To Defeat Islamic State, America Must Re-Engage in the War of Ideas

James Carafano /

It’s easy to adopt a ho-hum attitude about the Middle East at times. To see it as the place where, as comedian Louis C.K. recently said on “Saturday Night Live,” they’ve been having the same fights for hundreds of years, so “it’s boring now.”

The name “Middle East” is fitting for more than just geographic reasons. It’s in the “middle” of most of the stuff we care about: global finance, maritime traffic, energy supplies and migration flows.

But it’s also ground zero for the global Islamist insurgency. And as the fall of Ramadi, Iraq, shows, the Islamic State and al-Qaida are making a great deal of progress over there. That means more will be looking to join them—and spread mayhem elsewhere—including here.

Americans simply can’t afford to not care about the Middle Eastern mess.

The Obama administration has hardly been inactive, but it hasn’t done nearly enough to roll up the Islamic State in Iraq. As a result, the battle for the country keeps seesawing back and forth.

Eventually, the Islamic State will have a tough time holding onto its territory. It could lose its grip on large swaths of the countryside and even major cities. But that may not happen anytime soon. And even then, there will be plenty to worry about.

A great deal of attention has been paid to the terrorist group’s social networking skills and sophisticated videos. But these are symptoms rather than causes of the threat. Its social presence grows because the brand is rising in popularity, much the way Twitter followers shift their allegiance from Justin Bieber to One Direction.

And what makes the Islamic State’s social network a threat is that it linked to human webs—people who can and want to link up with other people and do damage. The best way to damage the power of terrorists online is to deliver disruptive, crushing and humiliating blows to their human networks. When the brand declines, so does its online network.

As long as the Islamic State can continue to advertise that it’s winning against the West, it will attract foreign fighters to the region and inspire extremism and terrorist attacks elsewhere. Stop it from winning, and you minimize the attraction.

It is debatable whether the Islamic State has infrastructure in the Western Hemisphere robust enough to mount sophisticated operations. That’s cold comfort, though. Small, amateurish and loosely affiliated efforts can still kill a lot of people and do a good deal of damage.

Also, defeating the Islamic State may not be the end of the Islamic State. A defeated Islamic State may withdraw back to Syria and fall back into the fold with al-Nusra, an affiliate of al-Qaida, which is threatening to topple the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

If the Iraqis manage to win back their country, the U.S. is going to have to remain as a strategic partner to prevent conditions that might allow the Islamic State to come back. We’ll also have to help the Iraqis deal with the mess in Syria.

Meanwhile, the U.S. is going to have to deal with the destabilizing influence of Iran. There will be a hot debate over how well the Iran deal will, in fact, deal with Tehran’s nuclear program. On the other hand, it’s indisputable that the deal will give the regime a lot more money to meddle in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Yemen.

If the U.S. isn’t there to counterbalance Iran’s destructive influence, no matter what happens to the Islamic State and al-Qaida, that part of the world is going to get a lot worse.

At the same time, there is a long to-do list outside the region. America has to be a global leader in helping take down these foreign fighter pipelines that are shuttling bad people and bad ideas from one corner of the earth to the other.

The U.S. also has to re-engage in the war of ideas. The voices combating Islamist ideology need help. The same social and human networks that spread extremism also carry the countervailing calls for religious liberty and toleration, economic freedom, equity in justice, and political liberty.

America has to start naming the enemy, and embracing its enemies. Here at home we need robust counterterrorism and domestic intelligence programs appropriate to the post-9/11 world in which we live.

Then, perhaps, those “boring fights” can move back down the list of our concerns. Until then, though, it’s simply too dangerous to ignore.

Originally published in the Bradenton Herald 
What Will Drive Illinois to Ask Washington for a Bailout - The Daily Signal

What Will Drive Illinois to Ask Washington for a Bailout

James Carafano / Stephen Moore /

Earlier this month the Illinois Supreme Court overturned a state law that would help fix the state’s notorious pension crisis. What a tragedy for the state’s taxpayers. The justices basically ruled that the pension arrangements are iron-clad, although these pensions are on a course to bankrupt the state and imperil public services that Illinois families depend on. The unions come first. This could have negative consequences for more than half the states that are trying to defuse government employee pension time bombs.

By way of background: Illinois has one of the deepest public employee pension holes in the nation. The long-term deficit is estimated at above $110 billion and the red ink rises every year. Even in California—where several cities have declared bankruptcy—the pension sink hole isn’t as deep on a per capita basis.

The watchdog group Open the Books reports that there are more than 5,000 teacher and other education officials who receive an annual pension of more than $100,000 a year. Worse yet, half of all government employees retire with benefits before age 60. That’s more than twice what a typical private worker gets for having worked 12 months, not nine months, a year.

The Illinois court invalidated a 2013 pension fix that was enacted by a Democratic legislature and a Democratic governor, Pat Quinn. That law cut off the front door to the pension swindle—switching new workers into defined contribution programs like 401k plans. The law also adjusted the automatic cost of living adjustments (now at 3 percent annually regardless of inflation). The reform also adjusted the retirement age for new employees after January 2011, highly important because at least half of the employees covered are retiring before age 60—including 70 percent of teachers. Even the features of the law dealing with new employees entering the bankrupt system were unbelievably tossed out by the court meaning that the costs must keep rising inexorably into virtual perpetuity.

