Carson Bruno


In 2011, former Governor of Minnesota and Presidential hopeful Tim Pawlenty announced he had a plan to grow the United States’ economy by 5% annually.  While he was praised by some for the bold assertion (one of the few bold moments of his short Presidential candidacy), many of his challengers and much of the media scoffed at this notion.

As California’s gubernatorial contest ramps up, one thing is certain: Jerry Brown, Neel Kashkari, or Tim Donnelly will not be promising 5% gross state product (GSP) growth for the Golden State.  The simple reason: California has not enjoyed 5% real GSP growth since the dot-com boom, and current policy conditions suggest such a target is unreasonable.

Between 2002 and 2012, average annual real GSP growth for the Golden State was just 1.3% (0.2 points below the national GDP).  Yet, is there a more reasonable target California’s gubernatorial hopefuls could strive to achieve?  According to general consensus among economists, the ideal real growth rate (in an economy experiencing normal employment) is between 2.5% and 3% annually. Economists view this range as the right balance between increased economic activity and the risk of inflation.

If California could return to normal employment levels—the current unemployment rate is 8.3% compared to an average rate of 5.9% during the last expansionary period (December 2001 to December 2007)—the ideal range is attainable for California.  Between 2002 and 2008, in the lead up to the Great Recession, average annual real GSP growth was 2.2% and as recently as 2012, real GSP growth was 2.8%.  However, as the charts below show, economic growth is not consistent across the diverse Golden State.

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Bill Whalen

Rescuing Obamacare: Leave It To Bieber


If there’s a downside to the written medium, it’s moments like this, when trying to convey the essence of a newly released pro-Obamacare ad featuring – this isn’t a typo – singing cats, dogs, parakeets, tortoises and hamsters.

In other words: words can’t do it justice.

Here’s the video, produced by Enroll America and the Ad Council. It’s intent: to connect with 18- to 34-year-old women who aren’t signing up for Obamacare in suitable numbers – a growing concern for the Obama Administration as the March 31 deadline approaches.

So what’s the thinking behind the choice of singing critters instead of, say, a bespectacled hipster?

“We needed a familiar face that would stand out amidst all the noise to communicate to all Americans the benefits of enrolling for health insurance in a way that’s entertaining, reliable and easy to digest,” Rodrigo Butori, a creative director involved with the ad, told The Daily Caller. “We thought about pets. Why? Two thirds of American homes have pets. They have been the recipient of people’s love and care for ages. So it’s time for them to return the favor. It’s time for pets to take care of people for a change.”

So there you have it: the keys to selling the President’s healthcare law – disapproved by a majority of Americans, per this Gallup survey – is tapping into the public’s need to be entertained and comforted by familiar faces.

If that’s the case, here are some suggestions for future Obamacare ads.

The Kardashians.  At least one member of America’s most overexposed family endorsed the President in 2012. Perhaps it’s time for Kim Kardashian, to do the President a second favor. Consider what the future Mrs. Kanye West and her relatives bring to the Obamacare discussion: pregnancy and neonatal care (baby North West); substance abuse (Khloe Kardashian’s soon-to-be ex-husband), plus cosmetic surgery (Bruce Jenner) and mental health (Kris Jenner coming to terms with her split with Bruce). And if she eventually loses her job over the rollout debacle, perhaps Kathleen Sebelius (first name begins with a K, like all female Kardashians) joins the cast.

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Interview: California’s Economic Dissonance


Hoover research fellow Carson Bruno talks to John Batchelor about the results of the Hoover Institution Golden State Poll discussing Californians views on the “California comeback,” top policy priorities for 2014, and Governor Jerry Brown’s re-election.

Click play below to listen:


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Hoover research fellow Tom Church talks to John Batchelor about the GOP’s Principles for Immigration Reform.

Listen to it on John Batchelor’s website or click play below to hear the interview.


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Tom Church


The good news coming out of the Republican Party’s Principles for Immigration Reform released this afternoon is that the prospects for passing immigration reform were not further degraded. At first glance, it looks like they provide a decent platform to move reform forward. There is even substantial agreement between the two parties on a few key issues. But principles don’t give details, and where they give indications they still leave us with questions.

Let’s take them in order.

Border Security and Interior Enforcement

The GOP principles say the border has to be secured first and declare “a zero tolerance policy for those who cross the border illegally or overstay their visas” after the reform. One has to wonder to what extent deportations will change in practice under a zero tolerance system. And securing the border first begs a few questions: Or what? Does all incremental legislation offered depend on first declaring the border secure? What percent secure do Republicans want, and what is reasonable in practice? A requirement that the border be 100% secure would be both impossible and insincere.

