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Food stamp spending is at historic highs—it has doubled twice since 2000. Now some on Capitol Hill say the House is trying to make major cuts to the program, but they’re really making some much-needed policy reforms that would achieve modest savings.
The House bill proposes a small 5 percent reduction, while the Senate proposes a mere one-half of 1 percent. Even if the House’s reforms are accepted, food stamp spending is projected to be nearly double 2008 levels. It is also projected to remain at or near historical highs into the foreseeable future.
The House’s savings come from closing loopholes and ending policies that are currently undermining the integrity of the program. These policies have allowed states to artificially boost food stamp levels and expand the program beyond its intended population. While the House takes steps in the right direction to reform food stamps, the Senate does hardly anything.
Food stamps should be reformed to ensure that the program is serving those it is intended to serve. It should also be reformed to promote self-sufficiency through work, thus helping those who are able by encouraging self-sufficiency.
The House and Senate farm bills would repeal the costly and indefensible direct payment program, which sends taxpayer dollars to people who don’t even plant a seed.
But instead of just getting rid of direct payments, Congress has felt the need to add new programs that could be even costlier. Various commodity groups—e.g., corn, cotton, sugar—want their subsidies.
According to Politico, Frank Lucas (R–OK), chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, appears to view himself as the parental figure making sure everyone gets their slice of the subsidy pie:
For some folks [commodity special interest groups] to believe they don’t have to be part of the family anymore makes it a little difficult.… As chairman, I’m kind of like a parent sitting at the table. I’m trying to make sure everybody gets their fair portion [of subsidies] as the plates go around. I’m trying to make sure the biggest kid doesn’t shove all the little kids off the bench.
The groups that aren’t represented at this metaphorical table are taxpayers and consumers. If they were, subsidies wouldn’t be served.
This entire push for new subsidies is emblematic of the farm bill. There’s never any real reform to agriculture policy because in Washington, the concerns of special interests trump those of taxpayers and consumers. Subsidies and central planning are presumed to be proper policy.
Even many who claim to be in favor of limited government and free markets ignore these critical principles when it comes to the farm bill. They take a holiday from sound policy.
Congress isn’t bothering to ask whether there should even be new subsidies. Instead, the focus is on how new subsidy programs should work and how many billions of taxpayer dollars should be handed over to special interest groups—the “little kids.”
This may be the season of giving, but Congress shouldn’t dole out any new subsidies to special interests. They should be developing real agriculture reform.
If government employees can enjoy a stay in a luxury hotel made famous on The Bachelor, then surely Congress could find somewhere to make spending cuts.
In November, a group of federal government employees connected with the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force enjoyed a trip to St. Croix, courtesy of taxpayers. Though no reports of long bar tabs and souvenir receipts have surfaced—as what happened when the General Services Administration held a conference in Las Vegas—a few details have raised eyebrows.
Government employees stayed in the Buccaneer Hotel, a beachfront resort made famous by the television show The Bachelor. At a time of supposedly tight budgets, the task force could have at least proposed a more modest way to hear from regional governors and others about the status of the coral reefs.
Further, the trip itself did nothing directly to improve the environment. Taxpayers can only hope the week of lecturers and public events along with the annual business meeting will eventually produce something in the way of improved environmental quality.
Perhaps no obscenely wasteful spending took place over the week—that much is unclear. But also unclear is why this program exists in the first place. With the task force spread across 11 different federal agencies, it is difficult to understand how much it costs taxpayers and whether it is successful or not. There are many nonprofit organizations, research institutes, universities, clubs, community groups, networking coalitions, and businesses in the Caribbean alone working to improve coral reefs and educate the public. The Coral Reef Alliance lists 10 pages worth of organizations working on coral reef issues in the U.S. With such a clear and committed effort, why are taxpayers footing the bill (the size and effectiveness of which is unclear) for the federal government to join the party?
Even with a national debt of $17 trillion and counting, some in Congress are maneuvering to replace spending cuts from sequestration with even more spending. But stories of wasteful spending cropping up now and then make clear that if the federal government can “afford” such questionable purchases, clearly there is room to cut. The longer Congress waits to budget, the more important cutting wasteful spending and tackling the nation’s debt becomes. The budget conference presents a unique opportunity to do just that.
The Washington Free Beacon reports that an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) squadron may be eliminated if the Obama Administration’s draft plan to cut it is implemented.
Neither the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) nor any other treaty would compel the Administration to make this move. And it could be permanent. As Heritage’s Michaela Dodge commented, “If you destroy the silos, it would be much harder to rebuild them…and very politically difficult.”