The victims of these daunting pension costs are citizens who rely on state services. Pension checks are crowding out funding for everything else and last year rose 12 percent as most state spending is being cut or frozen.

More than 5,000 teacher and other education officials receive an annual pension of more than $100,000 a year. Worse yet, half of all government employees retire with benefits before age 60.

Thanks to this ruling, there is no way out of the pension calamity absent a repeal of the pension clause in the Illinois Constitution.

The state can’t borrow—it already has the worst credit rating in the nation. It has to borrow less—not more. Last week’s court decision sent interest rates on Land of Lincoln debt to even higher levels—near junk bond status. Days later, Chicago bonds were marked down to junk status.

The state is already making deep cuts in other spending programs. To accommodate lavish government retiree pensions, the court has rules that everything else—from funding for schools, roads, bridges, prisons, and police services—gets whacked. Current Governor Bruce Rauner is taking on the unenviable job of cutting at least $6 billion from state spending in order to balance the budget. The Court just made his job doubly excruciating.

The liberal justices made no secret of their preferred fix: raise taxes. They wrote: “the General Assembly could have also sought additional tax revenue,” and they chastised lawmakers for allowing a highly unpopular temporary tax increase to expire “even as pension funding was being debated and litigated.” But that tax hike was never meant to pay for pensioners even though most of the money was used to plug the massive growth in annual retirement payments.

Raising taxes is an economic suicide pact for Illinois citizens. Illinois is already losing businesses and jobs due to some of the highest tax burdens in America. Raising taxes, as the pols in Springfield found out in recent years, raises almost no money because it accelerates the exodus to Texas, Florida, and Arizona.

The Court rejected the plea by lawmakers and others that the pension crisis qualifies as an emergency that grants the legislature the option of disregarding the pension protection clause. But this problem is a financial ticking time bomb that imperils funding for basic services that taxpayers and businesses depend on. Is it not an emergency if the municipalities can’t get ambulances or fire trucks to their residents for lack of funds?

As in so many states today, pension costs in Springfield are crowding out funding for basic municipal services taxpayers depend on. The cost of borrowing keeps rising because of investor fear that these states will soon look like Greece. Balancing the budget now seems impossible. And the only people feeling financially secure are the state’s retired government employees—many of whom have moved to Palm Beach and Phoenix.

If courts won’t allow states to trim pension costs, eventually states like Illinois will rush to Washington for federal bailout money. With more than $1 trillion in unfunded public pensions nationwide, Illinois is looking like the canary in the coal mine. What a tragedy if courts in other states prevent legislatures from defusing these fiscal time bombs.

Originally published in Forbes 

Obama Needs to Step Up the Fight Against ISIS - The Daily Signal

Obama Needs to Step Up the Fight Against ISIS

James Carafano / Stephen Moore / Steven Bucci /

Developments over this last weekend have left many Americans (and many of our allies) wondering about the progress (or lack thereof) of our fight against ISIS. First came news that U.S. Special Operations Forces had conducted a daring raid into Syria, killing a major ISIS leader. Then came word that ISIS had captured the city of Ramadi in Iraq. What does each development mean, and which is more important?

Ramadi is the capital and largest city in the mainly Sunni province of Al Anbar. It was purported to be the place where the Iraqis would turn the tide on ISIS and drive it further to the west, away from Baghdad and eventually out of the country. Instead, ISIS drove what were some of Iraq’s best troops out of the city.

Video footage of Iraqi military units abandoning the city to the bloody hands of ISIS is distressing on both military and humanitarian levels. Only 80 miles from Baghdad, this key population center was going to show that the “good” units of the Iraqi security forces (including Sunni and mixed-confession units) could stand up to the terrorists without the help of Shia militia forces that have Iranian advisors embedded within them.

No such luck.

The Iraqi military was sent packing, despite the assistance of 19 airstrikes from the U.S.-led coalition. (And, yes, I agree. That’s not exactly an overwhelming number of airstrikes.)

This is a major setback. It is made to appear even worse, because the Pentagon announced in nearly the same breath that ISIS is being driven back. It’s sadly reminiscent of the scene 12 years ago when “Baghdad Bob,” Saddam Hussein’s PR man, proudly announced how badly Iraqi troops were beating the invaders as American tanks rolled into Baghdad in the background. America cannot afford to be seen that way. With the credibility of America’s political leaders already being called into question, the military must be seen as truthful—not as propagandists, trying to sugar coat bad news.

Fighting ISIS will require a much more robust response than has been utilized thus far. Nineteen airstrikes in support of the defense of Ramadi is weak and clearly insufficient. America must up the ante by several orders of magnitude. There is a step between the tepid actions now ongoing and redeploying large conventional American formations. The airpower card must be ramped up tremendously, and greater numbers of Special Operations Forces need to be added into the mix. Yes, they should be used for direct action missions when the intelligence is there (see below), but they also need to be embedded with the Iraqi and Kurdish forces, the “local boots on the ground.” This will add better training, better combat situational advice, better airpower targeting (and bomb damage assessment) and a powerful “spine stiffener” for our Iraqi allies.