Pro-immigration reformers might be squeamish about including language that specifies a zero tolerance policy for future illegals, but as long as the end result of the process is many more visas – both green cards and temporary work visas – that alleviate the incredible demand for access to the United States, there is nothing inherently wrong about inflating enforcement measures. More visas means border enforcement will be much easier since fewer people will try to enter the country illegally.

The Republican principles also call for an entry-exit visa tracking system, which seems entirely reasonable. If Facebook can handle the amount of “checking in” that goes on everyday, the United States should be able to figure out where you entered the country and where you left.


At first glance, E-Verify seems like a no-brainer: Employers run potential employees’ Social Security numbers to verify that they are eligible to work. But many privacy advocates are wary of a system that gives the government control over the ability to hire. They look at the error rate of current E-Verify employment checks and forecast a few million people a year being caught in employment limbo for something that is not their fault.

Their fears are well intentioned but slightly overblown, or at least easily remedied. Even if the government gets a few E-Verify checks wrong, the simple presumption by the government that the employee is legal until proven illegal would allow employers to continue with the hiring process while the mistakes are remedied – which is how it works now with the voluntary system. E-Verify is okay as long as it continues to be monitored with a skeptical eye.

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Pete Peterson


A drive through the office parks of Silicon Valley may fool you into thinking California is a state with its eyes focused firmly on the future. But there’s nothing like a national report from a presidential commission on state election systems to make you feel like you’re living in the Dark Ages.

Silicon Valley, meet Paper Mountain.

While parts of “The American Voting Experience” study from the bi-partisan Presidential Commission on Election Administration are a great antidote to insomnia, vast sections speak to election systems of states in a parallel universe – one more advanced than California’s. Specifically, two sections of the report illustrate how, despite its status as most technologically advanced corner of America – the Golden State is saddled with a 20th-century experience when it comes to voting.

Take, for example, page 23 of the report (which is 100 pages in all). The presidential commission casually celebrates “the statewide voter registration lists mandated by HAVA [the federal Help Americans Vote Act, 2002]. Prior to HAVA . . . voters who moved between counties, even within the same state, often appeared on two (or more) county registration lists for a considerable time. The statewide lists go a long way toward addressing that problem.”


California today would fall under the category of “prior to HAVA”. More than a decade after the law’s passage, with $300 earmarked for America’s nation-state, California remains one of the last states without a statewide voter database. After an initial commitment of $4.5 million to a vendor who failed to deliver, California Secretary of State Debra Bowen, the state’s chief election officer, chose the information technology firm CGI – yes, the same folks fired earlier this month by the Obama Administration after the botched launch of – to create the database. That was supposed to be finished in 2015. A recent tweet from Bowen suggests that even that deadline might not be realistic.

This failure not only delays the launch of same-day voter registration in California, which was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in September 2012, it’s also a barrier to ballot integrity. Merely abiding by longstanding federal legislation under HAVA would move California toward 21st-century voter roll accuracy, which, the report notes, “is often a prerequisite to effective election planning and administration.”

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Peter Berkowitz


Edward Snowden’s theft of massive numbers of National Security Agency (NSA) documents — the Pentagon estimates he copied 1.7 million intelligence files — and the distribution of those documents to journalists who have sporadically published them has damaged American national security interests around the world by delivering to our adversaries sensitive secrets about US intelligence and military operations. The means by which the NSA collects intelligence have been seriously compromised as have been the numerous relationships on which that collection depends, all to the serious detriment of our security.

So far the pilfered documents have not exposed substantial instances of unlawful conduct by the United States government. Nevertheless, much of the public controversy sparked by the revelations about America’s extensive electronic surveillance has revolved around allegations of government wrongdoing.

In fact, it was no secret that the United States government, partly in response to the threat of transnational terrorism, has for many years engaged in the collection of enormous amounts of information about telephone calls within the United States, calls between the United States and other countries, and calls entirely outside the United States, and that the government has been mining the data. It had also been reported, though never officially confirmed, that the government was collecting and mining enormous amounts of data concerning email traffic that passes through the United States.

Less well understood are the complex laws, procedures, and oversight mechanisms that the United States has adopted to protect citizens’ privacy while culling from its vast pool of digital data only information relevant to the nation’s security. To be sure, in an age in which the size, scope, and kind of data are increasing with astonishing speed, those procedures are far from perfect and are in need of regular review and constant refinement.  Our constitutional tradition, moreover, teaches the importance of unceasing vigilance whenever the government exercises power, especially when it does so in secret. The vital national security interests served by electronic surveillance do not lessen the concern about the potential abuse of government power.

