Archives: 10/2017

The Halloween Terror Attack in New York: The Threat from Foreign-Born Terrorists

On Halloween, Uzbek-born Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov allegedly murdered eight people and injured 12 with a rented truck in New York City.  The details of the attack, the number of victims, and Saipov’s personal information could change over the next few days.  However, based on the information that we have so far, Saipov entered the United States in 2010 as a lawful permanent resident with a green card.  He obtained his green card through the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, which awards 50,000 green cards annually to those who enter the running from select countries. 

Uzbekistan has not been a major source of terrorists.  From 1975 through the end of 2016, three terrorists born in Uzbekistan attempted attacks on U.S. soil.  They killed or injured zero people in their attempted or threatened attacks.  Ulugbek Kodirov was convicted in 2012 of threatening to assassinate President Obama after entering on a student visa.  Abdurasul Hasanovich Juraboev entered on a green card that he won in a diversity lottery and also threatened to kill President Obama.  Fazliddin Kurbanov entered as a refugee and was convicted of possessing an unregistered explosive device.  Threats to assassinate the president are farfetched, but we count assassinations of politicians as terrorism just as the Global Terrorism Database does. 

If the death toll from the New York attack doesn’t rise, a total of 3,037 people have been murdered on U.S. soil by 182 foreign-born terrorists from 1975 through October 31, 2017.  Of those 182 foreign-born terrorists, 63 initially entered with green cards.  Including Tuesday’s attack, those who entered on a green card killed 16 people, or about 0.53 percent of all people murdered in terror attacks on U.S. soil committed by a foreigner.  If the number of injuries stays at 12, terrorists who entered on green cards have injured about 203 people during this period in attacks.  

The annual chance of being murdered in a terror attack on U.S. soil committed by a foreign-born person stands at 1 in 3,808,094 per year from 1975 through October 31, 2017. 

Top U.S. Individual Income Tax Rate Too High

If you have followed the tax debate, you know that the United States has one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world. Most other nations have slashed their rates to attract investment, while U.S. policymakers have been in denial about global tax competition until recently.

You may be less familiar with the cuts to top individual income tax rates around the world since the 1980s. Those reforms have been driven by international competition for skilled workers, and by growing recognition of the damage caused by penalizing the highly productive people who are top earners.

How much have top individual tax rates been cut? The Economic Freedom of the World report publishes tax rate data for more than 100 countries as far back as the 1970s, but with numerous data points missing. I found 80 countries that had data back to 1985, and below I chart the average top individual income tax rate for that group. For countries with subnational income taxation, the EFW report includes a range of rates reflecting the varying taxes in states and provinces. For the chart, I chose the highest subnational rates for those countries. For the United States, the U.S. rate for 2015 is the federal rate plus California.

The average top individual tax rate for 80 nations plunged from 60 percent in 1985 to 35 percent by 2010, and then edged up to 36 percent in 2015. The U.S. federal-state rate was slashed sharply in the 1980s, falling from 59 percent in 1985 to 42 percent in 1990.

Our top rate went back up in the 1990s, then down in the 2000s, then up again in recent years reaching 51 percent by 2015, as both the federal and California rates increased. Meanwhile, rates continued to fall around the world in the 1990s and 2000s until the tax-cutting trend tapered off in recent years.      

 

 

Note: The EFW dataset has 159 countries with individual income tax data for 2015. The overall average top rate was just 30 percent for those countries. For the subset of 80 countries, I took out countries with zero rates, such as Bahamas, and countries that did not have data for 1985.

Are Federal Prosecutors Above the Law?

There is no more powerful person in the federal legal system than the federal prosecutor. Charging decisions and plea bargains effectively remove judges and juries from decisionmaking in most cases, and electing to fight a prosecutor rather than take the plea bargain most often results in dramatically longer sentences. This is how our system operates, and even if all the prosecutors are acting lawfully, defendants are at a massive disadvantage.

But what if the prosecutor cheats a system that’s already rigged in his favor?