Since New START entered into force, the Administration has failed to meet its commitments to the U.S. Senate regarding funding for the U.S. nuclear weapons complex and proceeding with all four phases of the European Phased Adaptive Approach, the Administration’s plan for defending the U.S. and its allies.
Meanwhile, Iran and North Korea are reportedly advancing their ICBM capabilities, and Russia has undergone a massive modernization program. The United States is the only nuclear-armed nation that has not modernized its nuclear force. As noted by Dodge and Baker Spring, nuclear arms dismantlement does not constitute modernization.
ICBMs still play a critical role in U.S. security, and any reductions in this force could negatively impact the nuclear triad, possibly leaving the U.S. vulnerable to foreign threats. To lessen this threat and fulfill the constitutional mandate of providing “for the common defence,” the U.S. should not plan to cut any quantity from the ICBM force of the nuclear triad. Rather, the U.S. needs to sustain and modernize the entire nuclear triad so it may keep ahead of the quickly changing security environment.
John Collick is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please click here.
The post Administration Plans to Cut ICBMs appeared first on The Foundry: Conservative Policy News Blog from The Heritage Foundation.
Congress doesn’t have much time to work out a food stamp/farm bill this year. If no farm bill is passed, this wouldn’t be the end of the world. Just like it did last year, Congress can pass an extension.
The House and Senate are trying to work out differences between their two farm bills, but both are weak when it comes to real reforms. They do little on agriculture reform and may even make things worse. The Senate does virtually nothing when it comes to food stamps; the House makes some modest food stamp reform. In the House bill, several programs—including the sugar program, which drives up food prices—wouldn’t expire after five years like most agriculture programs. This means Congress would be locking in bad policy not just for five years but for an indefinite period of time (referred to as “permanent law”).
Both bills would also add new programs that would impose massive liability on taxpayers to protect farmers from virtually all risk. One of these programs would drastically change agriculture policy by trying to protect farmers from even minor losses. The safety net concept would be a thing of the past.
If Senate policies on food stamps are adopted, Congress will have failed to address almost all food stamp reforms. This includes requiring able-bodied food stamp recipients to work or look for work.
When negotiators are working off two bad bills, it’s almost certain that the resulting bill will also be bad. This, combined with the time crunch, likely makes an extension the best option.
Even some powerful agriculture groups—the American Soybean Association, the National Corn Growers Association, and the U.S. Canola Association—sent a letter to Congress supporting an extension if certain subsidy programs contain policies they oppose.
However, an extension is only a procedural step that would let Congress get things right. Working off the same two bad farm bills in the future is simply delaying the same problem that exists now: Both the House and Senate haven’t developed necessary reforms in the first place that can serve as the foundation for a good farm bill.
Critical to achieving this reform is for each chamber to create two separate bills—one on food stamps and one on agriculture policy—so that these programs can be considered on their own merits.
Regardless of whether there’s an extension or a farm bill, there still needs to be real reform. An extension is better than a bad farm bill. Five years of bad policy is far worse than a temporary delay in order to get things right.
A new Harvard University poll finds a majority of millennials (57 percent) disapprove of Obamacare. The news comes on the second day of President Obama’s latest effort to sell the health care law to the public at large and young people in particular.
The results from Harvard’s Institute of Politics, which surveyed 2,089 young adults aged 18 to 29, found only 18 percent of millennials who thought Obamacare would improve their care. Less than one-third said they’re likely to enroll in the Obamacare insurance exchanges.
Whether pollsters referred to the law as the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare, most young adults (50 percent and 51 percent, respectively) believed their health care costs would go up because of the President’s signature domestic legislation.
Millennials, who played a critical role in the election and re-election of Obama, now rate the President at the lowest level since he took office in 2009, with 41 percent approval, the poll found. Millennials named the economy as their top issue, followed by government spending, jobs, taxes, and health care.
This study comes after Gallup reported earlier this week that young adults are the least knowledgeable age group with details about Obamacare, with 37 percent saying they were not familiar with the health law.
As Gallup and others have pointed out, Obamacare’s success depends on young Americans enrolling in the federal and state insurance exchanges. The law needs healthy, young enrollees to subsidize the cost for older and sicker Americans who are not charged exponentially higher rates.
But does familiarity really help Obamacare? Gallup noted that Americans who are familiar with Obamacare are significantly more likely (59 percent) to oppose the law than those who aren’t familiar (43 percent).
