Earlier this month, the Congressional Research Service published a short fact sheet by Jill Wilson on the countries and regions of origin for Diversity Visa (DV) recipients. While all of the data in this fact sheet has been publicly available from the Department of Homeland Security, this presentation clearly shows how the composition of DV immigrant cohorts has changed over time. Africa has maintained the largest proportion of DVs of any of the six regions since 2006, though the African share has fallen since then and has never accounted for more than half. Europeans, who are often perceived as unrelated to the DV, have been taking an increasing proportion of DVs over the last 10 years, approaching a quarter in recent years, even though their share has fallen since the program began.
Here is the main figure from the fact sheet:
Two weeks ago, President Trump signed a budget bill that included a $50/ton tax credit for CO2 that is captured and stored underground. While we heartily approve of putting a robust price on carbon (and $50/ton is a fine start), this tax credit provision continues the federal government’s hallowed tradition of ducking the hard issues.
As we previously pointed out, the first major problem with carbon capture and storage (CCS) is the lack of a market price on carbon. Instead, what we have here is the government paying $50/ton, rather than the people who continue to happily shove their externalities off onto everybody else. If Congress thinks it is worth $50/ton to keep that CO2 out of the atmosphere, then Congress should enact a $50/ton carbon tax. But in Washington it is always easier to hand out money to rent seekers than to actually address a problem, no matter how serious it is.
The second major problem remains the lack of any regulatory system ensuring that the CO2 stays where it is put. None. While technically, Treasury requires credit recipients to pay back the credit for any amount of CO2 that escapes, there is no corresponding requirement that the recipients monitor the sequestered CO2 to make sure that has not happened. So if anybody were to ever ask, with a straight face they can say, “There is no data or other indication that it’s anywhere but where we put it.”
Congress told Treasury back in 2008 to develop “regulations for determining adequate security measures for the geological storage of carbon dioxide”, but Treasury has failed to do so. Not surprisingly: Those regulations would have to define how long the CO2 would have to remain sequestered, and the last thing the federal government wants to do is mandate that the CO2 has to remain there for, say, three hundred years. Since no tax credit recipient will be around in 2318, this means that Congress would have to create a new federal agency responsible for the storage of CO2. Good luck with that.
So, in lieu of any sort of answer, even a partial one, to the problem of CO2 emissions, Congress has instead opted to just throw more millions more into the CCS subsidy rathole. Is anyone really surprised by this?
I have written frequently about universal catastrophic care (UCC) as a possible healthcare reform compromise, under which the government would provide health insurance with a deductible scaled to household income.    My early posts provide hypothetical examples, but how would real people fare? Here are two examples based on an article by Abby Goodnough in this week’s New York Times.
One is the middle-class Hurd family, struggling to afford coverage on the ACA exchange. Both of them work but neither gets healthcare benefits. They earn about $82,000, more than four times the poverty level for their family of three, too much for ACA subsidies. Their healthcare premium is $928 a month with a $6,000 deductible per person, plus copays. The NYT article does not give full details, but based on averages, their maximum out-of-pocket healthcare costs would be about $25,800, or 32 percent of their total income.
Compare this with two possible UCC formulas. Under Formula 1, which might set the deductible at 10 percent of the amount by which income exceeds the Medicare threshold, with a family maximum of 20 percent, the Hurds would pay at most $10,000 even if two or more of them were seriously ill in one year. Formula 2, less generous, might set the maximum at 15 percent of the amount by which income exceeds the federal poverty level. The Hurds would pay a maximum of about $17,500.
The other NYT example is Emilia DiCola, a single woman working part-time while trying to establish a career in opera. She now earns $15,000 from part time work, qualifying for Medicaid. (Even if her state introduces work requirements for Medicaid, she will qualify because of her part-time jobs.) Under UCC she would still get for full coverage, given her $15,000 income, but there would be one big difference: Now she must carefully limit her hours of work to stay under the Medicare threshold. Under UCC, her out-of-pocket costs would remain low even if she doubled her earnings. She would have a far greater incentive to become self-supporting.
