October 2007

October 31, 2007 10:57PM

Anti‐​Immigrant Opinions are Weakly Held

I didn’t watch Tuesday’s Democratic debate — watching politicians from either party outbid each other on faux outrage and how much of my money they would spend is too annoying — but I did get the after‐​action report on the Newshour. And it seems Senator Clinton was drawn into the vortex New York Governor Eliot Spitzer (D) created with his recent flip‐​flop on driver licensing and public safety.

His original decision to de‐​link driver licensing and immigration status for public safety reasons was right, but it was pounced on and demagogued by anti‐​immigrant groups. Spitzer backed down, and pledged his state to implement the REAL ID Act, pleasing nobody. (When the costs of this national ID law to New York are discovered, he’ll flip‐​flop again, earning quiet, broad‐​based appreciation.)

Watching the excerpts of the candidates bumbling around this issue, it appeared to me that they knew giving licenses to illegal immigrants is the right and practical thing to do, but also that they would get demagogued if they said so.

Well, here’s my advice: Go ahead and say it.

Having watched this issue, and having heard from lots of angry people, I know that anti‐​immigrant views are a classic weakly held opinion. Angry as people are about the rule of law and “coming to this country the right way,” that anger melts when they learn more. Stuff like this:

“We haven’t permitted anywhere near enough legal immigration for decades. You can sit back and talk about legal channels, but the law has only allowed a smidgen of workers into the country compared to our huge demand. Getting people through legal channels at the INS has been hell.

“America, you’re going to have to get over what amounts to paperwork violations by otherwise law‐​abiding, honest, hard‐​working people. And that’s what we’re talking about — 98% honest, hard‐​working people who want to follow the same path our forefathers did, and who would be a credit to this country if we made it legal for them to come. Our current immigration policies are a greater threat to the rule of law than any of the people crossing the border to come here and work.”

This kind of argumentation will be met with vicious demagoguery, which will weaken, and weaken, and fade and fade and fade. The people I hear from — and I regularly do because of the educating I’ve been doing nationwide on the REAL ID Act — immediately soften when I pull them from their echo chambers. The “rule of law” hand is a low pair compared to this full house: “honest, hard‐​worker from impoverished circumstances, denied legal channels other than a narrow chance of navigating an incompetent bureaucracy.”

There’s one Democratic candidate who is well suited to make this kind of argument. It’s a way to draw attention, look principled, do the right thing, and vanquish a loud but weak pressure group. New Mexico’s uninsured driver rate dropped by two‐​thirds — from 33% to 11% — when that state delinked immigration status and driving in 2003.

October 31, 2007 4:28PM

Meltdown at the State Department

I had been wondering how long until members of the foreign service started voicing their concerns about possibly being drafted to go to Iraq. Answer: Less than a week.

In a contentious hour‐​long “town hall meeting” called to explain the step, these workers peppered the official who signed the order with often hostile complaints about the largest diplomatic call‐​up since Vietnam.…


Employees directly confronted Foreign Service Director General Harry Thomas, who approved the move to so‐​called “directed assignments” late last Friday to make up for a lack of volunteers to go to Iraq.

“It’s one thing if someone believes in what’s going on over there and volunteers, but it’s another thing to send someone over there on a forced assignment,” [Senior FSO Jack] Crotty said. “I’m sorry, but basically that’s a potential death sentence and you know it. Who will raise our children if we are dead or seriously wounded?”

“You know that at any other (country) in the world, the embassy would be closed at this point,” Crotty said to loud and sustained applause from the about 300 diplomats who attended the meeting in a large State Department auditorium.

Sounds like they’d have a hell of a time trying to develop some kind of standing nation‐​building office at State.

October 31, 2007 4:27PM

White House ‘Orders’ on the Way

Today’s Washington Post reports that the White House is increasingly frustrated with the Congress because the president and congressional leaders just can’t agree on a legislative agenda. To get around this “problem,” White House officials say the president is going to step up the issuance of “administrative orders,” which is probably a euphemism for Clintonian executive orders.

When a Republican Congress put the brakes on Bill Clinton’s ambitions, Clinton’s people came up with the idea of executive orders. It wasn’t a new idea, but they were going to take it to whole new level. Conservatives were rightly fuming when a boastful Paul Begala said, “Stroke of the pen, law of the land. Kinda cool.” If Dick Cheney or Karl Rove repeated those words tomorrow, one wonders how it would be received in political circles. What would Rudy Giuliani say? Would Hillary try to feign outrage?

For Cato scholarship on executive orders, go here.

October 31, 2007 4:26PM

Expanded Trade Adjustment Assistance Passed in House

Following on from my earlier post, the U.S. House of Representatives just passed the Trade and Globalization Assistance Act of 2007, although with insufficient votes to override a veto, as threated in yesterday’s Statement of Administration Policy (available here). The new legislation would roughly double the level of federal spending on the trade adjustment assistance program, by expanding the income and health care benefits to new categories of workers and increasing training (keep in mind this is the same program that the Government Accountability Office has admitted was “ineffective”).

TAA moves on to the Senate next, where we might see a bit more of a fight: the Chair and Ranking Member of the Senate Finance Committee are at odds over possible changes to the program.

[Hat tip: Our crack Government Affairs team.]

October 31, 2007 4:24PM

Rudy Was Right

Today’s Washington Post takes Rudy Giuliani to task for a radio ad in which he claims that the chances of surviving prostate cancer are roughly twice as high in the United states than under Britain’s system of socialized medicine. The Giuliani campaign cited as its source an article by Manhattan institute scholar David Gratzer, which the Post pointedly notes “provides no source for its assertion.” However five minutes of research might have shown the Post that the numbers actually come from a Commonwealth Fund study by Gerard Anderson and Peter Hussey.

