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The high hopes and inflated expectations of U.S. diplomacy with North Korea set by Donald Trump after his summit with Kim Jong Un are quickly coming unraveled.

Trump confidently declared an end to the nuclear threat from North Korea on the heels of the Singapore summit, and has since repeatedly declared that the United States is making progress in its efforts to denuclearize North Korea.

However, many arms control and nuclear experts have warned that the actual substance of the agreement between the United States and North Korea leaves much to be desired. North Korean promises to denuclearize are vague at best and there is no real system in place for verifying the few steps Pyongyang has already taken, such as dismantling an engine test stand and closing its nuclear weapons testing site. While Kim declared a moratorium on ballistic missile and nuclear testing, he has not agreed to give up any missiles or warheads. In fact, in his New Year’s address he explicitly stated, “The nuclear weapons research sector and the rocket industry should mass-produce nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles.”  

There is a clear mismatch between Trump’s optimistic rhetoric and the actual state of U.S.-North Korea diplomacy. The North’s commitments are fuzzy at best and talks appear deadlocked as both sides refuse to budge until the other makes a concession. The discrepancy between rhetoric and reality risks turning unsurprising revelations about North Korea behavior into indictments that could sink U.S.-North Korea talks.  

One such unsurprising revelation that, thanks to Trump’s statements, is instead a politically potent cudgel is the news that North Korea has continued operations at undeclared missile bases while it has negotiated with the United States. This should not come as a surprise. None of the agreements North Korea has reached with the United States (or South Korea) since the start of 2018 mention anything about halting all missile operations. Furthermore, neither Kim’s New Year’s address nor his April speech to top officials in the Worker’s Party of Korea says that operations will cease.

However, Trump’s wildly inflated statements of success and victory mean that instead of a reasonable and measured reaction, media outlets are treating the news of ongoing operations at missile bases as a sign of North Korean perfidy. The New York Times, for example, said that the satellite imagery and report published by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), “Suggest that the North has been engaged in a great deception.” The article makes no mention of the fact that Kim has never stated or agreed to a complete freeze or abandonment of his ballistic missile capabilities, but it does contrast the North’s behavior with Trump’s optimistic rhetoric.

Keeping a watchful eye on North Korea is valuable and important, and the CSIS report itself is detailed and objective. However, thanks to the unrealistically high expectations Trump set at the outset of talks, the report is being spun as a black mark against Trump’s approach to North Korea. This unfortunate outcome could have been easily avoided. Trump should have been honest about the limits of the agreement penned at Singapore, and he should have heralded the summit as the start of a long process rather than a kind of finish line.

U.S.-North Korean diplomacy isn’t dead yet, but it faces some tough sticking points that will take time to resolve. Revelations that North Korea is moving ahead with activities that haven’t been explicitly limited or proscribed shouldn’t come as a surprise and shouldn’t be an excuse for the United States to walk away from the table.

It’s possible for Trump to achieve significant, long-lasting results via negotiations, but in order to do that he needs to set realistic expectations and tone down the triumphalist rhetoric. Continuing to declare victory without real results will only turn run of the mill news about North Korean behavior into the ammunition that hawks within the administration need to sink negotiations.

Yesterday marked 100 years since the end of the First World War. The Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog used the occasion to publish an excellent commentary, based on a longer academic journal article, by political scientists Alexander Lanoszka and Michael A. Hunzeker. They argue that the Great War could have actually ended long before the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918. Two years earlier, in December 1916, both “Germany and the United States issued peace overtures” that, if heeded, “could have spared countless lives and have helped Europe escape the financial ruin and deep-seated animosity that produced World War II,” Lanoszka and Hunzeker explain. “Unfortunately, the Entente — Britain, France and Russia — dismissed both offers, and the fighting continued.”

At the time, all sides were facing catastrophic losses, financial insolvency, and a virtual stalemate on the battlefield. An armistice then would have been a great relief to the warring parties. So why did the Entente powers reject peace? According to Lanoszka and Hunzeker, “Honor pushed the Entente to prefer war over peace despite the overwhelming costs and risks…[For the Entente,] Honor was worth the material price, no matter how high. Germany was unapologetic about its transgressions. Atrocities in Belgium and repeated frustrations on the battlefield to win and exact punishment made national honor take priority over national survival. War aims expanded; by December 1916, the Entente came to believe the only way to overcome dishonor was to destroy the German regime itself.”

Sociologists argue that honor is crucial to group self-esteem, involving an emotional investment in how groups define themselves and their place in social hierarchies. Honor leads actors to believe that others must respect these identities. It can enhance cooperation when mutual respect exists, but encourage severe escalation and undercut conflict resolution when it does not.

Accordingly, when identity faces an external threat, actors feel an intense psychological need to salvage their honor. To restore besmirched honor, either the transgressor apologizes or the victim punishes. The longer the transgressor refuses to apologize and resists punishment, the more the victim will dig in and perhaps even risk dying for honor’s sake.

Threats to honor can thus undermine rational behavior and make wars longer. Rationality means that an actor objectively assesses available information, selects which goals it will pursue and picks the most efficient and risk averse way to do so. However, when honor is at stake, leaders might begin to ignore disconfirming evidence, prioritize honor over survival and adopt strategies based on hope, not efficiency.

Honor is not “a relic of a bygone era in international relations,” the authors conclude. Indeed, it is still very much with us. I recently published an article in The Washington Quarterly arguing that concerns over America’s honor, status, and prestige discourage a much-needed shift in U.S. foreign policy away from the costly and counterproductive grand strategy of primacy and toward retrenchment. As the American diplomat James B. Foley put it, “public support for U.S. global leadership [since WWII] has been sustained by a romantic faith in America’s overseas mission – a kind of internationalized Manifest Destiny” that makes any suggestion of retrenchment “psychologically deflating.” Decision-makers thus remain committed to an extraordinarily activist foreign policy despite the dire costs, high risks, and the fact that America’s core security would remain intact with a much less ambitious set of strategic objectives. 

In Paris this weekend, world leaders commemorated the centennial. French President Emmanuel Macron rebuked  the brutish nationalism of the early 20th century that helped lead to the bloodbath, while indirectly (though not subtly) condemning President Trump’s hardline nationalist worldview as a dangerous throwback to that tragic era. Sure enough, Trump is very much preoccupied with honor and prestige, and it shows in his foreign policy. Much has been made of how well Trump fits into the “Jacksonian tradition” in U.S. foreign policy. According to the political scientist Walter Russel Mead, who coined the term in his 2001 book Special Providence, the Jacksonian tradition features “a deep sense of national honor” that “must be acknowledged by the outside world” and must be defended, including by going to war over “great things and small.” 

Trump rose to power complaining about “a tremendous lack of respect for our country,” a phrase he repeated countless times on the campaign trail. The sentiment reaches back decades. In a 1988 interview, when asked what his political platform would be should he run for office, Trump boiled it down to a single word: “Respect.” He added that our adversaries are “beating us psychologically, making us look like a bunch of fools.” Even more explicitly, in a 1990 interview with Playboy magazine, Trump explained that America was “suffering from a loss of respect,” adding that “people need ego, whole nations need ego. I think our country needs more ego” because our leaders have let other countries “literally out-egotise this country.”

