between us,” explains the Israeli prime minister. “We’re using missile defense to protect our civilians, and they’re using their civilians to protect their missiles.”
Krauthammer adds,
Rarely does international politics present a moment of such moral clarity. Yet we routinely hear this Israel-Gaza fighting described as a morally equivalent “cycle of violence.” This is absurd. What possible interest can Israel have in cross-border fighting? Everyone knows Hamas set off this mini-war. And everyone knows the proudly self-declared raison d’etre of Hamas: the eradication of Israel and its Jews.

Apologists for Hamas attribute the blood lust to the Israeli occupation and blockade. Occupation? Does no one remember anything? It was less than 10 years ago that worldwide television showed the Israeli army pulling die-hard settlers off synagogue roofs in Gaza as Israel uprooted its settlements, expelled its citizens, withdrew its military and turned every inch of Gaza over to the Palestinians. There was not a soldier, not a settler, not a single Israeli left in Gaza.

And there was no blockade. On the contrary. Israel wanted this new Palestinian state to succeed. To help the Gaza economy, Israel gave the Palestinians its 3,000 greenhouses that had produced fruit and flowers for export. It opened border crossings and encouraged commerce.

The whole idea was to establish the model for two states living peacefully and productively side by side. No one seems to remember that, simultaneous with the Gaza withdrawal, Israel dismantled four smaller settlements in the northern West Bank as a clear signal of Israel’s desire to leave the West Bank as well and thus achieve an amicable two-state solution.

This is not ancient history. This was nine years ago.

And how did the Gaza Palestinians react to being granted by the Israelis what no previous ruler, neither Egyptian, nor British, nor Turkish, had ever given them — an independent territory? First, they demolished the greenhouses. Then they elected Hamas. Then, instead of building a state with its attendant political and economic institutions, they spent the better part of a decade turning Gaza into a massive military base, brimming with terror weapons, to make ceaseless war on Israel.

Where are the roads and rail, the industry and infrastructure of the new Palestinian state? Nowhere. Instead, they built mile upon mile of underground tunnels to hide their weapons and, when the going gets tough, their military commanders. They spent millions importing and producing rockets, launchers, mortars, small arms, even drones. They deliberately placed them in schools, hospitals, mosques and private homes to better expose their own civilians. (Just Thursday, the U.N. announced that it found 20 rockets in a Gaza school.) And from which they fire rockets at Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
He goes on to ask why Hamas is sending missile after missile into Israel when they get shot down time after time? What could they possibly hope to accomplish?
It makes no sense. Unless you understand, as Tuesday’s Post editorial explained, that the whole point is to draw Israeli counterfire.

This produces dead Palestinians for international television. Which is why Hamas perversely urges its own people not to seek safety when Israel drops leaflets warning of an imminent attack.

To deliberately wage war so that your own people can be telegenically killed is indeed moral and tactical insanity. But it rests on a very rational premise: Given the Orwellian state of the world’s treatment of Israel (see: the U.N.’s grotesque Human Rights Council), fueled by a mix of classic anti-Semitism, near-total historical ignorance and reflexive sympathy for the ostensible Third World underdog, these eruptions featuring Palestinian casualties ultimately undermine support for Israel’s legitimacy and right to self-defense.

In a world of such Kafkaesque ethical inversions, the depravity of Hamas begins to make sense. This is a world in which the Munich massacre is a movie and the murder of Klinghoffer is an opera — both deeply sympathetic to the killers. This is a world in which the U.N. ignores humanity’s worst war criminals while incessantly condemning Israel, a state warred upon for 66 years that nonetheless goes to extraordinary lengths to avoid harming the very innocents its enemies use as shields.

It’s to the Israelis’ credit that amid all this madness they haven’t lost their moral scruples. Or their nerve. Those outside the region have the minimum obligation, therefore, to expose the madness and speak the truth. Rarely has it been so blindingly clear.
And sadly, the evil of Hamas is rewarded every time people talk of the conflict as if there was some sort of moral equivalence between the two. Krauthammer is absolutely correct. It is Kafkaesque.

Sadly, Jon Stewart is one of those people who just doesn't get it. And some of the faculty of Brandeis are guilty of real anti-Semitism along with their anti-Israel bias. The Free Beacon has more examples of some really ugly, anti-Semitic emails that some of the faculty have been sending out about Israel and the former university president. you can go over there and read what they've been writing.

We'll see what the response from the university will be. Presumably, they'll talk about the freedom professors have to express their opinions in their emails no matter how vitriolic and anti-Semitic the slurs used are. And Donald Sterling had a similar right to express his opinions of African Americans in a private conversation. But everyone was appalled when that tape was released and the demand that the league do something to take away his ownership of the Clippers were loud and practically unanimous. Will anti-Semitic slurs from professors at a university that was founded as a Jewish-sponsored secular university be be met with yawns and platitudes about academic freedom? Or will students respond with the sorts of protests that we all know would be the result if it came out that professors had made similar slurs against almost any other group? Would the university be as deferential if these professors had made such comments about blacks or gays or Muslims? Would the students be indifferent? I think we know the answer to that. We know how the school's administration caved when Ayaan Hirsi Ali was to receive an honorary degree from the university and the members of this same listserv angrily responded in protest. We'll have to see what the reaction is when students come back on campus this Fall. I'm not optimistic.