What’s possible is that as they learn more about it, Americans are sick of Obamacare and its disastrous impact on the economy. They could be ready for real alternatives that bolster the doctor-patient relationship, lower health care costs, and offer more choice and freedom.
Yesterday brought news that the inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has found gaps in DHS’s cybersecurity. Politico reports that, according to the IG:
[T]he agency for months failed to patch its systems regularly against known cybersecurity threats or scan its networks consistently, in real time, to keep out digital malefactors.… Some at DHS even had been using an old, soon-to-be unsupported version of Microsoft Windows, according to the IG, whose conclusions are drawn from earlier studies issued throughout 2013. DHS also lagged in developing a more secure system to ensure the right employees are accessing the right data.
Nobody should take any pleasure in this report. DHS, after all, bears primary responsibility for defending the .gov domain against cyber intrusions. The IG’s report follows close on the heels of a report from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.
The council—which has among its memberships luminaries such as Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google, and Shirley Ann Jackson, president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute—scathingly concluded that the federal government “rarely follows accepted best practices” for cybersecurity and that needs to “lead by example” rather than by direction.
The council also concluded (in words we only wish we had written) that “industry-driven, but third-party-audited, continuous improvement processes are more likely to create an effective cybersecurity culture than are Government-mandated, static lists of security measures.” Yet we proceed apace with the development of a static federal cybersecurity framework under the direction of the National Institute for Standards and Technology.
The post Holes in Federal Cybersecurity appeared first on The Foundry: Conservative Policy News Blog from The Heritage Foundation.
As much as 90 percent of the currency circulating throughout the United States contains trace amounts of cocaine. No one would expect the police to claim someone’s money must be “dirty” based on trace presence of drugs alone. But that is exactly what law enforcement officers in Brown County, Wisconsin, claimed when they seized money from a mother attempting to post bail for her son.
When Joel Greer was arrested by the Brown County Drug Task Force, a judge set his bail at $7,500. As any good mother would, Beverly Greer immediately set to work gathering the funds necessary to free her son. Beverly called the Brown County jail, where Joel was being held, and was explicitly told to bring the bail in cash—even though Wisconsin law allows you to pay for a bond with a cashier’s check, credit card, money order, or cash. A series of visits to ATMs secured the $7,500, and Mrs. Greer reported to the jail to bring her son home.
But rather than accept the cash and release her son on bail, Brown County police brought in a drug dog, which alerted to the trace amounts of illegal drugs on the bills. Brown County police then seized the cash and refused to release Joel Greer. The police chose to ignore the ATM receipts proving the money had originated at a bank and claimed it was drug money. In reality, it was the family’s hard-earned savings and Mrs. Greer’s disability pay.
The Greers didn’t get their money back for four months—and only after an attorney got involved on their behalf. Under Wisconsin law, law enforcement authorities may keep half of any seized amount exceeding $2,000, creating a perverse incentive for local law enforcement. In this case, it was obviously tempting enough that the authorities tried to deprive a man of his right to post bail and to essentially rob a family of its money.
And they are not alone. Another victim, Jesus Zamora, was arrested on misdemeanor charges, and when his girlfriend turned up with $5,000 in borrowed money to bail him out, the police seized it after a canine inspection. Zamora remained in custody until an additional $5,000 could be scrounged together—this time turned over straight to a judge in the form of a cashier’s check.
If you can’t trust the police to apply the laws fairly, whom can you trust? The fault for this bait-and-switch does not lie with the police alone, though. It lies with civil asset forfeiture’s perverse incentives and lax standards, which all too often result in enriching abusive law enforcement authorities at the expense of American citizens.
The salesman in chief is back on the road.
President Obama will be spending the month of December once again explaining Obamacare to the American people. Because if he explains it one more time, maybe people will like it?
We expect these holiday greetings will go over about as well as a three-year-old fruitcake. Obama’s been selling the law for about that long, yet public opinion has turned against it.
The President said yesterday that he’s “learned not to make wild promises” anymore about the rollout of the health care law. But it’s clear he’s not going to stop making wild claims about Obamacare—and Obamacare’s critics.
Who Wants Repeal?
As we enjoy the holiday season, the President and congressional Democrats intend to warn the country that conservatives want to repeal Obamacare.
But according to a new poll, so do 50 percent of likely U.S. voters.
That’s right—there is broad support for repealing Obamacare and starting over with health care reform. So what happens then?
What Happens After Repeal?
President Obama and his allies have made no secret of their plans: They cast Obamacare skeptics as The Ones Who Want to Take You Back to the Health Care Dark Ages.