“The key to understanding Trump’s foreign policy outlook,” according to the political scientist Reinhard Wolf, “lies in his extreme attention to symbolism,” where “questions of substance are eclipsed by an obsession with status and respect…[F]or Trump, America First is not so much about advancing the national interest measured in terms of material wealth or physical survival. It is, first and foremost, about the United States becoming the undisputed ‘number one’ again, and being treated with due respect.”

Critics of Trump’s foreign policy often decry his supposedly isolationist impulses and his withdrawal from the world stage. However, though the administration has pulled out of several international agreements, America’s global military commitments have not shrunk. In some ways, Trump has expanded them. He has overseen increased military spending, the expansion of NATO, higher troop deployments to Europe and the Middle East, and a less restrained use of air power and other uses of force in multiple countries under dubious legal authority. Trump has not withdrawn from a single one of America’s 60-plus security commitments and, despite a near universal regonition that the war in Afghanistan is unwinnable, he has surged troops there to finish an unachievable mission. 

As with the Entente powers, intangible psychological motivations are driving U.S. militarism at the expense of more material economic and security interests. In 1916, that cost Europe dearly. In 2018, it’s costing America dearly, too. 

The naming of Matthew Whitaker as acting head of the Department of Justice, following the forced resignation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, has kicked off a mini-debate between legal scholars over the propriety of his appointment.  On Thursday, Neal Katyal and George Conway argued in The New York Times that Whitaker’s elevation ran afoul of the Constitution’s Appointments Clause, which requires that the president appoint “principal officers” of the United States, such as the Attorney General, only with the “advice and consent” of the Senate.  John Yoo, a conservative legal scholar who served at DOJ under the Bush Administration, told Axios he agreed, and that the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, which purports to authorize the appointment of unconfirmed interim officers to fill vacancies, was unconstitutional as applied to such “principal” offices.  Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas expressed a similar view in an opinion just last year.  On the other side, we have Steve Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas, who notes that the Supreme Court blessed temporary appointments without confirmation back in 1898, in United States v. Eaton.  

I’m not sufficiently steeped in the history or jurisprudence of the appointments clause to have a strong view either way on the legality of Whitaker’s elevation, but it does at least seem to run contrary to the spirit and intention of the Appointments Clause as articulated by Alexander Hamilton in Federalist 76, which gives the following rationale for requiring Senate confirmation for the highest posts in the executive branch:

To what purpose then require the co-operation of the Senate? I answer, that the necessity of their concurrence would have a powerful, though, in general, a silent operation. It would be an excellent check upon a spirit of favoritism in the President, and would tend greatly to prevent the appointment of unfit characters from State prejudice, from family connection, from personal attachment, or from a view to popularity. In addition to this, it would be an efficacious source of stability in the administration.

It will readily be comprehended, that a man who had himself the sole disposition of offices, would be governed much more by his private inclinations and interests, than when he was bound to submit the propriety of his choice to the discussion and determination of a different and independent body, and that body an entire branch of the legislature. The possibility of rejection would be a strong motive to care in proposing. The danger to his own reputation, and, in the case of an elective magistrate, to his political existence, from betraying a spirit of favoritism, or an unbecoming pursuit of popularity, to the observation of a body whose opinion would have great weight in forming that of the public, could not fail to operate as a barrier to the one and to the other. He would be both ashamed and afraid to bring forward, for the most distinguished or lucrative stations, candidates who had no other merit than that of coming from the same State to which he particularly belonged, or of being in some way or other personally allied to him, or of possessing the necessary insignificance and pliancy to render them the obsequious instruments of his pleasure.

 

The elevation of Whitaker to the role of acting attorney general seems as precise an instance as one could imagine of the scenario the Framers hoped to deter.  It is, after all, no secret why President Trump has been dissatisfied with Sessions: He has frequently made clear that he was infuriated by Sessions’ recusal (quite clearly required by DOJ rules) from overseeing the investigation into Russian election tampering—which has already seen legal penalties imposed on several of the president’s allies—and his insufficient enthusiasm for pursuing the president’s political adversaries.  Whitaker, formerly Sessions’ chief of staff, seems certain to be more accommodating.  He took that job only a year ago, after making a successful play to get noticed by the administration via editorials and television appearances in which he attacked Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, and asserted that he would have indicted Hillary Clinton over her private e-mail server, despite the consensus of DOJ attorneys that there was no sound basis for prosecution. Though he did serve a stint as U.S. Attorney during the George W. Bush administration, Whitaker had spent recent years running a nonprofit that produced partisan attack ads targeting Democrats.  Charitably put, his resume is a bit thin for the nation’s top law enforcement job, even in an “acting” capacity: His chief qualification for the post is being “personally allied” to Trump.  He might, under present circumstances, nevertheless muster the votes for confirmation in the Senate, but the confirmation process itself would doubtless be fraught, providing an opportunity for pointed questions about whether he’d signaled to the White House his eagerness to shut down investigations like Mueller, or pursue prosecutions of the president’s foes.  It seems quite plausible, in other words, that the Appointments Clause would have functioned as intended to deter the nomination of someone like Whitaker to head the Justice Department if he had to go through confirmation.

In the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, the White House has seemingly found a mechanism for, in effect, hacking the Appointments Clause:  Get a loyalist hired in a subordinate role to a Senate-confirmed “principal officer,” create a vacancy by forcing that officer to resign, and then promote the loyalist to the top job, circumventing the Senate for at least seven months.  Moreover, the seven-month clock is extended for the period during which the nomination of a permanent replacement is pending, and restarts if that nomination fails to win the Senate’s consent.  In theory, at least, that means Whitaker’s “temporary” leadership of DOJ could last for the remainder of Trump’s term, provided the Senate finds Trump’s nominees to replace him even less acceptable.  Given that Trump has been open about his desire to replace Sessions with a more “loyal” attorney general for more than a year, it’s even conceivable that the White House anticipated his eventual elevation back when he first joined the Justice Department.  

It’s anyone’s guess whether, in light of Eaton, the courts will balk at this circumvention of the Senate’s role in providing “advice and consent,” but if they don’t, the White House has drawn a convenient roadmap for circumventing a constitutional safeguard that seems ripe for further exploitation. 

President Trump signed an order today that requires the denial of all asylum claims from people who cross the border illegally. The most important thing to understand about this order is that it is not the beginning of a new policy keeping out asylum seekers, but the conclusion of an existing policy. Here are the steps to Trump’s asylum sham:

  • Step 1: The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) moves its agents to the exact U.S.-Mexico border line.
  • Step 2: DHS forcibly keeps asylum seekers in Mexico away from U.S. protection, letting no more than 2 or 3 families cross per day.
  • Step 3: DHS prohibits asylum claims from those who go around the port of entry to get on U.S. soil to turn themselves in and apply for asylum.
  • Step 4: Put the military on the border and have soldiers place concertina wire around the port of entry.
  • Step 5: DHS works with the Mexican government to evict homeless asylum seekers who wait in Mexico at the legal port of entry.
  • Step 6: America is great again.

These policies contradict the asylum statute (8 U.S.C. 1158) which states:

Any alien who is physically present in the United States or who arrives in the United States (whether or not at a designated port of arrival and including an alien who is brought to the United States after having been interdicted in international or United States waters), irrespective of such alien’s status, may apply for asylum.