This is not a hypothetical question. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has proven itself incapable of holding prosecutors accountable for misconduct. Regardless of which party is in power, the DOJ has let prosecutors get away with inexcusable behavior that costs people their livelihoods, their reputations, and their freedom. Next week, we’re holding an event to look at several high-profile cases in which the DOJ ran roughshod over individual rights, violated legal obligations and ethical norms, and ultimately held no one to account for their misdeeds.

Join us Tuesday, November 7 at 4 p.m. for Prosecutor Fallibility and Accountability, featuring Rob Cary, author of Not Guilty: The Unlawful Prosecution of U.S. Senator Ted Stevens; Howard Root, author of Cardiac Arrest: Five Heart-Stopping Years as a CEO on the Feds’ Hit-List; and Michael J. Daugherty, author of The Devil Inside the Beltway: The Shocking Exposé of the U.S. Government’s Surveillance and Overreach into Cybersecurity, Medicine and Small Business. The event will be hosted by my colleague Clark Neily.

You can sign up for the event here. You can also stream it online at cato.org/live and join the conversation on Twitter with #CatoCJ

Make “Enhanced” Vetting Great Again

Last week, President Trump issued a new executive order (EO) that restarts the refugee system with new “enhanced” vetting procedures.  The new procedures will subject the follow-on family members of refugees to about the same level of vetting as the original refugee sponsors who have already been settled in the United States.  This extension of the current refugee vetting system will cover about 2,500 additional follow-on refugees per year.  The EO also forward-deploys specially trained Fraud Detection and National Security officers at refugee processing locations to help identify potential fraud, national security, and public safety issues earlier in the screening process.  Additional actions of the EO are enhanced questions to identify fraud and other inadmissible characteristics as well as upgrades to databases to detect potential fraud or changes in refugee information at different interview stages.  The EO also directs the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of State and the Director of National Intelligence, to review and reform refugee vetting procedures on an annual basis. 

The EO justifies these new measures by stating that, “It is the policy of the United States to protect its people from terrorist attacks and other public-safety threats … Those procedures enhance our ability to detect foreign nationals who might commit, aid, or support acts of terrorism, or otherwise pose a threat to the national security or public safety of the United States, and they bolster our efforts to prevent such individuals from entering the country.”  

All in all, these new vetting procedures are modest additions to the already intensive refugee screening that occurs.  If these new enhanced screening procedures are supposed to be the “extreme vetting” that President Trump proposed then they show just how extreme and secure the refugee program already was.  Furthermore, they are unnecessary.

Terrorists by Refugee-Restricted Countries

The EO also places additional scrutiny on refugees from Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Mali, North Korea, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.  Those eleven nations represent supposed security threats identified on the Security Advisory Opinion (SAO) – a government list of nations established in the 1990s whose nationals are supposed to be more closely scrutinized for particular national security threats.  The government has updated and expanded the SAO criteria as well as the nations on the list multiple times since 9/11.    

The government may have an excellent rationale for designating nationals from these eleven countries as serious threats that require more refugee vetting but those reasons and the evidence supporting them are not available for the public to examine.  Publicly available information points to a small refugee threat from refugees from these nations that does not justify additional screening.  Since 1975, zero Americans have been murdered on U.S. soil in a terror attack committed by refugees from any of the eleven countries.    

65% Say College Students Should Discuss Offensive Halloween Costumes without Administrator Involvement

Two years ago at Yale, a controversy erupted over a series of emails about offensive Halloween costumes. A resident advisor and Yale lecturer pushed back against an email from college administrators advising students not to wear offensive Halloween costumes. The advisor emailed her students and expressed confidence in students’ capacity to discuss offensive Halloween costumes among themselves without administrators getting involved. Many students interpreted her email as an endorsement of offensive costumes, rather than of freedom of expression and the ability of people to discuss and resolve offense without oversight. What do Americans think?

The newly released Cato 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey finds that nearly two-thirds (65%) of Americans agree that “college students should discuss offensive costumes among themselves without administrators getting involved.” A third (33%) say “college administrators have a responsibility to advise college students not to wear Halloween costumes that stereotype certain racial or ethnic groups at off-campus parties.”

Full survey results and report found here.