Unfortunately for Obama’s public relations push, conservatives have no such intention. Repealing Obamacare—and saving Americans from the law’s woes—is only the beginning of what we would like to see in American health care. It would merely get this monstrosity out of the way so that truly helpful reforms could begin.
Obama said yesterday that critics just want to “go back to the status quo” and that they “haven’t presented an alternative.”
This is laughable. Obamacare is hardly the only game in town. Heritage experts—and many other policy researchers—have been offering health reform ideas for decades. Heritage has specifically outlined an alternative to Obamacare.
So while the White House spends December selling Americans the same old stale (and failing) ideas, we’ll be looking forward (to borrow an Obama buzzword). We’ll be highlighting the ways Congress could do health care reform better—and what it would mean to you and your family.
Forward this to someone who would want to hear about real alternatives to Obamacare. They can sign up for the Morning Bell here.
Read the Morning Bell and more en español every day at Heritage Libertad.
For months, Heritage scholars have warned that the Obama Administration created incentives for fraud by allowing Obamacare insurance subsidies to basically operate under an “honor system” instead of requiring the IRS to verify incomes of Americans eligible for subsidies.
The Treasury Department’s watchdog confirmed those fears by warning that Obamacare subsidies may be vulnerable to fraud.
In a new audit from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, the agency found that the Internal Revenue Service, which is in charge of administering Obamacare subsidies, had not put in place a fraud strategy for its Obamacare system development, testing, initial deployment, or long-term operations.
The IRS’s current [Internal Revenue Manuals] do not address management’s responsibility for managing, monitoring, and mitigating fraud risk with the development of new information technology systems for [Obamacare]. Further, the ACA Program has not yet completed a fraud mitigation strategy to guide ongoing systems development. It is important for the IRS to thoroughly consider fraud threats and risks that could impact new ACA systems.
What this means is that the IRS doesn’t have the necessary systems in place to effectively root out Obamacare subsidy applicants who report an income that is actually lower than their true income so that they can qualify for a higher subsidy. They’ll have unfairly high subsidies on the backs of hard-working taxpayers who follow the rules.
As Heritage had noted, Obamacare supporters had claimed that the new allowances for the IRS would not encourage fraud because “applicants who receive [subsidies] for which they are ineligible will have to pay them back when they file their taxes.”
But that isn’t correct. Individuals face a maximum $2,500 fine for repayment but could reap far more benefits in the process.
This is just another example of how Obamacare puts taxpayers at risk—with its broken promises and trampling of fundamental freedoms. The Treasury audit is another red flag that Americans need less government intervention in their health care and more common-sense reforms.
Federal Judge Steven Rhodes’s ruling to allow the City of Detroit to proceed with its bankruptcy filing is a welcome—even momentous—occasion for Detroit. It means the city will be able to restructure its $18 billion in debt, the first step in the challenging process of rebuilding the city and reforming the government.
Key among the judge’s specific rulings was his decision to allow cuts to Detroit’s public employee pension programs with the proviso that such cuts be “fair and equitable.” Just how the judge will decide if the cuts are “fair” is uncertain. The union leaders who negotiated these utterly unaffordable pension and health care benefits have already cried foul and have been steadfastly opposed to any changes in the system. But, changes to the retirement plans are sorely needed.
Over half of the city’s $18 billion in debt actually comes from the pension plans and health care benefits. Annual costs (plus debt payments) already claim 43 cents out of every tax dollar coming to the city’s coffers and will skyrocket in a few short years. So without changes, fewer and fewer tax dollars will be free to pay for things like street lights, police or other emergency services—the kinds of services that cities are supposed to provide for their citizens.
The best thing for the future of the city is for the unions to sit down and work with Emergency Manager Kevin Orr to restructure existing pension debts—yes, that means benefit cuts—and restructure pensions for current workers going forward to make sure all are affordable to the city’s taxpayers. The more proactive unions are, the more “fair and equitable” the changes can be.
The San Diego County District Attorney’s Office filed felony vandalism charges against 46-year-old Ocean Beach, California, resident Juvencio Adame for “defacement, damage and destruction” of public property in excess of $400. Felony charges can result in significant prison time.
His “crime”? Trimming shrubbery next to his home.
What would possess Adame to do such a thing? Adame told neighbors that the overgrown shrubbery, which is technically on public land, became a haven for homeless people who slept under it and littered the area. Thus, he engaged in self-help—clearly not a malicious act.
To be sure, citizens pay to maintain public property, so it’s appropriate to fine those who damage it. But charging someone with a felony under these circumstances?