The order pretends as if legal ports of entry will still be a viable option for people who want to seek asylum, but this is a sham. Here’s the reality. DHS is permitting no more than two or three families seeking asylum to enter at ports of entry each day. This forces them to either live homeless in Mexico for days or weeks or go around, turn themselves in to Border Patrol, and have their claim processed that way. The Daily Beast explained how this worked in a specific case:

Donelda, 35, and her daughter, 6 … are asylum seekers from Guatemala who were turned away by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol at the Paso del Norte port of entry on May 8, the day after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the Trump administration’s new “zero tolerance” immigration policy… . Like others who have been turned away since May 8, Donelda then tried to cross into the United States illegally, turning herself into Border Patrol. That’s when—under the new policy—she was prosecuted criminally and her daughter was taken from her and shipped to a detention center in the Midwest, thousands of miles away.

The New York Times reported on what happens to those kept out:

The bottleneck has produced a grim sight at the turnstiles where legally authorized border crossers step from Mexico into the United States. Families from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras huddle together on the ground near packages of donated diapers and cans of baby formula. Some have endured this limbo for nearly two weeks, sleeping on the ground at night and trying to stay cool during the day as temperatures in this outpost in the Sonoran Desert surpass 100 degrees.

“We made it here on foot and by bus,” said Justo Solval, 25, a laborer traveling with his 21-month-old son, Jonathan. They set out from Suchitepéquez in southwest Guatemala, escaping extortion gangs in an effort to request asylum in the United States, Mr. Solval said. But after arriving in Nogales about a week and a half ago, they have been sleeping on cardboard pizza boxes in a squalid entryway to a bathroom at the border crossing. “We depend on strangers for food, for water, for everything,” Mr. Solval said. “I wanted to do everything legally, to ask for asylum in the proper way, but this is a setback I did not expect for us.”

As the Atlantic explains, DHS now stations agents in the middle of bridges to prevent asylum seekers from stepping on U.S. soil, which would grant them the protections under 8 U.S.C. 1158 to submit asylum applications. Of course, even when they do appear to cross the line, as in this video from the Intercept, the agents still reject them.

DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen has even told Laura Ingraham on Fox News about turning away asylum seekers:

Well, we’re ‘metering,’ which means that if we don’t have the resources to process them on a particular day, they’re going to have to come back, so they’re going to have to wait their turn, and we will process them as we can.

Yet that “turn” may not come for weeks or months or years if every family is forced to wait because, according to researchers at Human Rights First, no more than two or three families may enter any given port per day. There were nearly 161,000 people in family units who arrived at or between ports of entry in FY 2018. Nielsen later was confronted about this at a press conference and refused to admit that asylum seekers were being “turned away,” while explaining that that’s exactly what was happening. A spokesman for DHS also used this same doublespeak when explaining the policy to the New York Times.

Despite the family separation policy in May and June, families kept crossing illegally anyway—evading the blockade at ports of entry. In response to the fact that asylum seekers are avoiding the de facto ban on asylum at ports, this latest order will ban the only remaining option for them. Without any legal way to present their claims, hundreds of people are homeless in Mexico. This image naturally conflicts with the Trump administration’s messaging about how it will accept claims at ports, so what has it done? As Texas Monthly reported today:

Hours after the Trump administration invoked national security powers to change existing rules to deny asylum to anyone entering this country illegally, U.S. immigrant rights advocates in El Paso learned that immigration officials were going to start evicting migrants encamped on international bridges awaiting to legally apply for asylum. U.S. and Mexican authorities have reached an agreement to remove hundreds of asylum seekers, including children, from international bridges linking El Paso and Ciudad Juarez, representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union told Texas Monthly Thursday night… .

More than 450 would-be asylum seekers—mostly from Central America—are currently camped out on the Mexican side of three bridges linking the two cities… . The lines at the El Paso-Ciudad Juarez bridges have formed because CBP officers are preventing people from reaching the port of entry to apply for asylum, saying the port facilities lack capacity to process the number of asylum seekers now arriving.

This idea that ports of entry lack “capacity” to process 450 asylum seekers is the most absurd lie of all. The El Paso-Ciudad Juarez port of entry processes more than 50,000 north-bound pedestrians and personal vehicles every day. It is laughable to claim that 450 asylees can’t receive background checks and screenings immediately if the administration chose to. DHS could process them all, give them all ankle bracelets for monitoring them in the United States (if it wants), and be done before lunch.

The goal of the president’s new policy is manifestly just to keep out any asylum seekers at all. It’s clear that DHS intends to continue its practice of rejecting asylum seekers at ports of entry as well, as evidenced by the fact that the military is placing concertina wire around the ports of entry. This would obviously be totally unnecessary if they processed the claims at ports, and if the immigrants were trying to sneak in, they wouldn’t go to the port to begin with.

President Trump is violating the law, which was intended to protect asylum seekers in situations like the Jews on the St. Louis who were trying to enter the United States without proper documentation but whom the United States monstrously turned away. Any policy that would turn away the St. Louis—the exact situation that prompted the creation of the asylum statute—flunks the basic tests of legality and morality.

Here are numerous other cases of the illegal practice of turning away asylum seekers:

 

Just before his crushing defeat on Tuesday, Maine’s Republican Senate candidate Eric Brakey asked the following questions on Twitter:

There is much to object to here, but I’ll focus on this fact: California is not blue because of immigrants. In the 2016 election, for example, naturalized citizens cast 18.1 percent of the vote, according to the Voting and Registration Supplement to the Census’s Current Population Survey (CPS). The CPS doesn’t ask how they cast their votes, but even if every single naturalized citizen voter cast their ballot for Hillary Clinton, Trump still would have received 38 percent fewer votes in the state than Clinton if Brakey’s disenfranchisement plan went through. 

The voter registration information in the Public Policy Institute’s 2017 survey indicates that naturalized citizens in California voted about 78 percent for Hillary Clinton, 19 percent for Trump, and 3 percent for other candidates. That is definitely a significant benefit to Democrats, but as Figure 1 shows, naturalized citizens would not have affected the outcome of the election. Hillary Clinton still would have won California in a landslide. A forced exodus of every immigrant voter in California would move from a D+30 state to a D+24 state.

Figure 1: California Presidential Election Vote Share by Candidate and Citizenship Status
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Brakey might respond that this fails to consider the children of immigrants, who opponents of birthright citizenship contend are not real Americans. In 2016, there were about 1.7 million votes for president by children with two foreign-born parents, according to the CPS. We again don’t know exactly for whom they voted in 2016, and we don’t have a California-specific political identification survey for them, but using the General Social Survey party identification for all 2nd generation Americans, we can conclude that at most 63 percent voted for Hillary and 36 percent for Trump. Figure 2 shows the difference between the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd generations in California. Even without immigrants and their children, Trump still would have lost.

Figure 2: California Presidential Election Vote Share by Candidate and Citizenship Status
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Another fundamental problem with the immigration-turned-California-blue theory is that California has had a unified Democratic legislature almost continuously since 1959, so it was already a blue state. But nativists are right that something did happen in the mid-1990s that made Republicans much less competitive in statewide elections. In the three elections from 1990 to 1994, Democrats received an average of just 47 percent of the votes in statewide races for president, senate, governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general (Figure 3). In the following three elections from 1996 to 2000, they received 54 percent. From 2002 to 2006, they fell back to 52 percent (thanks entirely to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s boost to the GOP), but Democrats’ results have shot up since, hitting 59 percent in the most recent three elections.