In this edition of The Briefing, members of the Hoover Institution’s Jean Perkins Task Force on National Security and Law deftly explore the complex considerations — technological, legal, political, and strategic — that should inform government’s ability to conduct electronic surveillance and keep secrets while protecting citizens’ rights and ensuring democratic accountability.

My colleagues provide no easy answers.  They do bring into focus the hard issues involved in reconciling the claims of security and of law in a dangerous and digital age.

Berkowitz’s piece is the first in a series of nine essays to be published over the next week and a half. Return to the Briefing daily for new insights from Benjamin Wittes, Jack Goldsmith, Matthew Waxman, Jessica SternShavit Matias, Tod Lindbergh, Ruth Wedgwood, Philip Bobbit, and Kenneth Anderson focusing on intelligence gathering in a digital age.

Peter Berkowitz is the Tad and Dianne Taube Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, where he chairs the Jean Perkins Task Force on National Security and Law.

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Benjamin Wittes


We all know the story: A liberal government finds itself embarrassed by intelligence collection activities. So it appoints a senior panel of Wise Men to recommend reforms. The Wise Men rein in the intelligence community, proscribing a series of practices that had once been the bread and butter of collection. The intelligence community feels betrayed, micromanaged, and unvalued.

Sound familiar? It should. It’s the beginning of John LeCarre’s famous book, Smiley’s People.

The context in the book is a bit different from our current controversies over the president’s Review Group, the NSA, and bulk metadata collection. LeCarre’s story is about British intelligence officers, not American. Its background is the Cold War confrontation with the Soviets. And the controversies in it involve human intelligence collection, not technical collection.

Yet for me anyway, Chapter 4 of Smiley’s People is a kind of urtext of our current situation — a piece of fiction that captures nearly all of the forces now operating in the NSA debates with an economy of words nothing else I have read compares with. In the key exchange, Oliver Lacon, a political overseer of the service, explains to George Smiley, who has been plucked from retirement in the middle of the night after a former agent is murdered: “[Y]our successor [as head of the agency] decided on certain far-reaching changes of intelligence practice.” Lacon expounds at some length. The following excerpts offer a flavor:

“One of the less controversial exercises of the Wise Men, George — one of their first duties — conferred upon them specifically by our masters — enshrined in a jointly drafted charter — was stock-taking. To review the [agency’s] resources worldwide and set them beside legitimate present-day targets.”

. . .

Lacon hesitated a moment longer, then continued: “Now as a result of this axe-laying — this stock-taking, if you prefer — on the part of the Wise Men, certain categories of clandestine operation have been ruled ipso facto out of bounds. Verboten. Right?”

Prone on his sofa, Strickland incanted the unsayable: “No coat-trailing. No honey-traps. No doubles. No stimulated defections. No émigrés. No bugger all.”

After listening to a bit more, particularly about how the émigré groups — one of which his dead former agent previously headed — had been “dustbinned,” Smiley finally responds: “What utter nonsense.”

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Jack Goldsmith


Principals reviewing intelligence collection should reinstitute use of the so-called “Front-Page Rule,” said President Obama’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies in its Recommendation 18. “That informal precept, long employed by the leaders of US administrations, is that we should not engage in any secret, covert, or clandestine activity if we could not persuade the American people of the necessity and wisdom of such activities were they to learn of them as the result of a leak or other disclosure.”

Whether a secret or covert intelligence action should be carried out if the American people would not approve is a “bizarre question” to many intelligence officials, according to veteran Washington Post national security reporter Walter Pincus.  “In some 40 years of covering intelligence, I have never heard of such a rule, nor have several former senior intelligence officials with whom I have talked,” Pincus added.  Nor, according to Pincus, do these officials think the rule makes sense.

It might seem odd that the Review Group calls for a return to the Front-Page Rule, and that some intelligence officials question its validity.  Intelligence officials obviously worry about the impact of public disclosure of secret intelligence actions, and the possibility of leaks sometimes leads the executive branch not to pursue a planned intelligence action.  Moreover, intelligence officials take steps in advance of an intelligence action — including extensive lawyer approval and congressional consultation and reporting — to shield against recriminations once the action becomes public.  Memoirs of senior intelligence and national security officials over many decades make plain that they consider the consequences of future public disclosure at the time of engaging in secret intelligence action.

It does not necessarily follow, however, that officials should limit their secret actions to those that they think the public would approve of once disclosed.  One might think, as the intelligence officials who spoke to Pincus argued, that as long as the action is lawful under domestic law, the president or senior intelligence officials can pursue secret intelligence actions on behalf of US national security even if they believe the American people would not approve of such action if disclosed.  One might see executive discretion to act as part of the president’s larger discretion, grounded in Article II, to carry out US foreign policy and preserve national security in accord with his best assessment of US interests, regardless of what citizens think between elections.

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