The criminal law contains the harshest penalties that the state can impose upon citizens. Criminal sanctions should be reserved for those who do things that are morally blameworthy and that a reasonable person would recognize as a criminal act.
Adame’s conduct is not morally blameworthy, nor would a reasonable person in Adame’s position have realized that such a harmless act of beautification would subject him to criminal sanctions.
Sadly, it’s not unusual to see public-spirited citizens being threatened with criminal penalties. We wrote several months ago about Washington, D.C.’s “Phantom Planter,” who dared to make one of the city’s Metro stops more aesthetically pleasing. He, too, was threatened with fines and jail. Metro officials settled for destroying the flowers he had planted.
One of Adame’s neighbors, Glenn Goss, points out that Adame was, in effect, doing the city’s job: “Here’s somebody who’s going out of his way (to trim the trees). It’s not his job, it’s the city’s job. Then they do this ridiculous thing. It’s mind-boggling.”
Mind-boggling is right. Thankfully, officials eventually came to their senses, and the charges were dropped. But it’s important to emphasize that prosecuting people like Adame is not only a waste of taxpayers’ money—it’s an egregious misuse of the criminal law.
The felony charges never should have been brought in the first place. Let’s hope that other jurisdictions act with less haste and use more common sense.
The Heritage Foundation’s project USA vs. YOU spotlights the flood of criminal laws threatening our liberties. Explore more stories of overcriminalization and find out what you can do to reverse this trend.
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos started a maelstrom after a surprise announcement on television Sunday evening that Amazon would “soon” begin to use drones to deliver packages.
On one side, so loud was the outcry that you would have thought Bezos had asked to arm the drones with Hellfire missiles. On the other, there were some cheers, but they were mostly a lot of “Yes, we already told you that.” What is the reality here?
First of all, Bezos was clear that none of this would happen until the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) could decide, write, and implement a full set of safety rules for the use of the small vehicles that could deliver a five-pound package inside a 10-mile radius within 30 minutes of ordering it. It is not happening tomorrow. Clearly, there are numerous rules that are needed to ensure safety and appropriate sharing of the low-altitude airspace in and around populated areas.
Adding to concern is that Bezos wants to use GPS-directed autonomous platforms rather than remotely piloted aircraft, which the military presently uses. Amazon would simply input the coordinates for the delivery and send the little drone off with its payload of books or electronics from one of Amazon’s supply centers. It would land in front of your house, disconnect the box, and fly home.
Beyond the safety issues, the frenzy of “drone opponents” is a little laughable. Yes, it is a new technology, and yes, it will take a little time to sort out the effective rule sets to govern them, but it is not the end of civilization as we know it.
In a detailed report on the use of drones domestically, Heritage explains the legal issues involved. The bottom line is this: The laws and rules for privacy and lawful searches are well established. They all still apply, even to new technologies. Law enforcement officers will live by those rules (they really want convictions that stick, not just arrests), and if there are gray areas that crop up, the system of judicial review will make the rulings that fill those gaps.
Calls for “hunting licenses” for drones, impassioned wailing and gnashing of teeth, and fears of the “rise of the machines” are all unnecessary, ridiculous, and a true waste of energy. Let the FAA do its job on safety, then let the courts do theirs on the inevitable gray areas, and the Republic will survive. Technology has always moved forward and will continue to do so. Bezos was reluctant to give a time frame for his drone delivery system, but be assured, it is coming.
Today all this is science fiction, but it is clearly not fantasy. Fantasy simply cannot happen. Science fiction is something we cannot do today but may be able to do in the future—and much sooner in the future than we probably think possible today.
Progress is coming. Rather than try to fight it, let’s work together to get it right.
HealthCare.gov may or may not be working—for some people.
That seems to be the clearest assessment after the Obama Administration has flubbed two deadlines to get the Obamacare website working.
The disaster has spawned countless news stories and updates about the website’s progress. But here’s the most important story: HealthCare.gov can’t fix anything that’s wrong with Obamacare.
Even if it worked perfectly from Day 1, that would do Americans little good. A slick, smoothly functioning website couldn’t undo all the damage Obamacare has done and is doing.
Here are just six of the things HealthCare.gov couldn’t begin to fix.
1. All of Obama’s broken promises. “You can keep your plan.” “You can keep your doctor.” “Premiums will go down by $2,500 per family.” All of these ring hollow for so many Americans now.
2. The lack of options for insurers on the Obamacare exchanges. Obamacare has reduced competition and choice nationally. Just check out this map to see its effects.