Figure 3: Vote Share for Democrats in California Statewide Elections
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So what happened? Immigration clearly doesn’t explain it. Republicans would still lose California without any 1st and 2nd generation Americans, let alone just those who became citizens after 1994. Taking out the net increase of 1.9 million 1st and 2nd generation voters from 1996 to 2016 would have lowered the Democratic share by just 2 percentage points in the 2016 election.

But just because immigrants don’t make California blue doesn’t mean that immigration politics didn’t play a role. California Republicans went from competitive statewide to big losers at exactly the time that Governor Pete Wilson decided to blame immigrants for the state’s budget problems and campaigned for Proposition 187 in 1994, which would have required state officers to report illegal immigrants to the federal government as well as ban public services to them. Wilson did win reelection in 1994 during a record year for Republicans nationwide, but the California GOP never recovered.

My colleague Alex Nowrasteh has documented the now-extensive evidence that Wilson’s nativist campaign turned off Hispanic voters. This includes not just naturalized but also 2nd, 3rd, and 4th generation Hispanics. Wilson received nearly half of the Hispanic vote in 1990, but only a quarter in the 1994 election, and the GOP share remained low thereafter. But it was not just Hispanic voters who stopped voting GOP. Non-Hispanic whites also turned against Republicans at the same time, leading to a near total collapse in the state GOP.

As seen in Figure 4, Shaun Bowler, Stephen P. Nicholson and Gary M. Segura document the change in party identification following Prop. 187 (1994) and its successors Prop. 209 (1996) and Prop. 227 (1998). The share of Hispanics identifying as Democrats moved from 38 percent to 63 percent, while non-Hispanic whites moved from 30 percent to 37 percent, leading to a 14 percentage point swing against the GOP among whites.  

Figure 4: Party Identification Before and After California Propositions 187, 209, and 227
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Naturalized citizens and the children of immigrants certainly contribute to Democratic Party success in California, but they are not responsible for it. If Republicans want to win in the state, they need to realize that their rhetoric and policies on immigration not only offend new immigrant families in the state but also many Americans whose ancestors came to America during earlier waves, especially when public polling shows that Americans have never been more pro-immigration than they are right now. This has made the GOP far less competitive in California, and it may also have contributed to the exceptionally close Senate race in Texas this year. Rather than blaming immigrants for their failures, Republicans who want to reverse these trends should craft inclusive messages and policies that appeal to Americans regardless of the ancestry.  

The following is an excerpt from an op-ed I wrote explaining why the 2018 midterm election will not have a significant impact on how the Trump administration conducts its diplomatic outreach with North Korea: 

A divided Congress will likely serve as a brake against most of Donald Trump’s policy agenda. But in one critical issue area—the diplomatic efforts to denuclearize North Korea—congressional divisions will not have a significant impact. For better or worse, the executive branch in general and Trump in particular will be able to deal with North Korea as they see fit.

The new Congress is bound to have some effect on Trump’s approach to North Korea, but the impact of the legislative branch should not be overstated. At the end of the day, the executive branch still holds most of the power and control over the U.S.-North Korea diplomatic process. Most of Congress’s impact will therefore be constrained to the margins of U.S. policy.

To read the rest of the article, go to NK News

https://www.nknews.org/2018/11/democratic-gains-north-korean-pains-congresss-limited-impact-on-dprk-policy/

Ronald Reagan’s legacy-defining tax cuts passed through Congress in 1981 and 1986 with broad Democratic support. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 on the other hand, failed to garner a single Democratic vote before President Trump signed it into law. In the latter case, the lack of concomitant spending cuts might allow one to frame this opposition as an act of fiscal prudence on the part of the Democrats. But the counterfactual - that if the legislation had also included a scaling back of Medicare benefits and a partial Social Security privatization then the Democrats would have leaped on board - strains credulity.

More likely, Democratic opposition is motivated, at least in part, by an increasingly ideological commitment to a European style social welfare state. Many Western European governments collect 40% or more of their GDP in taxes, while the United States collects just over half of that figure. In urging us to emulate the European model, the progressive left wing of the Democratic party not only downplays the perverse economic effects of higher taxes, they have taken to morally justifying progressive taxation as the “fair share” owed to society by those who have been successful in the private sector, on account of the government-provided goods and services which undoubtedly necessary to that success.

In 2011, U.S. Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren, now among the front-runners for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, made this argument explicitly during a campaign event:

I hear all this, you know, ‘Well, this is class warfare, this is whatever.’ No. There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own — nobody. You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police-forces and fire-forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory — and hire someone to protect against this — because of the work the rest of us did. Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea. God bless — keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is, you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.

In a 2012 campaign speech, President Obama reinforced this sentiment:

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business – you didn’t build that.

These remarks no doubt build upon a foundation of truth: that some basic degree of public goods provision might be necessary to generate the conditions within which the private sector can thrive. But beyond illuminating a very basic economics insight, this line of argumentation falls far short of its goal: to justify progressive taxation as a part of the “underlying social contract” whereby private actors reimburse the government for the goods and services which they utilized en route to their success.

A Tale of Two Commuters

Imagine two commuters living equidistant from a downtown city law firm. One is an attorney at the firm, the other is her secretary. Each drives to work, thereby obtaining some value from the use of public roads. Each, in turn, imposes a roughly equal amount of depreciation on those roads, the cost of which must be defrayed via taxes. But what about the value “built” by each of them once they reach their office?

The attorney will almost certainly command a far higher salary than will her secretary. Insofar as these salaries emerge from a competitive market for labor, they reflect, at least within an order of magnitude, the respective marginal products of these commuters’ labor. But, crucially, the attorney’s higher salary is not attributable to a greater consumption of public goods. She traversed the same roads on the way to work as did her secretary. The two of them rely on the same police and fire departments. They may have even attended the same local, public K-12 schools. The attorney’s higher salary is instead attributable to her command over a set of skills and human capital which are more scarce - and more valuable - on the market than are secretarial skills. The salary differential, and the difference in productivity it reflects, cannot be explained by differential public goods consumption. In each case, some degree of public goods and services may be a necessary complement to these employees’ labor, but they are not sufficient to explain their differential success in earning taxable income. In what way is society justified in expropriating a greater percentage of the attorney’s income because her labor is more productive, and therefore commands a higher salary?

Imagine, next, two rival international shipping companies. They operate an identical tonnage of merchant ships. They make equal use of publicly subsidized port facilities. They make equal use of the protection of the U.S. Coast Guard, and each benefits equally from the placidity of international shipping lanes due to the presence of the U.S. Navy.

Company A has cultivated an efficient corporate culture: its CEO has designed an innovative process for acquiring talented managers, who in turn are capable of literally running a tight ship. Embezzlement and misfeasance are minimized. Company B, on the other hand, is dysfunctional at every level of analysis. The incompetence of its senior executives percolates into inept middle-management, who in turn fail to properly motivate their employees. For every ton of merchandise shipped, each relying to the same degree on the aforementioned public goods, Company B generates less taxable profit than Company A. But Company A’s greater tax burden cannot be attributable to greater public goods consumption by Company A. It is instead attributable to smarter management, more innovative practices, and an overall more functional corporate culture. In what way do Company A’s unique characteristics which make it competitive and profitable justify extracting from it a larger tax burden? These are not society’s contributions, for which the government is entitled to collect additional reimbursement.

