WHTI Does More Harm Than Good

The Woodrow Wilson Center’s Canada Institute is having an event May 30th entitled “People, Security and Borders: The Impact of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative on North America.” It looks like a good event exploring an important suite of issues.

I’ve been drawn into WHTI because of the privacy consequences of many border control efforts - RFID-chipped passport cards and such - but the trade issues are just as important. My back-of-the-envelope calculations about the costs of WHTI (exchanged for essentially no increased security) can now be augmented by not one, but two compelling anecdotes! Both have to do with Montreal … .

Anecdote #1 - The Busy, er, Dopey Traveler
A couple of weeks ago, I embarked on a quick round of travel to speaking engagements in Orlando and Montreal. Then, after a day in Chicago, I had planned a weekend in Las Vegas (to properly release a bachelor friend from the bonds of singledom).

As I headed to the Dulles airport bound for Orlando, I realized that I had not brought my passport for the Montreal portion of the journey. After burning a lot of candle-power figuring out what to do, I had a tenant of mine FedEx my passport to Orlando for arrival the next morning. ($24 + gratuity for the little feller going well out of his way = $40)

It arrived well after my scheduled flight for Montreal had departed, so I turned up at the Orlando airport around noon hoping to stand by on later flights. Informed that this was an impossibility on international flights (also, I believe, because of security), I came close to cancelling my attendance at the Computers, Freedom & Privacy conference in Montreal, but I persisted. (Who knows what rules were bent on my behalf, or what the rules actually are.) It took me about 14 hours and a good deal of stress to get to Montreal.

(N.B. This episode was not a stunt done to prove a point - I only do those when reporters agree to come along. It was a simple oversight because I don’t think of Montreal as being in a “foreign country” they way Lisbon or Hong Kong are.)

Long story short (oops, too late), the stresses of comporting myself to the passport requirement and various other security measures caused me to abandon the Vegas portion of my trip and head back to D.C. from Chicago for a quiet weekend. Careless as I am in tinsel-town, that probably kept $1,000 from circulating into the U.S. economy.

Anecdote #2 - The On-the-Ball Travelers
The Cato Institute’s own Michael Cannon was married two years ago. (Yes, there’s somebody out there for everyone.) To celebrate his recently completed graduate schooling and their second anniversary, he and his wife have been planning to go to Montreal this weekend.

The new(ish)ly renamed Mrs. Cannon has her act together - opposites attract, you see - and a few months ago, anticipating this trip, she applied for a passport in her new name. The check was cashed back in March, but the passport has yet to materialize.

At this moment, the two are in logistics hell, trying to navigate the State Department’s bureaucracy (including its downed electronic appointment scheduling system).

What will happen? Nobody knows. Will herculean efforts by Mrs. Cannon and her hubby produce a passport? Will the two cancel their trip? Will Mr. Cannon persist in the face of this heavy, security based regulation and go on his own?

Programs like WHTI are often justified as being part of a layered security system for the United States. “Layered security” is a legitimate way of thinking about things. One shouldn’t rely on a single security system, because that creates a single point of failure. However, security layering doesn’t end the inquiry. Each layer must provide security that is cost-justified. If checking the passports of Canadian-border crossers doesn’t create a substantial protection - and it doesn’t - that layer does more harm than good.

The United States is not safer because of what the Cannons are experiencing. It’s just smaller and unhappier.

Paulson Warns: Over-Taxation and Over-Regulation Hamper US Competitiveness

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson recently spoke in St. Louis on the importance of having an open and competitive economy. While many politicians assume cross-border economic activity is a threat and like to blame foreigners for any bad news, Paulson correctly noted the benefits of openness and warned that America’s biggest challenge may be self-inflicted wounds caused by too much taxation and too much regulation. Tax-news.com reports:

Paulson warned that the US is starting to lose its edge in terms of tax competitiveness as emerging economies compete fiercely for foreign investment. …According to the US Treasury, in the last few years, the United States has not received as high a share of total worldwide FDI as it did before 2000. Paulson said that this trend could be due to the growth of opportunities in emerging markets, burdensome US legal, regulatory and corporate tax regimes, or the misperception that the United States is no longer open to foreign direct investments. In any event, the Treasury Secretary said that such statistics were “cause for some concern”. …He went on to tell the Forum that: “The United States has historically been the best place in the world to do business and is a magnet for foreign investment, so it’s important to reaffirm both our openness to foreign direct investment and the benefits investment brings to the US economy. And as we seek to attract foreign capital, we must realize that we have a constantly changing world where there are an increasing number of attractive economies across the globe competing for investment dollars. Against this backdrop, we must assess the cost versus the benefits of our regulatory structure and certain aspects of our legal system that may discourage foreign investment.” Paulson said that tax competitiveness was an integral part of maintaining foreign interest in the US economy, perhaps hinting that the administration’s goal of substantial tax reform is no longer the lost cause that supporters of tax code simplifcation had begun to fear. “Our corporate tax system is also increasingly putting us at a competitive disadvantage with some – with a few other nations which tax companies or capital at lower rates than does the US,” he stated.

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Max Boot, Unchastened by History of Faulty Predictions, Offers New Ideas for Iraq

Among the proposals? Higher incarceration rates–more like New York, you see–and invading Syria!