This takes us to the other news of the weekend, the raid by U.S. Special Operations Command Delta operators into Syria to take out a very senior ISIS leader. This was a very “sporty” affair: our aircraft took quite a few rounds, and the operation didn’t end until the raiding troops settled matters in hand-to-hand combat. The hard-won success was complete, including killing the target (it is a bad idea to keep fighting once Delta arrives on the scene), capturing his wife and liberating a young Yazidi woman being held as a slave. The troops also apparently picked up computers, papers and other items that will provide intelligence value.

This action is exactly the kind of high-risk, high-value mission that the Army’s Delta and the Navy’s SEAL Team 6 were meant to do. It takes professionalism, bravery, detailed planning and meticulous execution. Even with all that, they are closely run operations. Unfortunately, special mission units seldom win wars. They are needed, and we are justifiably proud of their magnificent deeds. But a discrete mission like this does not “cancel out” the loss of Ramadi.

The raid to take out the chief financial officer of ISIS may result in a great action movie one day, but if we don’t get our own act together (as well as that of our Iraqi allies), last weekend will be remembered as the big step in the fall of Iraq.

The tide must be turned on ISIS. If the Iraqis can’t get the muscle to do it from the United States, they will get it from Iran. Vacillation by the Obama administration is leading Iraq to a choice between radical Sunni-Islamist ISIS, and radical Shia-Islamist Iran. Either outcome is disastrous for Iraq and for the interests of America.

Originally published in The National Interest 

Did Obama Administration Really Accidentally Disobey Judge’s Order on Immigration? - The Daily Signal

Did Obama Administration Really Accidentally Disobey Judge’s Order on Immigration?

James Carafano / Stephen Moore / Steven Bucci / Hans von Spakovsky /

The Justice Department’s latest filings in the immigration lawsuit brought by 26 states in the Southern District of Texas are a little hard to believe—and somewhat comical, in a way.

Back in February, Judge Andrew Hanen issued a preliminary injunction against the implementation of President Obama’s executive orders on immigration. Now, in an attempt to explain why the injunction was violated, Leon Rodriguez, director of the U.S. Customs and Immigration Services, has outlined in an affidavit a long list of instructions and orders he gave to implement Hanen’s order.

The main excuse given for USCIS’s issuing three-year deferrals and Employment Authorization Documents to 2,000 illegal immigrants after the injunction was in place is that its computer system failed. But fear not. Rodriguez is “taking steps, including the modification of USCIS computer systems, to further minimize the potential for human error that could lead to unintended” violations of the injunction “in future DACA cases, regardless of the circumstances.” (There is no indication whether the autonomous computer system that made these errors is named “HAL.”)

Rodriguez does admit that USCIS “should have exercised greater management oversight of the efforts to halt the production and issuance of three-year notices and EADs.” But that’s not really much of an admission—there is no question thaat USCIS violated Judge Hanen’s injunction despite Rodriguez’s self-proclaimed “clear intent to stop the approval or issuance” of these documents. Rodriguez assures the judge that USCIS will get to the bottom of this, his own failure, noting that DHS has asked its inspector general to “investigate the circumstances” of what happened.

The Justice Department filed a second affidavit, from Donald W. Neufeld, associate director for service center operations at USCIS, supporting Rodriguez. Keep in mind that the administration’s main justification for the president’s 2012 program for immigrants who arrived as children (DACA) and for his expanded 2014 program (DAPA) is that, by exercising prosecutorial discretion to legalize illegal immigrants under these programs, DHS could focus on removing the most dangerous aliens—those who are a threat to national security or public safety.

Yet Neufeld blames DHS’s unlawful issuance on “recently discovered errors in its identification and tracking of cases decided under the 2012 DACA” program. In other words, DHS violated Judge Hanen’s injunction because of tracking errors in its computer system — the same system that supposedly will enable DHS to identify the “most dangerous” illegal immigrants and distinguish them from all of the others receiving benefits under the DACA and DAPA programs.

In fact, while it has admitted to erroneously issuing prohibited deferrals and EADs to 2,000 illegal immigrants, USCIS isn’t even sure that is the final number. According to Neufeld’s affidavit, his “efforts” to “identify all cases in which individuals” were wrongly issued these documents “remain ongoing.” So the total number of cases “may change from the estimates previously provided to the Court.”

When this “computer error” admission is combined with the May 4 inspector general report that DHS “does not gather and analyze prosecutorial discretion data” on DACA participants, it makes it difficult for the Justice Department to credibly argue that the DACA and DAPA programs will enable the administration to concentrate its efforts on deporting the most dangerous illegal immigrants. As Texas and the states say in a brief filed on May 20, these “explanations” by the government “further confirm the unwieldiness of the DAPA/DACA bureaucracy—so large and complex that not even Defendants have a full grasp of what their machinery is doing.”

The inspector general concludes that, because of these defects, DHS may “be missing opportunities to strengthen its ability to remove aliens who pose a threat to national security and public safety.” In fiscal year 2013, the year following the implementation of the DACA program, DHS actually released 36,000 convicted criminal aliens. It released another 30,558 such aliens in 2014.

The Justice Department filed an additional response to Judge Hanen’s April 7 order, which had castigated DOJ lawyers for misleading the Court into believing that no action would be taken to implement the president’s plan until late February. On March 3, DOJ informed Judge Hanen in an “advisory” that, in fact, more than 100,000 illegal immigrants had been granted three-year deferrals prior to the issuance of the injunction.