The logic of “you didn’t build that” leads unavoidably to the following conclusion: few forms of proportional taxation, and certainly no progressive marginal rates, can be justified on the basis of public goods consumption. Not only does this line of reasoning fail in principle, but it would be utterly compromised during the actual practice of determining fiscal policy. Even if a wise philosopher-king were able to determine the precise percentage of a wealthy individual or a successful firm’s income which was attributable to their use of public goods, our Congress falls far short of that Platonic paragon. The statutory tax rates which emerge from the political process are a function of just that - politics. They reflect the relative balance of power at a moment in time between pro-tax and anti-tax constituencies, imperfectly filtered through their representatives and adulterated by a nauseating amount of interest-group influence. To expect them to reflect, instead, the amount of a person’s wealth which society helped “build” is simply fantasy.

Last year’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act created “Opportunity Zones,” which are neighborhoods chosen by politicians to receive special tax breaks. The Wall Street Journal recently published on an op-ed and a news story on O-Zones. Here is my unpublished response:  

Steve Glickman provided lobbyist talking points in “Opportunity Is Coming to a City Near You” (Oct. 24), but the reality of the new “opportunity zones” was reported by Peter Grant the same day in “Tax-Break Zones Lure Buyers.”

Grant’s article indicates that the 8,700 tax-favored O-Zones were a get-rich-quick bonanza for current landowners as the tax breaks were rapidly capitalized in prices. Many thousands of landowners saw their property values jump by as much as 50 percent, but that means that many thousands of other landowners just outside the O-Zones got the shaft. Politicians have drawn lines down streets in cities across the nation bestowing wealth to people on one side and bypassing people on the other.

The whole exercise is unseemly and distortionary, and it has set in motion a lobbying frenzy for years to come as landowners near O-Zones will demand that the lines be redrawn. The get-rich bonanza for O-Zone lobbyists has just begun.

_____________________

Here are other commentaries on the new zones:

www.downsizinggovernment.org/opportunity-zones-fuel-corruption

www.downsizinggovernment.org/opportunity-zones-will-help-connected-developers-not-poor

www.downsizinggovernment.org/o-zones-fragment-america

www.cato.org/blog/opportunity-zones-whom

 

One hundred years ago Sunday, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, the bloodiest war in history ended. In the New Yorker, historian Adam Hochschild writes about the senseless beginning of the war in an “epic chain of blunders, accusations, and ultimatums” and about its senseless end: “In the five weeks since the Germans first requested peace negotiations, half a million casualties had been added to the war’s toll…. Worse yet, British, French, and American commanders made certain that the bloodshed continued at full pitch for six hours after the Armistice had been signed [at 5 a.m., with the news immediately radioed and telephoned to commanders on both sides].”

Cato senior fellow and historian Jim Powell wrote about the blunders and consequences of World War I in his book Wilson’s War: How Woodrow Wilson’s Great Blunder Led to Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, and World War IIHe summarized his argument in Cato Policy Report four years ago:

World War I was probably history’s worst catastrophe, and U.S. President Woodrow Wilson was substantially responsible for unintended consequences of the war that played out in Germany and Russia, contributing to the rise of totalitarian regimes and another world war. 

Indeed World War I was a catastrophe, a foolish and unnecessary war, a war of European potentates that both England and the United States could have stayed out of but that became indeed a World War, the Great War. In our own country the war gave us economic planning, conscription, nationalization of the railroads, a sedition act, confiscatory income tax rates, and prohibition. Internationally World War I and its conclusion led directly to the Bolshevik revolution, the rise of National Socialism, World War II, and the Cold War. 

On this weekend as we celebrate the end of this tragedy we should mourn those who went to war, and we should resolve not to risk American lives in the future except when our vital national interests are at stake.

Welcome to the Defense Download! This new round-up is intended to highlight what we at the Cato Institute are keeping tabs on in the world of defense politics every week. The three-to-five trending stories will vary depending on the news cycle, what policymakers are talking about, and will pull from all sides of the political spectrum. If you would like to recieve more frequent updates on what I’m reading, writing, and listening to—you can follow me on Twitter via @CDDorminey.  

  1. Navy can’t build fast enough to reach 355 in time. So how will it get there?,” David Thornton. The Navy’s 30-year shipbuilding plan calls for an increase to a 355-ship force—but it seems that the plan misjudged the shipbuilding industry’s capacity to produce ships on the service’s desired timeline. Simply put, the 355-ship Navy will either require an adjustment to the plan with a slower production model, or the government will have to expand shipbuilding capacity (which is neither cheap nor easy). 
  2. Nuclear modernization programs could face renewed scrutiny in Democrat-controlled House,” Rachel Cohen. When the election on Tuesday flipping the House, it created a valuable opportunity for Democrats to exert influence on the defense budget—including the long-term nuclear modernization program. 
  3. Saudi Arabia’s War in Yemen. I want to bring your attention to this is upcoming event hosted by the Cato Institute featuring Rep. Ro Khanna, Kate Kizer from Win Without War, Scott Paul from Oxfam America, and myself—with John Glaser from Cato moderating. Register via the link to join us on December 7th. 

The other day, I wrote about the disadvantages of state and local governments issuing general obligation debt. Those governments currently have more than $3 trillion in overall debt outstanding. Government borrowing enriches financial firms, encourages corruption, and magnifies the ultimate tax burden that citizens will bear for the related spending.

It is prudent and practical for states to operate with very little debt, as Idaho, Wyoming, and a few other states have shown.

Here is an inspiring editorial in The Gazette, published in Janesville, Wisconsin, home of outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan. Walworth County is near Janesville.

Local government officials everywhere take note: Walworth County is proving you can run a government and undertake capital projects without carrying any debt.

The concept—saving money instead of issuing bonds to pay for something you need—is radical in our debt-happy society.

Walworth County has been debt free since March, despite the construction of a $24 million health and human services building.

Taxpayers will be rewarded with a 2.8 percent drop in the tax levy—no small trick at a time of rising inflation and interest rates.

The county’s recent decision to pay off $9.1 million in debt while resisting the temptation to borrow is particularly praiseworthy. As a result, Walworth County might be the only debt-free county in Wisconsin.

Think about the significance of Walworth County’s accomplishment: It is spending within its means while saving money in anticipation of future needs.

It’s unheard of, for example, for a school district to save the money it will need for a new school. School district referendums calling for more bonding are as predictable as they are numerous.

Many of these referendums pass because taxpayers don’t realize they’re paying far more than the advertised price for a project, as Chris Edwards, director of tax policy studies at the Cato Institute, noted in his Monday column. He describes bonding as a hidden tax.

If Walworth County had decided to issue bonds to pay for its health and human services building (assuming a 4 percent interest rate over 30 years), taxpayers would have had to fork over nearly $23 million in interest, including an estimated $550,000 in underwriting and advisory fees, according to a municipal bond calculator at the website for Municipal Capital Markets Group.

By planning ahead, Walworth County is saving taxpayers millions of dollars.

Any unit of government wanting to follow Walworth County’s lead needs to be forewarned: Saving for a future project requires discipline and clear communication with voters. Many of the fiscal challenges this nation faces are a result of politicians viewing the world in one- or two-year increments, from one election to the next. Unfortunately, politicians don’t plan to be in office when the bills come due and the financial wreckage becomes apparent.

But once in a while, politicians surprise us by exercising restraint. When that happens, like a comet’s orbit approaching the sun, we should all take notice. Kudos to Walworth County for demonstrating government can function debt free.