3. Dumping millions of Americans onto an already broken Medicaid program. Access to care and health outcomes are both worse under Medicaid than private insurance. Expanding the program to “cover” more people isn’t giving them quality coverage.
4. Penalties for getting married—and success at work. Obamacare’s financial incentives discourage marriage and for some workers, they will even discourage working harder and getting a raise. Why should a health care law be punishing these positive behaviors?
5. Obamacare’s trampling on religious liberty. Because of its coercive mandates, Obamacare forces many employers to purchase government-approved health insurance that covers abortion-inducing drugs—and that runs counter to a lot of Americans’ beliefs. Religious beliefs and the freedom to operate a private business based on those beliefs are in danger.
6. The jobs Obamacare has killed. Even though the Administration delayed the employer mandate, that hasn’t stopped jobs from being cut, workers’ hours from being cut, and employers struggling with the law’s new costs.
Fixing the problems facing the U.S. health care system requires an alternative to Obamacare. Learn more about our ideas to take health care out of the government’s hands and put it back in yours.
Read the Morning Bell and more en español every day at Heritage Libertad.
The brutal dispersal of demonstrators in Ukraine last week led to dozens wounded—and a public protest movement which now surpasses the Orange Revolution of 2004. Demonstrators want Ukraine in Europe—and President Victor Yanukovich out of power. Ariel Cohen, Heritage’s Senior Research Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies, gives some perspective on where this is coming from.
What is the crisis in Ukraine all about?
The new generation, which grew up under independence, opposes Yanukovich, who derailed three years of negotiations with the European Union and refused to sign the Association Agreement with the EU at the November Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius, Lithuania. When Yanukovich returned from Vilnius empty-handed, tens of thousands of young (and not so young) people filled the Independence Square (the Maydan), to launch EuroMaydan, an ongoing mass demonstration.
Ukraine first gained independence from the Romanov Empire in 1918, only to be occupied by the Russian Red Army in 1919; it regained independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Ukraine was always torn between Russia and the West.
Why should Americans care?
First, there are 2.5 million Americans and Canadians of Ukrainian descent, many of whom have ties to the “old country.” Second, this is the largest country in Europe, much bigger than France, with over 40 million people, outstanding agricultural resources, massive industry (including aerospace, steel, and chemicals), and an educated population striving to live in a Europe-like state—not in a Russian-dominated authoritarian, corrupt state.
We care because Ukraine has suffered, was a captive nation under communism, and lost 5 million people from Stalin-inspired famine—and possibly another five million more in the Holocaust, the Nazi occupation, and World War II fighting.
What is the role of Russia?
Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to rebuild a sphere of “exclusive interests” directed by Moscow and based on overlapping organizations: the Customs Union, the Eurasian Economic Space, and the Common Security Treaty Organization. He is willing to sell Ukraine much-needed natural gas and continue low-tariff trade if Ukraine joins these organizations. Russia launched a massive campaign of intimidation and punished Ukraine with higher tariff and non-tariff measures this past summer to prevent it from signing the agreement with the EU.
How did the EU and the U.S. handle this situation?
Not too well. While Poland and Sweden led the way to integrate Ukraine, key states such as Germany, Great Britain, and France were aloof. Some EU officials are afraid to expand the union after years of economic mismanagement, overwhelming bureaucracy, and slow growth, which led to high unemployment. Others are afraid of Russia’s reaction. The Obama Administration was passive on the Ukrainian Euro-Atlantic integration issue, anxious not to annoy Putin. It set the plank low: non-membership in either EU or the Customs Union.
What should the U.S. and Europe do?
We should stand shoulder to shoulder with all pro-democracy forces in Ukraine and coordinate our policies with our European allies. Ukraine should not be forced into the Russian sphere of influence against its will.
Ukraine has suffered enough—we should help her to find a home in the Euro-Atlantic space.
The post Q&A on the Crisis in Ukraine appeared first on The Foundry: Conservative Policy News Blog from The Heritage Foundation.
North Korea released a video of Merrill Newman, an 85-year-old American citizen, reading a coerced confession for committing “hostile acts” against the regime.
Newman was arrested while about to depart North Korea after a 10-day tourist visit. Newman, who served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, is seen reading a statement declaring, “I killed so many civilians and [North Korean] soldiers and destroyed strategic objects in [North Korea] during the Korean War. I committed indelible offensive acts against the [North Korean] government and Korean people.”
North Korea accused him of being a “mastermind of clandestine operations” during the war. Pyongyang also took umbrage at Newman’s request to meet with surviving soldiers from his wartime unit or their descendants and to pray for the souls of the dead soldiers. North Korea accused Newman of having infringed upon the “dignity and sovereignty” of the nation.