Hanen also criticized the DOJ’s lawyers for waiting two weeks after his Feb. 16 injunction order to inform him of this problem. On April 7, Hanen ordered DOJ to produce every draft of the “advisory” and the names of everyone at DOJ and DHS who knew about it and the granting of the 100,000 deferrals.

The DOJ lawyers apparently had a hard time understanding this order. Although they filed more than a thousand pages of supposedly “privileged” documents related to the “advisory,” along with a privilege log listing these documents, they apparently neglected to do what any lawyer knows is necessary when you file a privilege log (which lists documents a party to a lawsuit is claiming are privileged, the date they were prepared, the subject, and the individuals who prepared and received the legal documents). Judge Hanen had to issue another order on May 12 telling the government “to identify to the Court the individuals referenced in the privilege log,” including each one’s “name, position (and whether the individual is a lawyer or paralegal), title, and agency for whom the individual works.”

DOJ’s response has a key portion of the brief redacted. Those redactions appear to delete any information that would indicate when the DOJ lawyers discovered that DHS had been implementing part of the president’s plan. Although the response apologizes for the “misunderstanding that inadvertently resulted” from the misstatements by the DOJ lawyers, DOJ absolutely refuses to admit that its lawyers deceived Judge Hanen.

Instead, DOJ claims that its lawyers simply misunderstood Hanen’s inquiries about the implementation of the amnesty plan. The government even tries to blame the states, saying that they had not challenged the 2012 DACA program, ignoring the fact that the states had challenged the expansion of that program that the president announced on November 20, 2014.

DOJ also makes the astonishing claim that its lawyers “did not appreciate that the immediate implementation of three-year deferrals [under the expanded DACA program] was an issue of consequence in the timing of the preliminary injunction litigation.” The failure to “appreciate” what was a basic issue in this litigation, evident from all of the pleadings filed by the states and Judge Hanen’s crystal-clear questions in the hearing he held, raises troubling questions about the competence of the DOJ lawyers handling the case.

DOJ tries to convince Judge Hanen that he should not actually review any of the documents DOJ filed with the Court because its response and the privilege log should convince the judge that the DOJ lawyers informed Judge Hanen of the problem as soon as they realized there was a “potential for misunderstanding.” DOJ also warns that the exposure of “sensitive materials” could cause “significant difficulties, and thus should be avoided.”

Those “sensitive” materials, by the way, include two envelopes, given to the Court in camera, that contain “communications between DOJ and the White House concerning the Advisory” as well as “purely internal White House documents” and a “list of attorneys at the White House with whom DOJ corresponded about the Advisory.” Even if Judge Hanen decides to review these documents, however, DOJ argues that in no event should the government be ordered “to provide those privileged materials” to the states.

So these filings are more of the same: The government claiming that its lawyers did nothing wrong and that DHS unintentionally violated the injunction order because of a computer glitch, although the filings raise the intriguing issue of possible White House involvement in the misinformation given to the Court. We will have to see what Judge Hanen thinks of the administration’s nothing-to-see-here excuses.

Originally published in National Review 

Vending Machines Must Post Calorie Counts and Other 2014 New Regulations - The Daily Signal

Vending Machines Must Post Calorie Counts and Other 2014 New Regulations

James Carafano / Stephen Moore / Steven Bucci / Hans von Spakovsky / Norbert Michel /

If we were to design a regulatory framework from scratch, for any sector of a modern economy, it would make no sense to ignore regulatory costs and benefits.

It would make even less sense to implement new rules and regulations and then worry about their impact.

But that’s pretty much what we do in the U.S., where we allow politics to trump common sense.

The 2008 financial crisis is the perfect example. For decades the industry has been as regulated as any on the planet, and some of these rules clearly contributed to the crisis.

But we still allowed politicians to blame the crisis on the free market and then institute more of the same regulations that led to the meltdown. The overall reach of federal regulators goes well beyond the financial sector, though, and nobody should be surprised that the economy is just muddling along.

How bad is the regulatory environment?

The ninth annual Red Tape Rising report gives a great overview; it tracks the volume and, to the extent possible, the cost of federal regulations.

(Two of my colleagues, James Gattuso and Diane Katz hosted a Heritage Foundation event to introduce the report. Anyone can watch online.)

Believe it or not, the federal government doesn’t officially track regulatory costs as it does with things like taxes and spending.

But executive branch agencies that promulgate “major rules”—defined as those expected to cost the economy $100 million or more annually—provide some cost estimates for the rules they issue. These agencies estimated that their major rules from 2014 will cost the economy approximately $80 billion per year.

These are the regulators’ cost figures, though, so they probably underestimate the true cost. Estimates from various independent sources put these costs from hundreds of billions of dollars to over $2 trillion annually.

Still, if we simply stick to the agency provided estimates, the $80 billion during 2014 is more than double the comparable amount during the George W. Bush administration. (And contrary to popular belief, Bush was not a deregulator.)

Regardless, this cost figure is only one aspect of the regulatory burden. The volume of regulations—both on an annual and cumulative basis—adds to the overall complexity and difficulty with obeying federal laws.

And the sheer regulatory volume undoubtedly increased during 2014.

Across all categories, 27 new major rules were promulgated in 2014. These rules pushed the total for the Obama administration’s first six years to 184, more than double the 76 major rules from the first six years of the Bush administration.