On Monday, the Trump administration released its budget request for fiscal year 2019, and it included a massive increase for defense spending. Coming on the heels of a congressional deal to raise the caps on both domestic and defense spending, the request calls for about $716 billion for national defense (which includes the budget for the Department of Defense, spending for Overseas Contingency Operations, and nuclear weapons programs at the Department of Energy). Secretary of Defense James Mattis declared himself satisfied with the increased budget and said it would allow the Pentagon to execute its recently released National Defense Strategy.
This week also marked the release of the 2018 Military Balance, a publication of the International Institute for Strategic Studies that provides estimates on international military spending. As the chart below demonstrates, the Military Balance provides useful context for understanding American military spending in comparison to the major power rivals with which the National Defense Strategy is ostensibly most concerned.
While this same chart a decade ago would have shown the United States maintaining a larger share of global defense spending, Washington still maintain a sizable lead in spending over rivals China and Russia. Moreover, of the top fifteen countries in terms of defense spending listed here, twelve are U.S. allies or otherwise maintain friendly relations with the United States.
These figures can be misleading though. As advocates for ever-increasing levels of defense spending are quick to point out, the U.S. military—unlike its rivals in Russia and China—undertakes more missions that require power projection across the globe. How money is spent also matters, with a greater proportion of the U.S. defense budget going to rising personnel costs. Moreover, an ally such as Iraq—which rounds out the top fifteen countries in terms of defense spending—does not provide additive capabilities and is really a security dependent rather than an ally.
And those are fair points. However, even with those caveats, U.S. military spending still dwarfs that of its leading rivals—ostensibly, the top priority of the Pentagon’s strategy.
Last week, on the always-excellent podcast Bombshell, hosts Erin Simpson, Loren DeJonge Schulman, and Radha Iyengar discussed—among other issues—America’s continued military effort in Afghanistan. There was an evident sense of exasperation when the discussion turned to comments made by President Trump, in the wake of a series of deadly attacks, where declared that the United States was not interested in negotiating with the Taliban.
The exasperation is entirely understandable. The United States has been at war in Afghanistan since 2001. The instances where both civilian officials and military commanders have confidently said a turning point was in sight have continually piled up over the years, while actual turning points remain illusory. The increased number of military personnel the president committed to Afghanistan last fall was supposed to force the Taliban to the negotiating table. If the president says the United States will not negotiate, then what was the purpose of the troop commitment? And what is America’s endgame after more than 16 years of war?
Simpson, Schulman, and Iyengar discussed a post by Max Fisher of the New York Times Interpreter blog, which laid out six options for what the future holds for Afghanistan. The sixth option, Fisher notes, is the most likely:
Neither the government nor the Taliban are strong enough to retake control. Outside actors like the United States and Pakistan may be unable to impose their vision of victory, but they can forestall losing indefinitely.
Foreign aid can sustain the government, even as its control of the country shrinks. There is little to stop the Taliban from carrying out ever more brazen attacks in the capital. The death toll, already high, would probably rise.
Eventually, the stalemate would almost certainly break, hurtling Afghanistan into one of its possible endgames. But it is difficult to say when.
“It’s hard to think of an analogous case,” said Ms. [Francis Z.] Brown, the Carnegie [Endowment for International Peace] Afghanistan expert.
Few modern wars have raged this long, this destructively and with this much outside intervention. If there is an obvious way out, history does not provide it.
The Trump administration seems willing to continue to throw resources into the fight in Afghanistan, with more than $48 billion included in its fiscal year 2019 budget request, despite lacking an idea of its endgame there—or, seemingly, ways of measuring whether its approaching. Yet neither those dollars spent, nor the lives Afghan civilians or American military personnel that will be lost in the process, are likely to register with the American people. Meaning, the status quo will likely prevail for as long American officials want it to.