 

A split Congress could affect Donald Trump’s negotiating strategy vis-à-vis North Korea, but the legislative branch’s impact will mostly come at the margins of U.S. policy. Trump’s control over the two major levers of U.S. pressure on North Korea—sanctions implementation and the military—means that he has significant discretion over negotiations with Pyongyang. By controlling the sources of U.S. pressure, Trump can adjust either and impact negotiations with little concern for what Congress thinks or wants. Congress does have the ability to prevent either extreme outcome of war or peace, but neither of these seem likely given the current conditions on the peninsula.

The two primary ways the new Congress could influence North Korea policy is through investigations and appropriations. House investigations could absorb much of Trump’s time and political capital, making it harder for him to find the time to negotiate with North Korea. Appropriations battles between the White House and Capitol Hill could restrict the former’s latitude in talks with Pyongyang, but any potential restrictions are unlikely to suffocate the president’s efforts. For better or worse, the executive branch in general and Trump in particular will be able to deal with North Korea as they see fit, even with a Democrat-controlled House.

An additional but very uncertain way that the midterms could affect U.S. policy toward North Korea is by creating a window of opportunity for both Trump and Kim Jong Un. If Trump comes away from the midterms thinking his prospects for re-election are grim, then he may push harder to break the current impasse in negotiations in order score a major foreign policy win that he can point to on the campaign trail. Likewise, Kim could take a similar lesson from the midterms and try to maximize diplomatic gains while Trump is still in the White House if Kim thinks a new president would want to return to a “maximum pressure”-like policy. There is no guarantee that the two leaders will have this interpretation, however, and even if they did they may decide that continued engagement is not worthwhile.

 

In this election, journalists following the immigration beat will focus on the outcomes of individual races. Dave Brat, the Virginia nativist whose defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in 2014 doomed hopes of immigration reform, lost in a previously safe GOP seat. Democrats blew out Corey Stewart in Virginia and Lou Barletta in Pennsylvania, the most anti-immigrant Senate candidates. Kris Kobach, the author of state anti-immigrant laws across the country, cost Republicans the governorship in Kansas.

But the two most important outcomes of this election are in the big picture. First, nativists have officially squandered their last, best chance to restrict legal immigration. There may never be another moment like the one in 2017 and 2018, where the House, Senate, and White House were all controlled by Republicans with nativist agendas. They held multiple votes in the House and Senate on various measures to make legal immigration cuts, and all their efforts went down in flames.

The second outcome is even more important: the House of Representatives is now the most pro-immigrant that it has been since the 19th century. Current House Democrats would not only pass the broadest legalization in the history of the United States—they also would greatly expand legal immigration. No elected House Democrat is opposed to legalization, even if they would want it paired with some enforcement measures. 

The last Democratic House from 2007 to 2010 did pass the Dream Act for a very small portion of the illegal population—only a subset of the Dreamers qualified—but it didn’t even reach a majority of the House (216, not 218, voted yes). House leadership lost 38 “blue dog” Democrats and got the votes of just five Republicans. Today, the Dream Act would easily pass the House with more than a dozen Republicans voting for it, even after moderate-Republican losses.

The last Democratic-majority House could not—and did not—pass any comprehensive immigration reform bill that would offer a path to citizenship for most illegal residents or expand legal immigration. From 1995 to 2006, the GOP majority bookended its tenure by passing the two harshest immigration enforcement bills since the 1920s: the Sensenbrenner enforcement bill in 2005 and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act in 1996.

Except for one Congress from 1933 to 1994 Democrats controlled the House and during that time the House did pass several bipartisan immigration bills, a mix of expansive and restrictive measures. The Immigration Act of 1990 expanded legal immigration, while hiring more Border Patrol Agents. The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 provided for amnesty, but it was generally seen as a restrictive measure (which is why most of the Hispanic Caucus voted against it) because it made it illegal to hire someone without a valid photo ID, which naturally led to discrimination against Hispanic workers.

Prior to that, a Democratic-majority House passed the Refugee Act of 1980 which increased legal immigration for refugees. The Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966 legalized the status of Cubans who made it to the United States, and the Immigration Act of 1965 replaced the old national origin quotas and expanded legal immigration (though more than anyone expected at the time). Before 1965, House Democrats did only very slight liberalizations, ending the Asiatic Bar Zone and allowing some Jewish refugees to resettle in the United States. They mostly maintained the restrictive system created by Republicans in the 1920s.

House Democrats today would not just protect every expansive immigration measure enacted from 1965 to 1990—they would greatly build upon them if they could reasonably expect them to be signed into law. The starting place for reform for them is the 2013 comprehensive immigration reform bill, H.R. 15, a version of which the Senate had passed. At the time, every House Democrat except two cosponsored the legislation. The bill would legalize more than 8 million illegal residents and at least double permanent legal immigration.

However, the bill also had some provisions that are unlikely to remain. In particular, while it expanded immigration overall, it ended the Diversity Visa Lottery and cut so-called “chain migration,” two issues that President Trump has championed. Because the lottery disproportionately benefits African immigrants—who Trump reportedly referred to as coming from “shithole” countries—many Democrats are now opposed to repealing it as a matter of principle.

Rather than cutting family-sponsored immigration, Democrats will seek to expand it. The legalization provisions were also very restrictive, covering just three quarters of the illegal resident population. Democrats would certainly go further now. Especially after seeing how their colleagues did in this midterm, the remaining moderate Republicans would likely sign onto these measures if tied to stricter enforcement.

As importantly, this House will have the backing of the most pro-immigration general public in recorded history. More Americans oppose cuts to immigration and favor expanded immigration than at any point since at least 1965. Because the Senate is still in GOP hands, however, Democrats will have to focus on chipping away at the numerous legal immigration restrictions and enforcement measures that the Trump administration has implemented or has plans to implement. Republicans would be wise to work with them in a bipartisan manner.

President Trump has repeatedly called for an immigration system like Canada’s. Unlike the president’s plans for immigration, however, the Canadian government announced last week that it would increase legal immigration by 13 percent from 310,000 in 2018 to 350,000 new legal permanent residents in 2021. This amounts to 0.9 percent of its 2021 population. By contrast, the United States allowed a rate of 0.3 percent of its population in 2017.

Figure 1 provides the breakdown of the Canadian and U.S. immigration rates right now by type of immigration. In 2017, Canada permitted virtually the exact same rate of family-sponsored immigration, double the rate of humanitarian immigration, and 11 times the rate of economic-focused immigration as the United States did. If the U.S. rate remains steady as it has, America will fall further behind in the international competition for labor. 

Legal Immigration to Canada and the U.S.
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Despite the overwhelming focus on economic-based immigration, Canadian immigrants are not more educated than U.S. immigrants, as I’ve described before. Canada is also not unusual in having a higher immigration rate. As I’ve written before, most other wealthy countries have higher immigration rates than the United States does. 

Unless the United States adjusts its outdated immigration quotas, these disparities will only increase. Yet President Trump has endorsed proposals to cut legal immigration in half, meaning that Canada would be allowing in on a per-capita basis five times more immigration than the United States. Indeed, every proposal supported by the president so far has amounted to reduction in legal immigration. Cutting legal immigration would harm economic growth and make America less competitive economically.