In total, according to the Government Accountability Office, federal regulators issued 2,400 new rules during 2014.

The bulk of the rules promulgated during Obama’s tenure are related to the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, an 850-page bill that targeted every aspect of the financial industry. To date, Dodd-Frank has spawned almost 20,000 pages of regulations, and only about half its required rulemakings were complete by the end of 2014.

In fact, almost 25 percent of Dodd-Frank’s required rules haven’t even been proposed yet.

But it’s not all Dodd-Frank. The Department of Energy ranked second in terms of the most major rules, and it’s hard to find a federal agency that doesn’t issue new regulations.

Here are just a few highlights from 2014.

The new report explains these and all of the other major rules from 2014, and it’s a great resource for long-term trends in regulation. The report also recommends several ways to improve the current system, such as to require congressional approval for all new major regulations.

As it stands now, Congress passes a law and an independent federal agency implements its own rules. These agencies are not accountable to voters for any sort of results, and the process allows Congress to avoid explicit approval of the regulatory burden.

Congress, not regulators, should make the laws and be accountable to the American people for the results. The Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act, approved by the House in August 2013, is a great example of how we can get much closer to that kind of accountability.

Another sensible reform would be to require economic impact assessments of proposed regulation. It makes no sense for Congress to vote on bills that authorize mandates and restrictions without an actual analysis of the potential costs and benefits, but that’s exactly what they do.

Instead, why not have an independent agency within the legislative branch review major regulatory changes? That’s what the Congressional Budget Office does for spending measures before the bills reach the floor of Congress for a vote.

There’s no reason the CBO, or some other agency, such as the GAO, couldn’t perform the analysis.

It would also be worthwhile to consider following Canada’s recent example. In 2012, following recommendations from the government’s Red Tape Reduction Commission, Canada passed law C-21. The law requires federal agencies and departments to:

In the meantime, we’re stuck with the system we have and there are many more regulations on the way during the last two years of the Obama administration.

Most of the news has focused on the unfinished Dodd-Frank rules and the ever-changing Affordable Care Act regulations, but red tape has been rising across all sectors of our economy for decades.

The latest Red Tape Rising report makes this onslaught clear and explains the key shortcomings of the current regulatory process.

Anyone interested in securing economic freedom and rolling back the ever-growing federal control over our lives should check out the report.

Originally published in Forbes 
Fewer Christians in America? Famed Pastor John MacArthur on What It Means - The Daily Signal

Fewer Christians in America? Famed Pastor John MacArthur on What It Means

James Carafano / Stephen Moore / Steven Bucci / Hans von Spakovsky / Norbert Michel / Jamie Jackson /

The percentage of Americans who identify themselves as Christians is falling.

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According to a recent survey, the Pew Research Center reported a decline from 78.4 percent  in 2007 to 70.6 percent in 2014. The news followed a report from The Heritage Foundation, which revealed weekly church attendance dropped about 10 percentage points from 1972 to 2012.

John MacArthur, an internationally known author and senior pastor-teacher at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, Calif., tells The Daily Signal what this means for the future of morality and faith in the United States.

Why Do Politicians Want to End a Program That Actually Works? - The Daily Signal

Why Do Politicians Want to End a Program That Actually Works?

James Carafano / Stephen Moore / Steven Bucci / Hans von Spakovsky / Norbert Michel / Jamie Jackson / Ed Feulner /

It’s hard to say which is more galling: when politicians want to extend the life of a program that doesn’t work, or when they want to pull the plug on one that does.

A prime example of the latter: the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. It allows children from low-income families to attend the school of their choice. The OSP has helped more than 6,000 kids get a better start in life—a chance to learn in a safe, challenging school environment where they can reach their full potential.

Unfortunately, the program has come under fire from certain politicians who—not coincidentally—are beholden to teachers’ unions that resent the competition. The District’s Democratic Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton calls OSP “undemocratic.” The Obama administration has zeroed out funding for the program in its latest budget, setting it up to be phased out over time.

How anyone could want to snuff the OSP—or any effective school choice program, for that matter—is a mystery. Undemocratic? What could be more democratic, more American, than making every effort to ensure that children are able to climb as high and go as far as their brains and their drive can take them?

“When parents have better choices, their kids have a better chance,” Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina said at a recent debate over the future of the OSP. Take the kids highlighted by education experts Lindsey Burke and Virginia Walden Ford in a Daily Signal article:

But the OSP has more to offer than anecdotal evidence. The program has empirical data on its side, too. As Scott has noted, 98 percent of recent scholarship recipients have gone on to two-year or four-year colleges, and 93 percent of them graduate on time, compared to 58 percent in D.C. public schools.

The OSP is more economical as well. D.C. public schools spend about $20,000 per pupil. OSP students, meanwhile, attend private schools for $8,500 (or $12,000 in high school).

Even better, the OSP improves graduation rates. “A 2010 evaluation published by the U.S. Department of Education found that the impact of voucher use in the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program resulted in a 91 percent graduation rate for participants, compared to a 70 percent graduation rate among the control group,” Burke and Ford write.

A high school dropout earns about $19,000 in annual income. Compare that to the $28,000 a high school graduate earns—and the $52,000 a college graduate earns.