A significant racial divide emerges about how to handle offensive Halloween costumes. A majority (56%) of African Americans feel college administrators should intervene and advise students against offensive costumes. Conversely, a strong majority (71%) of white Americans and a majority of Latinos (56%) believe that college students should discuss offensive Halloween costumes among themselves without administrator intervention.

A majority (54%) of college and graduate students agree that students should discuss offensive costumes without intervention from school authorities. However, students (45%) are 12 points more supportive than Americans overall (33%) of administrators advising about offensive costumes.

You can learn more about public attitudes about free speech, campus speech, and tolerance of political expression from the full survey report found here.

Sign up here to receive forthcoming Cato Institute survey reports

The Cato Institute 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey was designed and conducted by the Cato Institute in collaboration with YouGov. YouGov collected responses online August 15-23, 2017 from a national sample of 2,300 Americans 18 years of age and older. The margin of error for the survey is +/- 3.00 percentage points at the 95% level of confidence.

 

A Monetary Policy Primer, Part 12: Monetary Alternatives

This primer is supposed to introduce readers to the workings of the present U.S. monetary system. So it’s only natural that it should take established monetary arrangements for granted, including an official, “fiat” dollar currency managed by the Federal Reserve System.

And while I haven’t hesitated to point out shortcomings in the Fed’s management of the dollar, and have even dared to suggest some ways in which that management might be improved upon, I haven’t questioned the fact that, whether it does so competently or not, the Fed is indeed ultimately “in charge” of the U.S. monetary system. That is, I’ve assumed, that the U.S. dollar is the only important domestic currency unit, and that the total quantity of dollar-denominated exchange media, the behavior of the general level of prices, U.S. dollar exchange rates, and the periodic flow of domestic dollar-denominated payments, remain under the discretionary control of the FOMC.

Monetary Policy, Broadly Understood

But while a monetary policy primer must generally deal with existing monetary arrangements, it doesn’t follow that it should overlook others altogether. “Policy,” according to Webster, is “a high-level overall plan embracing the general goals and acceptable procedures especially of a governmental body.” And though, within the set of possible plans, the most readily-implemented ones take existing institutional arrangements for granted, there are always other, more radical options that involve either replacing established arrangements or confronting them with rival ones with which they must compete.

Radical policy alternatives are, inevitably, controversial ones as well; so a primer is hardly the place for any detailed consideration, let alone a defense, of any of them. Instead, we must settle for a quick glance at several especially prominent or intriguing possibilities, all of which involve moving away from the present, discretionary system and towards a more-or-less “automatic” alternative.

Poll: 71% of Americans Say Political Correctness Has Silenced Discussions Society Needs to Have, 58% Have Political Views They’re Afraid to Share

The Cato 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey, a new national poll of 2,300 U.S. adults, finds that 71% Americans believe that political correctness has silenced important discussions our society needs to have. The consequences are personal—58% of Americans believe the political climate prevents them from sharing their own political beliefs.

Democrats are unique, however, in that a slim majority (53%) do not feel the need to self-censor. Conversely, strong majorities of Republicans (73%) and independents (58%) say they keep some political beliefs to themselves.

Full survey results and report found here.

It follows that a solid majority (59%) of Americans think people should be allowed to express unpopular opinions in public, even those deeply offensive to others. On the other hand, 40% think government should prevent hate speech. Despite this, the survey also found Americans willing to censor, regulate, or punish a wide variety of speech and expression they personally find offensive:

  • 51% of staunch liberals say it’s “morally acceptable” to punch Nazis.
  • 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
  • 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people’s preferred gender pronouns.
  • 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
  • 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
  • 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.

Americans also can’t agree what speech is hateful, offensive, or simply a political opinion:

  • 59% of liberals say it’s hate speech to say transgender people have a mental disorder; only 17% of conservatives agree.
  • 39% of conservatives believe it’s hate speech to say the police are racist; only 17% of liberals agree.
  • 80% of liberals say it’s hateful or offensive to say illegal immigrants should be deported; only 36% of conservatives agree.
  • 87% of liberals say it’s hateful or offensive to say women shouldn’t fight in military combat roles, while 47% of conservatives agree.
  • 90% of liberals say it’s hateful or offensive to say homosexuality is a sin, while 47% of conservatives agree. 

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