Another necessity is to go more aggressively after foreign fighters. They comprise a relatively small percentage of the overall insurgency, but they account for a very high percentage of the most grotesque attacks–80 to 90 percent of all suicide bombings, according to General Petraeus’s briefing with Pentagon reporters on April 26. These jihadists are of many nationalities, but most infiltrate from Syria. The Bush administration has repeatedly vowed that Syria would suffer unspecified consequences if it did not cut off this terrorist pipeline, but so far this has been an empty threat. The administration has refused to authorize Special Operations forces to hit terrorist safe houses and “rat lines” on the Syrian side of the border, even though international law recognizes the right of “hot pursuit” and holds states liable for letting their territory be used to stage attacks on neighbors. It’s high time to unleash our covert operators–Delta Force, the SEALs, and other units in the Joint Special Operations Command–to take the fight to the enemy. They can stage low-profile raids with great precision, and Syrian president Bashar Assad would have scant ability to retaliate.

Do they ever learn? These people sound like broken records.

Title reference here, among other places.

Update: I’m afraid I’ve not been checking the Commentary magazine blog often enough, where Boot has offered up this gem.  In the course of critiquing Edward Luttwak’s article in on counterinsurgency, Boot observes that nowhere does

Luttwak mention the many counterinsurgencies that have been waged successfully along the lines advocated by the new field manual. The list is a long one, including the British prosecution of the first Boer war and the U.S. success in the Philippine uprising, among others.

I can’t imagine Conrad Crane and Gen. Petraeus would point to those two examples as the shining image of what can happen if FM 3-24 is followed.  The reference to the First Boer War has to be a typo—proponents of American imperialism generally refer to the Second Boer War as a model for our current efforts; the British at least won the second of the Boer wars, though they resorted to innovative tactics like concentration camps and a “scorched Earth” policy

Boot’s written approvingly before of American atrocities in the Philippines, but it’s remarkable that he’s now tried to rope in Crane’s and Petraeus’ voices as having endorsed the barbarism of the “U.S. success in the Philippine uprising.”  Wow.

Landlords Drafted into War on Illegal Immigration

A couple of weeks ago, I testified in the House Immigration Subcommittee on the difficulties with, and undesirability of, a national employment verification system. Beyond some costly and inconvenient, bleeding-edge tech solutions, there’s no way to confirm on a mass scale that people are legally entitled to work under our immigration law - not without putting a national ID in the hands of every American.

I observed that such a system, once built, wouldn’t be restricted to employment, but would naturally expand:

Were an electronic employment verification system in place, it could easily be extended to other uses. Failing to reduce the “magnet” of work, electronic employment verification could be converted to housing control. Why not require landlords and home-sellers to seek federal approval of leases and sales so as not to give shelter to illegal aliens? Electronic employment verification could create better federal control of financial services, and health care, to name two more.It need not be limited to immigration control, of course. Electronic verification could be used to find wanted murderers, and it would move quickly down the chain to enforcement of unpaid parking tickets and “use taxes.” Electronic employment verification charts a course for expanded federal surveillance and control of all Americans’ lives.

Now comes news that a suburb of Dallas has become the first in the nation to prohibit renting to illegal immigrants. It requires apartment managers to verify that renters are U.S. citizens or legal immigrants before leasing to them.

A policy like this doubles-down on the error of enlisting employers into immigration law enforcement, and it shows how immigration law creates pressure to expand domestic surveillance. “The policy that will dissipate the need for electronic verification by fostering legality is aligning immigration law with the economic interests of the American people. Legal immigration levels should be increased,” I testified.

But you knew that if you’ve been following this stuff.

Nonsensical Tax Analysis from Southeastern Europe

While many nations in the region are reaping enormous benefits after adopting a flat tax, Croatia has been a laggard. Tax rates are high and the burden of government is stifling productive forces. Yet politicians, academics, and business insiders are trying to convince themselves that the status quo is acceptable.

The Croatian tax system is not far behind the Austrian system, and is a competitive and modern system, said Christian Widhal from Vienna University at a round table on taxes held in Zagreb Monday. …“Don’t change taxes. Don’t practice on people as people are tired of tax changes. A stable tax system is fundamental for the stimulation of investments. Not even the rates are as crucial as stability, longevity and predictability of the tax system,” said [Chamber of Economy Chairman] Vidosevic. …Suker also brushed up on the discussion concerning a flat rate on income, profit and added value taxes, concluding that such a rate would not be profitable for Croatia, due to such specifics as the war aftermath.

Too bad nobody asked Professor Widhal why Croatia should seek to have a tax system similar to Austria’s. Unless, of course, Croatia wants to stumble along with growth of 1 percent yearly while its flat-tax neighbors grow by 5 percent annually. And too bad nobody asked the Chamber of Economy Chairman why stability is a good thing when tax rates are so high that economic activity leaves the country or goes underground. Last but not least, too bad nobody asked Finance Minister Suker why the tax system should be “profitable” for the government instead of the Croatian people.

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Congress Moves against NSA Spying

Ars Technica reports that an amendment to the FY 2008 Intelligence Authorization Act “upholds the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Backed (FISA) as the only means by which to do electronic surveillance—and … requires continuous judicial oversight of requests.”

Divided government is a real boon.

Women Do Better in America than Europe

Even though (or perhaps because) the United States is much less likely to use government intervention to dictate private-sector workplace decisions, the number of women in upper-level positions is significantly greater than in Europe according to the International Labour Organization. The EU Observer reports:

There are more women in top jobs in North America and in Latin America than in the European Union, a major new study by the International Labour Organization (ILO) shows. In the Global Report on Equality at Work 2007 – launched on Thursday (10 May) - North American women take up 41.2 percent of legislative or managing positions while the numbers are 35 percent for women in South America and the Caribbean and 30.6 percent for women in the EU.

Ironically, though not surprisingly, the bureaucrats at the ILO seem to think that more government is required to boost the role of women in the workforce. Too bad they did not grasp the implications of their own statistics:

A major theme of the ILO report is the persistent gender gaps in employment and pay and the need for integrated policies addressing sex discrimination in remuneration and occupational segregation by sex, while reconciling work and family responsibilities.

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