Small wonder that parents are such strong supporters. More than one study has found high parent satisfaction rates. As one parent put it: “When my son dressed in that uniform with that green blazer, the white shirt, tie, gray trousers, and he looked like a gentleman and a scholar, and he had his hair cut and his glasses, he was just grinning from ear to ear [because] he was going to be a part of that [new school culture], and he went to school that day and he was excited about going to school.”

Sounds like a recipe for success. We’re helping kids from lower-income families achieve their dreams. Can anyone offer a logical reason to kill a program that does that?

Originally published in The Washington Times

Oil Spill Was Bad, but It Is No Reason to Abandon Petroleum - The Daily Signal

Oil Spill Was Bad, but It Is No Reason to Abandon Petroleum

James Carafano / Stephen Moore / Steven Bucci / Hans von Spakovsky / Norbert Michel / Jamie Jackson / Ed Feulner / David Kreutzer /

No doubt, the recent oil pipeline spill in California is a real mess, but it isn’t the end of the world or a reason to end use of petroleum. In fact, oil spills are not even the worst source of water pollution.

The Environmental Protection Agency notes: “In the 2000 National Water Quality Inventory, states reported that agricultural nonpoint source pollution was the leading source of water quality impacts on surveyed rivers and lakes, the second largest source of impairments to wetlands, and a major contributor to contamination of surveyed estuaries and ground water.”

Assuming this is true, what should be done? Do we start calling food from farms “dirty food” and insist on a worldwide plan to move to a no-agriculture “clean-food” future? Of course not. Nor should we pretend it is possible to have zero run-off from all agricultural land. Instead we want to have the most effective remedies that make sense.

Modern agriculture is not perfect, but it has contributed to longer, better-fed, healthier lives and allowed for billions more people to lead those lives free from the fear of starvation.

Affordable and abundant energy (primarily from the conventional fuels, oil, natural gas and coal) also is a major contributor to our modern standard of living—including being a significant factor in the green revolution. Here too, the approach to pollution should be guided by the most effective and reasonable mechanisms for addressing problems.

The record of pipeline operators is an overwhelmingly safe one. If the typical car engine, with five quarts of oil, were as tight and leak-free as the petroleum transportation and refining industries, that engine could run or a year and lose less than seven drops of oil.

None of this means we should ignore the significant and sometimes tragic local impacts. Without a doubt, pipeline operators should be held accountable for spills, and they are. Any lessons learned should be applied toward making the industry even safer. In addition, as technology improves we should expect and require even better performance.

But instead of additional layers of red tape, a system that more accurately and fully assigns liability would provide incentives to adopt improved technology and management practices as soon as they are viable. The framework for such a system has been laid out by Heritage.

Nothing is perfectly safe and, although pipelines are no exception, they do an excellent job of moving the oil and gas that heat our homes, power our factories and even provide the material for the kayaks that floated those protesting Shell’s oil platform.

Report Details Widespread Prisoner Abuse, Torture in Ukraine Conflict - The Daily Signal

Report Details Widespread Prisoner Abuse, Torture in Ukraine Conflict

James Carafano / Stephen Moore / Steven Bucci / Hans von Spakovsky / Norbert Michel / Jamie Jackson / Ed Feulner / David Kreutzer / Nolan Peterson /

KYIV, Ukraine—Prisoner abuse, including torture and summary execution, is a daily occurrence on the battlefields of eastern Ukraine, reflecting a brutal, ongoing conflict in which both sides are accused of human rights violations and war crimes, according to an Amnesty International report released this week.

The 36-page report, titled, “Breaking Bodies: Torture and Summary Killings in Eastern Ukraine,” was compiled after interviews with 33 released prisoners of war conducted from March to May this year; 32 of the former prisoners reported mistreatment. Researchers also analyzed X-Rays, autopsies, hospital records, photographs and social media posts.

The report “provides compelling evidence of frequent and widespread prisoner abuse by a broad range of captors on both sides of the conflict,” according to a press release on Amnesty International’s website.

The report’s release comes days after the pro-Ukraine Aydar Battalion captured two Russian special forces soldiers during a firefight in eastern Ukraine. Ukraine’s treatment of the two captured Russian soldiers, who were both wounded and required medical treatment, earned praise from U.S. officials, including U.S. Army Europe Commander Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, who said he was “impressed” by Ukraine’s handling of the prisoners.

Critics, however, have suggested Kyiv committed a war crime by displaying the captured Russians to the media.

A Join operation of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Red Cross and rebels was organized for finding bodies of Ukrainian soldiers, who died in fighting for the Donetsk Airport. (Photo: Newscom)

A Join operation of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Red Cross and rebels was organized for finding bodies of Ukrainian soldiers, who died in fighting for the Donetsk Airport. (Photo: Newscom)

Of the 33 former prisoners interviewed in Amnesty International’s report, 17 were held by separatists and 16 by pro-Ukraine military and law enforcement units, including the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU).

The former prisoners described being beaten until their bones broke, tortured by electric shock, stabbed, hung from the ceiling, deprived of sleep for days, threatened with death, denied urgent medical care and subjected to mock executions.

“These are war crimes,” said Denis Krivosheev, Europe and Central Asia Programme deputy director at Amnesty International, speaking to journalists in Kyiv on Friday. “Torture takes place very often and is used by both sides of the conflict.”

