Foolish Tax Haven Demagoguery

An article posted at msnbc.com reports on the looming investigation of the building in Cayman with more than 12,000 companies. But congressional investigators also may want to travel to Delaware, where there are 120,000 companies registered at one address and 200,000 companies at another address. There is nothing wrong with lots of company registrations, of course, but politicians cannot resist going for cheap headlines:

A five-storey office block in the Cayman Islands on Wednesday became the unlikely focus of US congressional concern over offshore tax havens as lawmakers ordered government inspectors to fly to the Caribbean to inspect “shady transactions” in the building. Ugland House, a nondescript structure on Grand Cayman island, is home to over 12,000 companies, according to the Senate finance committee. …Mr Baucus has now asked officials from the Government Accountability Office to travel to the Caymans to investigate Ugland House.

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The Romney Brothers Go to War … for the White House

The Washington Post reports on Five Brothers, the blog written by the sons of Mitt Romney, with heartwarming stories about just how wholesome and wonderful Dad is. Indeed, the whole family’s just so … wholesome: five brothers image

The Post notes that the blog allows visitors to post comments and questions, “though answers are not guaranteed.” Thus,

A query such as, “Being a Mormon, does Romney campaign on Sunday?” gets a reply — yes, Romney tries to make it — while something like, “Have any of the five Romney brothers, all healthy heterosexuals well under 42, considered volunteering for military service in the Global War on Terror?” is ignored.

The Sullivan Brothers they’re not.

 

Bill Gates’s Flip-Flop

In today’s New York Times, I make the case against software patents, comparing a 1991 memo by Bill Gates to today’s battle between Verizon and Vonage:

[Microsoft general counsel Brad] Smith has argued that patents are essential to technological breakthroughs in software. Microsoft sang a very different tune in 1991. In a memo to his senior executives, Bill Gates wrote, “If people had understood how patents would be granted when most of today’s ideas were invented, and had taken out patents, the industry would be at a complete standstill today.” Mr. Gates worried that “some large company will patent some obvious thing” and use the patent to “take as much of our profits as they want….”

It’s not surprising that Microsoft — now an entrenched incumbent — has had a change of heart. But Mr. Gates was right in 1991: patents are bad for the software industry. Nothing illustrates that better than the conflict between Verizon and Vonage.

Vonage developed one of the first Internet telephone services and has attracted more than two million customers. But last year, Verizon — one of Vonage’s biggest competitors — sued for patent infringement and won a verdict in its favor in March.

The Times has strict word-count limits, so I didn’t have the space to discuss some of the details of my argument. Here is an in-depth analysis of Verizon’s patents. And here is a longer discussion of Microsoft’s change of heart on software patents.

How I Learned to Read the New York Times While Simultaneously Scratching My Head

From a column on tax reform by Floyd Norris in today’s Times:

“Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, has traveled around to promote what he calls a Fair Flat Tax Act, which is basically an attempt to go back to what Mr. Reagan enacted. It would get rid of many deductions — but save some of the more popular ones, like retirement savings accounts and mortgage interest — and have three tax brackets, of 15, 25 and 35 percent.” [emphasis mine]

Burying the Good News

There’s good news tonight:

The rate of death from heart disease in the U.S. was cut in half between 1980 and 2000 thanks to better medical treatment and a reduction in the incidence of some risk factors, a new study shows.

That’s wonderful news, the kind that ought to be celebrated. We hear about threats and dangers and cancer clusters and transnational viruses and flying TB carriers, and many of those are real concerns. But the big picture, as Indur Goklany demonstrates at great length in his new book, is — well, let his title explain it: The Improving State of the World: Why We’re Living Longer, Healthier, More Comfortable Lives on a Cleaner Planet. 

But this great news about heart disease appeared on page D4 of the Wall Street Journal and on page 13D of USA Today. As far as I can tell, it didn’t appear in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, or the Washington Post at all, nor on any NPR program. Though on the NY Times website, you can find an article the same day on the tiny increase in deaths from West Nile virus. And the heart disease story can be found on the Post website, though not in the print paper.

 More details appeared in the Journal’s Health Blog:

The decline in heart disease, reported in the current New England Journal of Medicine, saved an estimated 341,000 lives in 2000 compared with the number of deaths that would have been expected if the levels of heart disease in 1980 persisted.

341,000 fewer deaths from heart disease in one year! There’s good news tonight — even if you won’t find it in the newspapers.

Back to Square One on Immigration

Opponents of comprehensive immigration reform are undoubtedly congratulating themselves on the apparent demise yesterday of S. 1348. The bill failed to win enough votes in the Senate for cloture and a final vote. Leading the charge to defeat the bill were a group of Republicans opposed to just about any legalization or expansion of visas for low-skilled workers.

We’ve made the case at the Center for Trade Policy Studies for an immigration system that recognizes the need of our growing economy for more foreign-born workers and the benefits we would enjoy from more legal immigration. The only alternative offered by opponents of reform is to spend more on the same enforcement efforts that have failed in the past to stop illegal immigration. Conservatives who are normally skeptical of big government place all their hope in dramatic increases in spending for border enforcement, longer fences to nowhere, more raids on U.S. workplaces, and more red tape and national ID cards for American workers.

The bill before the Senate was flawed in many ways. The number of temporary worker visas was insufficient, its interior enforcement provisions too intrusive, the point system too convoluted. But the bill was at least pointing in the right direction.

The Republicans who brought the bill down have yet to put forward any practical and principled alternative.

Romney Still Loves His Health Plan…Sort Of

In an interview with the Associated Press, Mitt Romney called for Republicans to follow his lead in proposing universal health care coverage. “This is a topic where I don’t think the Republican Party can sit on the sidelines and just say no,” he told the AP, which reported that “he boasted about passing universal health care in Massachusetts.” However, the AP also reported that Romney “treaded carefully when asked about a national mandate requiring all workers to have health insurance. ‘In our evaluation of what worked in our state, the only way it could work … was to make sure that everybody participated in the system,’ he said.”

Of course it’s worth pointing out that:

Romney’s plan didn’t achieve universal coverage in Massachusetts. The state has exempted 20 percent of the uninsured from the individual mandate. For that matter, the mandate doesn’t actually take effect until July 1, so we don’t know how effective it will be. Given the rate of noncompliance with Massachusetts’ mandate for auto insurance, we can expect less than universal compliance even among those still affected by the health care mandate.

Romney’s plan involved far more than a mandate. It also created a Hillary Clinton managed-competition-style regulatory authority called the Massachusetts Health Care Connector. This new regulatory body has already mandated that every health care policy sold in the state must cover prescription drugs and has outlawed policies with deductibles of more than $2,000.

And Romney also significantly increased Medicaid eligibility and provided taxpayer-funded subsidies for families of four earning as much as $62,000 year, effectively extending welfare well into the middle class.

I can understand why he would “tread carefully.”