If Congress wants to emulate Canada, it would double humanitarian immigration and increase economic-focused immigration by tenfold or more, while not cutting family-sponsored immigration as the president has suggested

On November 2 the Food and Drug Administration announced the approval of Dsuvia, a sublingual tablet containing the powerful fentanyl analog, sufentanil. Sufentanil has been used for years in the hospital setting, primarily in intravenous form for anesthesia. It is roughly 5 to 10 times more potent than fentanyl, and thus has a significant overdose potential. The FDA reached this decision following a 10-3 vote in favor of the drug’s approval by the Anesthetic and Analgesia Drug Products Advisory Committee (AADPAC), based on data from multicenter trials. It was not approved for outpatient use, but for use only in medically supervised settings, and may be of particular benefit to military health care practitioners.

FDA Commissioner Gottlieb’s announcement stated:

Dsuvia, which was previously approved by the European Medicines Agency in July under the brand name Dzuveo, has some unique features in that the drug is delivered in a stable form that makes it ideally suited for certain special circumstances where patients may not be able to swallow oral medication, and where access to intravenous pain relief is not possible. This includes potential uses on the battlefield. For this reason, the Department of Defense (DoD) worked closely with the sponsor on the development of this new medicine. This opioid formulation, along with Dsuvia’s unique delivery device, was a priority medical product for the Pentagon because it fills a specific and important, but limited, unmet medical need in treating our nation’s soldiers on the battlefield. The involvement and needs of the DoD in treating soldiers on the battlefield were discussed by the advisory committee.

The announcement was met with criticism from numerous quarters, including Anesthesiology Professor Raeford Brown of the University of Kentucky, who chairs the AADPAC, Senator Edward Markey (D-MA), and the advocacy group Public Citizen. They questioned the need for the development of a new and potent opioid in the presence of the opioid overdose crisis, and raised concerns about the potential for the drug’s diversion to the black market for non-medical users. These objections were trumpeted by the media.

The concerns raised by critics are unfounded. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, most fentanyl and fentanyl analogs found on the streets are in an illicit powdered form, made in labs overseas and smuggled into the US via the mail, Fedex, and UPS, or using Mexican drug cartel infrastructure. While much of it is mixed in with heroin or cocaine, many dealers own pill presses and press the powder into counterfeit oxycodone or hydrocodone pills that are sold to unsuspecting nonmedical users. That’s how the artist known as Prince died. He liked to use Vicodin (hydrocodone) recreationally. Records show he never obtained any prescriptions from doctors. His dealer sold him what was believed to be Vicodin but was actually counterfeit and made from fentanyl, which caused his overdose death.

Recrudescent opiophobia now evokes positions held at the zenith of President Nixon’s war on drugs. The fact remains that opioids can be highly effective in treating pain, especially in the acute setting. Hysteria-driven policy should not stifle innovations in this or other forms of pain management.

Commissioner Gottlieb also stated in the FDA announcement:

We owe an answer to patients with medical pain, and the innovators who take risks to develop products to help address their needs. We owe it to Americans who want the FDA to do our part to help end one of the biggest addiction crises of modern times, while we carefully balance these grave risks against patient needs.

Commissioner Gottlieb made the right call here.

Maine Governor Paul LePage announced that he will be moving to Florida at the end of his term.

LePage is a staunch fiscal conservative and has received an “A” on the past three Cato fiscal policy report cards. He fought for spending and tax cuts throughout his tenure, and he often decried the negative effects of big government.

Why is LePage moving to Florida? One of the reasons is that Florida has lower taxes than Maine:

I’ll tell you very, very simply: I have a house in Florida. I will pay no income tax and the house in Florida’s property taxes are $2,000 less than we were paying in Boothbay … At my age, why wouldn’t you conserve your resources and spend it on family (rather) than spend it on taxes?

Why indeed.

Florida has the most net in-migration of any state in the nation, as discussed in this study. It has no income or estate tax. Its state and local tax burden is much lower than the burdens in the Northeast. Maine is high-tax state, but New York is even worse. I wonder whether Governor Andrew Cuomo is considering Florida when he retires?

Relative to personal income, Florida runs its government at just half the cost of New York’s. Half the cost! That is like a Honda dealer trying to sell the Accord for $50,000 while the Toyota dealer across the street has the Camry for $25,000. It wouldn’t make any sense.

Perhaps the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is on Paul LePage’s mind. Because of the law, millions of households will become more sensitive to tax differences between the states. That may prompt an increased outflow of people from higher-tax to lower-tax states.

How should high-tax states respond to the outflows? It’s straightforward. They should run leaner governments with more efficient services to give taxpayers more value for their money. The Accord may have some features that the Camry doesn’t, but that would not double the cost.

WCBS NewsRadio New York reports

Two New York lawmakers are working to draft a bill that would propose a social media check before a gun purchase.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and state Sen. Kevin Palmer’s proposal would allow authorities to review three years of social media history and one year of internet search history of any person seeking to purchase a firearm.

True, “free speech and gun rights complaints are likely to come up” – no kidding! – but Adams says it’s a way to identify persons who “not suitable to hold and possess a firearm.” 

The two are hoping to identify any hate speech on social media profiles, which are often revealed only after someone is arrested in a mass shooting.

The only way to make this proposal better – by which I mean worse – would be to arrange for New York to quarter troops on the homes of applicants with especially bad social media postings. That way the sponsors could achieve a straight flush of Bill of Rights violations.

Days before the 2018 midterms, 60% of Americans say that health care is very or extremely important to how they plan to vote in this year’s elections, according to a new Cato 2018 Health Care Survey of 2,498 Americans. These numbers are driven primarily by Democratic voters with 86% who say this issue is especially important to them—in fact, 56% say the issue is “extremely important” to them. Independent (33%) and Republican voters (21%) are far less likely to say this is an “extremely” crucial issue for their vote this Tuesday.

 FIND FULL POLL RESULTS HERE

These results are consistent with analysis of 2018 campaign ads, which finds Democrats have made healthcare the centerpiece of their case to voters. About half of Democratic ads have featured health care issues compared to less than a third of Republican ads. At the core of the debate is what to do with pre-existing condition regulations embedded in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that prevent health insurers from denying coverage or charging higher premiums to people with pre-existing conditions. Much of the public debate centered on pre-existing condition protections assume that these regulations enjoy widespread public support. However, these protections lose public support when voters learn about their costs, finds the Cato 2018 Health Care Survey.

The survey first replicated the results from myriad other surveys finding a majority (65%) of Americans favor regulations that prohibit insurance companies from refusing to cover, or charging higher premiums to, people with pre-existing conditions, while 32% oppose. However, support plummets when Americans are faced with likely consequences of these regulations. 

Support drops 20 points to 44% in favor and 51% opposed if pre-existing condition protections limited people’s access to medical tests and treatments. Similarly, 44% would favor and 50% would oppose if these regulations harmed the delivery of high-quality health care. Support drops 18 points to 47% in favor and 48% opposed if these regulations limited people’s access to top-rated medical facilities and treatment centers. Some may dismiss these potential costs as improbable; however, research finds these are likely consequences from the incentives these regulations create for the health care industry. It is for this reason that we investigate how the public evaluates these costs.

Compared to quality reductions, Americans are more prepared to pay higher taxes or premiums in exchange for keeping regulations that prevent insurers from denying coverage or charger higher premiums to people with pre-existing conditions. About half (51%) would favor and 44% oppose if these regulations raised taxes and 49% would favor and 47% would oppose if they drove up premiums. 

These results follow a familiar pattern identified in the Cato 2017 Health Care Survey that asked about each of these pre-existing condition protections separately. However, in this year’s survey we improve the desirability of these regulations by offering them as a bundle. Even still, when faced with the realistic costs of these mandates, public support plummets. 