“In the shadow of eastern Ukraine’s still smoldering conflict, our on-the-ground research shows that accounts of detainee torture are as commonplace as they are shocking,” John Dalhuisen, director of the Europe and Central Asia Programme at Amnesty International, said in a statement.

Units on both sides of the conflict disputed the report.

The Security Service of Ukraine announced Friday that it would meet with Amnesty International to discuss the report. The Associated Press reported Friday that separatist spokesman Eduard Basurin dismissed the report, citing a lack of evidence. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not respond to a request for comment.

Vladimir Putin poses for a selfie. (Photo: Nikolsky Alexei/ZUMA Press/Newscom)

Vladimir Putin poses for a selfie. (Photo: Nikolsky Alexei/ZUMA Press/Newscom)

While Amnesty International accused both sides of prisoner abuse, allegations against pro-Ukraine fighters largely focused on Right Sector, a nationalist political party and paramilitary group that originated from the Euromaidan protests in 2013 and has played a key role in many battles for the pro-Ukrainian forces.

“Using an abandoned youth camp as an ad hoc prison, Right Sector has reportedly held dozens of civilian prisoners as hostages, brutally torturing them and extorting large amounts of money from them and their families,” according to Amnesty International.

In an interview with The Daily Signal, Right Sector press officer Artem Skoropadskiy pushed back against Amnesty’s claims.

“We are neither torturing nor beating civilians,” he said. “There might be some injuries done during capturing, but not after they ended up in captivity. We forward all prisoners to the SBU. Mostly we are capturing civilians from around Peski, who are saboteurs, gun layers, spotters.”

Responding to the accusation that Right Sector was holding separatist fighters for ransom, Skoropadskiy said: “As to the blame of money extortion, that sounds funny, since most of the civilians do not have money, thus they start working for Russia for small amounts.”

Amnesty International’s allegations against the pro-Russian separatists were more wide-ranging, including summary executions of prisoners, according to eyewitness testimonies and media reports.

Fighters from the Ndipro 1 Battalion sit outside a summer camp now acting as their barracks outside Volnovakha, Ukraine. (Photo: Tommy Trenchard/Polaris/Newscom)

Fighters from the Ndipro 1 Battalion sit outside a summer camp now acting as their barracks outside Volnovakha, Ukraine. (Photo: Tommy Trenchard/Polaris/Newscom)

“Amnesty has also identified at least three recent incidents where separatist fighters summarily killed at least eight pro-Kiev fighters,” the group said in a statement. “[…] In an interview with a journalist, one separatist armed group leader openly admitted to killing captive Ukrainian soldiers, which is a war crime.”

This is not the first allegation of human rights violations in the Ukraine conflict. In August 2014, Human Rights Watch said pro-Russian separatists were detaining and torturing civilians, and subjecting them to forced labor.

“Pro-Russian insurgents are regularly committing horrendous crimes,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “There are solid grounds to be seriously concerned about the safety and well-being of anyone held by insurgent forces in eastern Ukraine.”

The fact that the separatist breakaway republics—the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) and Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR)— are not internationally recognized states does not relieve them of their responsibilities to treat prisoners of war ethically, Krivosheev said.

“The DNR and LNR are also responsible, according to international law, although they are not a recognized state … they are responsible to avert torture,” Krivosheev said. “And people who do this should be immediately relieved of their positions. They should send a clear cut message that such behavior is unacceptable.”

Prisoner exchanges have become a moneymaking venture for separatist forces, according to families of released Ukrainian soldiers who report having paid ransoms. Civilian volunteer organizations have been created to help facilitate ransom payments and communication between the families of captured Ukrainian soldiers and their separatist captors.

“It was all pretty simple,” said the brother-in-law of an Azov Regiment soldier who was released from captivity. He spoke on condition of anonymity due to security concerns. “They called us, said what we had to pay, and gave us the wire transfer instructions. As soon as the money was sent they let him go. It was all very matter of fact.”

“The official exchange process has stopped,” Krivosheev said. “There is not one single body responsible for the exchange of prisoners. There are three separate entities on the Ukrainian side; one is a volunteer group dedicated to prisoner exchanges. It’s more chaotic on the separatist side.”

Amnesty International pushed the UN to launch an investigation, but put the onus on Kyiv to do more to crack down on war crimes and prisoner abuse, calling on the government to launch investigations into violations on both sides.

“The Ukrainian authorities must investigate all allegations of war crimes and other abuses, open files and collect evidence of abuses by separatist forces and bring to justice all those responsible for perpetrating such heinous acts,” Dalhuisen said in a statement.

The report also dispelled some unfounded rumors of prisoner abuse, including a video allegedly showing members of the Ukrainian National Guard Azov Regiment burning alive a captured separatist.

“A video allegedly showing a separatist being burned alive by a Ukrainian volunteer battalion was not confirmed,” said Krassimir Yankov, a researcher at Amnesty International Ukraine. “This is an information war. There are a lot of rumors of horrors on both sides of the front.”

The ongoing U.S. training of the Ukrainian National Guard as part of exercise Fearless Guardian includes a course in the Geneva Conventions and the ethical treatment of prisoners.