The Obama Administration responded to the outrage by urging North Korea “to release Mr. Newman so he may return home and reunite with his family. We remain deeply concerned about the welfare of the U.S. citizens held in custody in [North Korea].”
Advocates of engagement with North Korea deride simplistic media reporting depicting the reclusive regime as “strange.” They assert that diplomacy can resolve Pyongyang’s long-standing quest for nuclear weapons. Increased social interaction (such as tourism, student exchanges, and philharmonic orchestra visits) will, it is argued, enhance mutual understanding and lower distrust.
Sorry, but arresting an elderly tourist as a security threat and forcing him to sign a confession for being a soldier 60 years ago seems nothing else but “strange.” Pyongyang has not only set back any inkling of U.S. interest in resuming nuclear negotiations; it has also affirmed every negative impression anyone harbored about the North Korean dictatorship.
North Korea has arrested Americans before—mostly journalists attempting to sneak into the country or missionaries proselytizing against Pyongyang’s repression of religious freedom. But arresting someone for being a tourist is a first.
Perhaps the only thing more pitiful than North Korea’s outrageous actions is Washington’s timid response. One might have hoped that seeing a U.S. citizen—one who served his country in wartime—humiliated and forced to bow to his captors after signing a trumped-up confession would have elicited a more outraged response than “deeply concerned.”
Photos of Merrill Newman bowing conjures up similar images of Americans held captive after the USS Pueblo was captured by North Korea in 1968. The Pueblo, an unarmed reconnaissance ship captured in international waters—officially remains a commissioned vessel of the U.S. Navy—the only one held by enemy combatants.
It is not known whether North Korea will release Newman or under what conditions. Another American, Kenneth Bae, was sentenced last year to 15 years of hard labor for “hostile acts against the republic.” Pyongyang might seek to use Newman’s capture to push for a peace treaty to formally end the Korean War. The regime has called for replacing the current armistice after previous incidents that raised tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
The Obama Administration should condition any resumptions of diplomatic engagement or consideration of aid on the release of Newman and Bae. Any negotiations on a Korean War peace treaty should include a reduction in the North Korean conventional force threat to South Korea, implementation of confidence-building measures, and the return of the USS Pueblo.
Congress will soon vote on raising the federal minimum wage to over $10 per hour. Few realize that, from the perspective of many employers, the government has already done this.
The Obamacare employer penalty will add thousands of dollars to hiring costs in 2015. Coupled with existing minimum wages and employer-side taxes, it will raise the minimum cost of employing a full-time worker to $10.30 per hour.
The Obamacare employer mandate requires businesses that do not provide “qualifying” health coverage to pay a $2,000 penalty in after-tax dollars for each full-time worker they employ (with an exemption for small businesses and for the first 30 workers). This works out to $3,729 in pre-tax dollars. Very few minimum wage employers provide the extensive (and expensive) benefits Obamacare requires, so most will pay the penalty instead of offering Obamacare-approved health plans.
This penalty does not directly benefit workers, but it will add $1.64 per hour to the cost of employing them. This will raise full-time hiring costs to $10.30 per hour in 2015. (For a detailed explanation, click here.)
The employer mandate functions as an extra $1.64-per-hour tax on hiring workers who can produce at least $10.30 per hour—and as a job killer for those who cannot. By 2015, workers producing less than $10.30 per hour will not remain employed full-time for long.
Some Members of Congress now propose adding to these hiring costs by raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $10.10 per hour. This would have disastrous consequences for the unskilled workers and families they want to help. It would raise the cost of hiring a full-time worker to at least $12.71 per hour. A worker would have to produce at least that much for a company to break even on that position.
Many inexperienced and entry-level workers do not produce $12.71 per hour in value for their employers. They gain not just their paychecks from working but also valuable experience that leads to higher paying jobs and career advancement. Two-thirds of minimum wage workers earn raises within a year.
Entry-level jobs pay off in the long run for many workers. But if Congress adds a minimum-wage hike to the Obamacare mandate, many employees will never get that chance.
China launched its first lunar lander today. The Chang’e-3 spacecraft will carry a lunar rover to the moon, marking the first time a Chinese spacecraft has landed on another celestial body.
The Chang’e-3 is part of a three-step robotic lunar exploration effort. Chang’e-1 and Chang’e-2 (launched in 2007 and 2010, respectively) were lunar orbiters that mapped the lunar surface, providing Chinese scientists and mission planners with a picture of the moon to determine where future landers could set down.