Moreover, the Post’s own figures, using more recent numbers and a different methodology, show that the five year survival rate for prostate cancer to be 98 percent in the U.S. and 74 percent in Great Britain. Not quite as good as Rudy’s numbers, but still a clear advantage for the U.S.

The Post also suggests that the better U.S. outcome is a reflection of “different philosophies about how to treat the disease.” Indeed! I think that is Rudy’s point.

The one valid criticism of Rudy’s point is that prostate cancer might not be the best example of outcome disparities between the two systems. Because prostate cancer is a slow‐​growing cancer, the disparity may reflect more aggressive testing and screening procedures in the U.S. That is, we catch many cancers that would go undetected in other countries. As, Robert Ohsfeldt and John Schneider concede in their book, The Business of Health:

[Many] cancer survival rate estimates…do not adjust for cancer stage at diagnosis. This could result in survivor time bias – those with cancers detected at an earlier stage would exhibit longer post diagnosis survival times, even for cancers that are essentially untreatable.

Survivor time bias, however, should not be a significant concern for cancers that respond well to treatment if detected early. For such cancers, early detection makes a substantive contribution to survival time – the longer survival time associated with early detection thus is not a spurious effect of early detection. An example is thyroid cancer. In the United States, virtually all females with thyroid cancer survive for at least five years. The lower survival rates for thyroid cancer in European countries suggest some underperformance in either early detection or post diagnosis management in these countries. In contrast, the differences in survivor rates are less pronounced for cancers that are more difficult to treat, such as lung cancers.

U.S. outcomes beat the U.K not just for prostate cancer, but for a wide variety of cancers and other diseases, where survivor time bias is not at issue. According to a study published this year in the British medical journal, The Lancet, for all types of cancer, the U.S. ranks number one among industrialized nations: 62.9 percent of women with cancer survive for 5 years, 66.3 percent of men. Britain ranked 16th for women (52.7 percent) and 15th for men (just 44.8 percent).

Besides, one of the most common arguments for socialized medicine is that it would lead to more testing, screening, and preventive care. Proponents of government‐​run health care can’t have it both ways.

For this one, it looks like the Post deserves “four Pinocchio’s.”

October 31, 2007 4:20PM

So Write a Check and Shut Up, Warren

When billionaires piously say that they should pay more taxes, the rest of us should hide our wallets. Warren Buffett, the so‐​called “Sage of Omaha” says his tax rate is too low. That’s a strange attitude, to be sure, but if Buffett wants to write an extra check to the government, he should go right ahead. Heck, the Treasury Department even has a website with a mailing address for people who are foolish enough to flush more of their money into the Washington sewer. Unfortunately, Buffett’s real agenda is to agitate for higher tax burdens for the rest of us. As the UK‐​based Guardian reports:

The United States’ second‐​richest man has delivered a blunt message to the Bush administration: he wants to pay more tax. Warren Buffett, the famous investor known as the “Sage of Omaha”, has complained that he pays a lower rate of tax than any of his staff — including his receptionist. Mr Buffett, who is worth an estimated $52bn (£25bn), said: “The taxation system has tilted towards the rich and away from the middle class in the last 10 years. It’s dramatic; I don’t think it’s appreciated and I think it should be addressed.” … Buffett’s remarks drew a robust response from the US Chamber of Commerce, which said the top 1% of US earners accounted for 39% of tax revenue — and the highest earning 25% of the population delivered 86% of the tax‐​take.

The Chamber of Commerce correctly notes that the tax code already is heavily biased against rich people, and it certainly is true that higher tax rates will hinder economic performance and make America more like Europe (which would hurt receptionists more than billionaires). But the reporter should have done some simple fact checking and discovered that Buffett has no idea what he’s talking about regarding tax rates. I addressed this issue back in June, in response to another Warren‐​wants‐​the‐​rest‐​of‐​us‐​to‐​pay‐​more episode:

It is probably safe to assume that Buffett receives lots of dividend income and that he also declares a considerable amount of capital gains, both of which are subject to a 15 percent tax rate on an individual tax return. What he did not mention, however, is that corporations pay a 35 percent tax before distributing dividends to shareholders, so the actual effective tax rate on that portion of Buffett’s income is closer to 50 percent.

The capital gains tax is another example of double taxation. An increase in the value of a stock is a reflection of an anticipated increase in the future income stream from that stock. Yet that income stream will be taxed (usually two times!) when it occurs. The real effective rate on that portion of Buffett’s income is harder to calculate, but it certainly will be far higher than 15 percent.

Shifting gears, Buffett’s calculations almost surely include Social Security payroll taxes, which only apply to the first $90,000 of income in exchange for not providing huge benefit payments to rich retirees. Indeed, the overall program is highly progressive once benefit payments are added to the equation, so Buffett’s secretary gets a better deal than he does from Social Security (though both would be better off with a system of personal retirement accounts).

October 31, 2007 3:03PM

Tax‐​and‐​Spend or Borrow‐​and‐​Spend?

In Virginia,

Pat S. Herrity wants a new elementary school and middle school for southern Fairfax County. Douglas R. Boulter wants to hire more zoning inspectors. Vellie S. Dietrich Hall calls for more and better‐​paid police. Gary H. Baise promises roads, an expanded auditor’s office and the newly created post of county ethics officer.

And they all pledge to lower property taxes.

Meet the Republicans running for the Board of Supervisors on Nov. 6.

In Virginia, as in Congress, voters get a choice between tax‐​and‐​spend Democrats and borrow‐​and‐​spend Republicans. As I’ve argued before, there’s a bit of fat in the Fairfax County budget. It’s too bad that voters aren’t offered any candidates who would trim it.