The ongoing U.S. training of the Ukrainian National Guard as part of exercise Fearless Guardian includes a course in the Geneva Conventions and the ethical treatment of prisoners. (Photo: Nolan Peterson/The Daily Signal)

The ongoing U.S. training of the Ukrainian National Guard as part of exercise Fearless Guardian includes a course in the Geneva Conventions and the ethical treatment of prisoners. (Photo: Nolan Peterson/The Daily Signal)

While the accounts of torture and abuse amounted to what Amnesty International called, “serious war crimes,” the scale of the problem has not yet matched that of other recent conflicts in which human rights abuses were rampant.

“This conflict is nowhere near Yugoslavia,” Krivosheev said.

Yankov said the sample size of 33 former prisoners was sufficient to make a sweeping analysis of human rights violations throughout the conflict, but he admitted interviews with former prisoners could be flawed due to the psychological trauma of detention and abuse and the resultant distortion of memories.

“The testimony of people who were tortured is not always reliable,” he said.

According to Ukrainian media reports, which have not be independently verified, combined Russian-separatist forces may be holding as many as 400 to 700 Ukrainian soldiers prisoner.

Trade Deal Passes, Bill to Restrict NSA ‘Spying’ Program Fails: Here’s What the Senate Did Before Skipping Town for Recess - The Daily Signal

Trade Deal Passes, Bill to Restrict NSA ‘Spying’ Program Fails: Here’s What the Senate Did Before Skipping Town for Recess

James Carafano / Stephen Moore / Steven Bucci / Hans von Spakovsky / Norbert Michel / Jamie Jackson / Ed Feulner / David Kreutzer / Nolan Peterson / Kate Scanlon /

The Senate passed trade legislation and blocked a bill that would curb the federal government’s bulk collection of phone records before leaving town on a week-long Memorial Day recess.

In a vote late on Friday evening, the Senate approved Trade Promotion Authority, 62-37. It gives President Obama the authority to negotiate trade deals with other nations, and then send them to Congress for an up-or-down vote.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the legislation’s passage shows that “Republicans and Democrats can stand strong, together, for the middle class.”

“The trade legislation we passed is all about creating new opportunities for bigger paychecks, better jobs, and a stronger economy,” McConnell said. “The tools it contains will allow us to knock down unfair foreign trade barriers that discriminate against American workers and products stamped ‘Made in the USA.’ I thank President Obama for standing up to his base and joining Republicans in helping to advance such an important measure for the middle class.”

Disappointed by the TPA vote. I hope the House will carefully scrutinize this deal & demand TPP be made public before a Fast Track vote.

— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) May 23, 2015

TPA will allow Congress to set the terms for trade and will advance TPP which will help improve US economy. http://t.co/nqpzuGj2Ky — Mike Enzi (@SenatorEnzi) May 21, 2015

Following the vote, the White House issued a statement praising the “bipartisan” vote, which the president called an “important step.”

“I want to thank senators of both parties for sticking up for American workers by supporting smart trade,” Obama said.

The fast-track trade bill, as it’s known, is expected to face a tougher test in the House, where conservatives worry about giving Obama trade power.

House will take up #TPA. For it to pass, Democrats will have to put politics aside & do what’s best for the country. http://t.co/wYF2LSXeBG

— Speaker John Boehner (@SpeakerBoehner) May 23, 2015

Meanwhile, a measure designed to scale back the government’s mining of personal data in the post-9/11 era—called the USA Freedom Act—failed in a vote early Saturday morning.

Though it won a 57-42 majority vote, the legislation needed 60 votes to advance. The House had already overwhelmingly passed the USA Freedom Act.

The USA Freedom Act would reduce the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of data regarding domestic phone records.

Supporters argue that the legislation would amend flaws in the Patriot Act and protect privacy while maintaining needed tools for law enforcement.

Opponents, like McConnell, say the amended program could put America’s national security in danger. Other critics, like Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., say the USA Freedom Act doesn’t go far enough to protect civil liberties.

Also early Saturday, senators failed to pass a short-term measure to keep the Patriot Act from going dark when it expires June 1.

With few options to resolve the impasse, McConnell announced that the Senate would be back in session May 31—just hours before the national security programs expire—to try and find a solution.

The Senate has refused to reauthorize bulk data collection. I am proud to have stood up for the Bill of Rights. But our fight is not over

— Dr. Rand Paul (@RandPaul) May 23, 2015

The Senate will return one week from Sunday. With your help we can end illegal NSA spying once and for all.

— Dr. Rand Paul (@RandPaul) May 23, 2015

Just voted for the USA Freedom Act to reform the Patriot Act and halt bulk surveillance of Americans’ phone records. http://t.co/9uVLDqdrTJ

— Sen. Lisa Murkowski (@lisamurkowski) May 23, 2015

We KNOW that making a haystack infinitely bigger doesn’t make it easier to find a needle. Senate needs to pass #USAFREEDOMAct reforms

— Sen. Patrick Leahy (@SenatorLeahy) May 22, 2015

Some who demagogue our intelligence gathering programs seem more afraid of those protecting our country than those seeking to attack it.

— Lindsey Graham (@GrahamBlog) May 22, 2015

Senate should immediately pass #USAFreedomAct instead of hastily & irresponsibly trying to scramble something together in the 11th hour.

— House Judiciary Cmte (@HouseJudiciary) May 22, 2015

The only responsible path forward is to pass bipartisan #USAFreedomAct to #EndThisDragnet & ensure NSA has tools to target actual terrorists

— Martin Heinrich (@MartinHeinrich) May 22, 2015