Chang’e-3 will display China’s ability to soft-land a vehicle on the lunar surface and deploy a rover. It will also provide an opportunity to test China’s deep-space tracking and communications capability, as the rover will reportedly be under earth control at various points of its maneuvers on the lunar surface. Such a space observation and tracking system has implications not only for space exploration but for national security, as it can be used to maintain space surveillance, keeping watch over Chinese and other nations’ space assets.
The third phase will be a lunar sample retrieval mission in the 2017 time frame. This may set the stage for further robotic missions on the moon or perhaps on other planets (e.g., Mars)—or perhaps for a manned lunar mission in the 2020–2030 time frame.
China’s Chang’e-3 program should not be seen as necessarily part of a space race. Neither China nor the United States—nor most of China’s spacefaring neighbors (Japan, India, South Korea)—are rushing to space in the manner of the U.S.–Soviet effort of the 1950s and 1960s. Rather, it should be seen as reflecting the persistent, long-term effort, with high-level political support, that has marked China’s space program in general.
The post China Goes to the Moon with Chang’e-3 Mission appeared first on The Foundry: Conservative Policy News Blog from The Heritage Foundation.
In his new book, Inventing Freedom, Daniel Hannan explains how liberty originated from the Anglosphere and why the English-speaking people of the world have created and fostered liberty throughout the world.
Speaking at a recent Heritage event, Hannan, member of the European Parliament representing South East England, said he believes the Anglosphere is, in fact, liberty’s strongest friend.
In 1968, Hannan and almost all of the Anglo-Peruvian community—amid mob attacks, seizures, and confiscations—fled the grasp of the leftist regime of Peruvian General Juan Velasco Alvarado.
“I am someone who has moved from the Hispanosphere to the Anglosphere,” Hannan said. “I can’t help noticing that the movement has been overwhelmingly one-way. It’s worth standing back and asking why that is.”
Hannan asked, “What made the Anglosphere miracle possible? That’s the question that I set out to answer in Inventing Freedom.”
Perhaps the most striking characteristic Hannan noted was “the miracle of common law.”
“The law came up from the people, not down from the regime,” he said. “It was an ally of freedom, not an instrument of state control. … That beautiful, anomalous system that John Adams recognized as the foundation of all Anglosphere freedoms [is] almost without precedent in the world.”
Hannan noted that visitors to North America and Great Britain found these countries to be remarkable. Voltaire, Montesquieu, Tocqueville, and others observed the emphasis on individual freedom, religious freedom, the plurality of religions, and free-market enterprise.
Heritage hosted Hannan on November 22. His discussion and the question-and-answer session run about 55 minutes.
The post VIDEO: Daniel Hannan Explains Why the English-Speaking World Is the Most Committed to Individual Liberty appeared first on The Foundry: Conservative Policy News Blog from The Heritage Foundation.
Is immigration reform coming back from the dead?
Over Thanksgiving, both President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) have indicated that the issue —which has meant amnesty, by any other name—is alive on Capitol Hill.
Obama said last week that proponents of amnesty should be “thankful” for Boehner’s stated support for immigration reform and prompted laughter by comparing the complicated issue to a turkey that could be sliced up.
“It’s Thanksgiving. We can carve this bird into multiple pieces,” Obama quipped.
But the metaphor doesn’t really work.
It must have been the spirit of the season that prompted Boehner to praise Obama earlier in November for his sudden willingness—amid the wreckage of another “comprehensive” solution, Obamacare—to entertain a “piece-by-piece” process for immigration reform.
“The American people are skeptical of big, comprehensive bills, and frankly, they should be,” Boehner told reporters. “The only way to make sure immigration reform works this time is to address the complicated issues one step at a time.”
While all this talk sounds nice, the bird really wouldn’t be carved in the end. The House and Senate eventually would have to come together, and that’s where liberals are likely to reassemble the pieces, throw in some more, and try to stuff the whole monstrous turkey—including amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants—down Americans’ throats.
But Americans are wary of promises from Washington right now. They have learned the hard way to watch what this President does and not what he says. After all, he has broken promises about Obamacare and acted without Congress to waive or delay parts of the health care law. And he has shown himself more than willing to test the constitutional limits of executive power not only on immigration but many other matters.
The immigration discussions have strayed far from the positive path to immigration and border security reform the country should be on. That path exists, and it does not lead to more broken promises.
Read the Morning Bell and more en español every day at Heritage Libertad.
The post Beware of Happy Talk on Immigration appeared first on The Foundry: Conservative Policy News Blog from The Heritage Foundation.
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