Taking a look among partisans, we find that without any mention of costs, 83% of Democrats, 55% of independents, and 52% of Republicans initially support pre-existing condition protections. However, independents and Republicans turn against these regulations if they increase the cost of health insurance (66%, 55%), reduce access to medical tests and treatments (59%, 58%), harm the quality of health care people receive (57%, 55%), reduce access to top-rated medical facilities and treatment centers (57%, 55%), or increase taxes (57%, 57%). Democrats are less swayed by these trade-offs; however, they are least willing to sacrifice the quality of health care in exchange for keeping the pre-existing condition regulations (42%). Instead, majorities of Democrats are willing to have less access to medical tests (57%), or top-rated medical facilities (61%), or pay higher premiums (67%) or taxes (72%). Some differences in how partisans answer these questions may depend, perhaps, on how believable these costs seem to respondents rather than how acceptable they are. For instance, since Democrats are most enthusiastic about these regulations, they may be less likely to believe that they could harm the quality of care.

Higher-income Americans are more willing than low-income Americans to make trade-offs, such as shouldering higher premiums or having less access to top-rated medical facilities, to keep the pre-existing condition regulations. For instance, 61% of Americans earning more than $80,000 a year say they’d pay higher premiums to keep these regulations. In contrast, about a third (38%) of Americans earning less than $40,000 a year agree; instead, 56% oppose paying higher premiums for this reason. Nearly 6 in 10 (57%) of people earning more than $80,000 a year say they’d accept having less access to top-rated medical facilities compared to 35% of Americans earning less than $20,000 a year.

Short Term Plans

The survey also asked Americans about new federal rules that allow consumers to purchase alternative health insurance plans that don’t comply with ACA-mandates. The survey finds that majorities support new federal rules that allow consumers to purchase alternative plans, like short-term plans, even when confronted with likely trade-offs.

First, the survey presented respondents with only the anticipated benefits of the new federal rules. Doing so finds that 77% of Americans support new federal rules that allow consumers to purchase health insurance plans that cost 50% less and offer greater choices of hospitals and doctors than current plans and would cover 2 million more uninsured people. 

Support drops to 64% in favor and 31% opposed if these rules meant that some people would purchase insurance policies that cover fewer services than current plans. For instance, these new plans would not be required to cover services like mental health and prescription drugs. 

One reason why such plans have lower premiums is they do not have to comply with ACA pre-existing condition regulations and thus may exclude people, or offer limited services to people, with expensive medical conditions. These lower premiums could draw people who use fewer medical services out of the ACA-compliant plans and thus increase premiums for those who remain in those plans and are not eligible for subsidies. Nevertheless, the survey finds that 59% would continue to favor while 35% would oppose these new rules if they caused premiums to rise for some people who purchase insurance plans in the individual market.

These rule changes are popular among partisans with 77% of Democrats and 86% of Republicans in support. Majorities of Democrats and Republicans continue to favor allowing people to purchase non-ACA compliant plans even if doing so means people would not have as many services covered (58% and 71%) or if doing so increased premiums for unsubsidized people in the individual market (63% and 65%).

The Path Forward

The survey also asked Americans how they felt policymakers should approach health care reform going forward. A majority (55%) of Americans believe that the “better way” to sustainably provide high-quality affordable health care is through expanding free-market competition among insurance companies, doctors, and hospitals. Thirty-nine percent (39%) think that more government regulation of insurance companies, doctors, and hospitals is more likely to provide affordable coverage. These numbers are virtually unchanged from last year’s health care survey.

Independents (54%) and Republicans (79%) agree that more free-market competition rather than more government management of health care is more likely to lead to affordable coverage. However, a majority (60%) of Democrats think more government management is the key. Despite these partisan differences, majorities or slim majorities of whites (58%), African Americans (53%) and Hispanics (51%) believe more free market competition can better provide affordable health care than more government control.

Implications

These results do not support the widespread misperception among the political punditry that pre-existing condition regulations are necessarily and universally supported by voters across the political spectrum. Voters like benefits but not costs. And some costs are more acceptable to voters than others. Democratic accountability demands that we understand if voters are willing to bear the necessary trade-offs and costs in exchange for establishing a new policy, regulatory protection, or social program. But first, pollsters have to ask.

Full survey results found here.   Sign up here to receive forthcoming Cato Institute survey reports.   The Cato Institute 2018 Health Care Survey was designed and conducted by the Cato Institute in collaboration with YouGov. YouGov collected responses online October 26-30, 2018 from a representative national sample of 2,498 Americans 18 years of age and older. The margin of error for the survey is +/- 2.66 percentage points at the 95% level of confidence.

 

Speaking last week at a National Opioid Summit in Washington, DC, Attorney General Jeff Sessions reported opioid prescriptions fell another 12 percent during the first eight months of 2018, saying ‘We now have the lowest opioid prescription rates in 18 years.” Some of this was no doubt the result of the chilling effect that prescription surveillance boards have had on the prescribing patterns of physicians. For example, Sessions announced the Trump administration has charged 226 doctors and 221 medical personnel with “opioid-related crimes,” and this has not gone unnoticed by health care practitioners.

Sessions also pledged to meet the goal of a 44 percent overall reduction in the production of opioids permitted by the Drug Enforcement Administration. The DEA, which sets quotas on the production of opioids by US manufacturers, began the process with a 25 percent reduction in 2016 and another 20 percent reduction in 2017. This has led to shortages of injectable opioids in many hospitals, affecting the delivery and quality of care.

Meanwhile, the DEA reported in a Joint Intelligence Report that overdoses in Pennsylvania continued to rise, with 5,456 fatal overdoses in 2017, a 65 percent increase over 2015. Only 20 percent of those overdoses involved prescription opioids, with most deaths involving multiple drugs in combination—usually fentanyl, heroin and cocaine, as well as counterfeit prescription opioids (usually made of illicit fentanyl and heroin pressed into pills). The report stated heroin and fentanyl were found in 97 percent of Pennsylvania’s counties.

Prescription opioids were also responsible for just 20 percent of the fatal overdoses in Massachusetts in 2015, where researchers at Boston University reported last week in the American Journal of Public Health that Opioid Use Disorder among people over age 11 grew to 4.6 percent of the population that year. 

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health reports a modest tapering in the fatal overdose rate, from 2,154 in 2016 to 2,069 in 2017, and estimates up to 1,053 have occurred in the first 6 months of 2018. During the first quarter of 2018, 90 percent of those deaths involved fentanyl, 43 percent involved cocaine, 34 percent involved heroin, and 20 percent involved prescription opioids. Fentanyl is responsible for sustaining the death rate in Massachusetts at near-record levels.

What jumps out of these numbers is the fact that efforts to get doctors to curtail their treatment of pain have not meaningfully reduced the overdose rate. They have just caused non-medical users of opioids to migrate over to more dangerous heroin and fentanyl. Fentanyl and heroin—not prescription opioids—are now the principal drugs behind the gruesome mortality statistics. 

Addressing the overdose crisis by focusing on doctors treating patients aims at the wrong target. And patients are suffering—often desperately— in the process. The cause has been drug prohibition from the get-go. If policymakers can’t muster the courage to admit and address that fact, then they should at least put the lion’s share of reform efforts into mitigating the harmful unintended consequences of prohibition. I wrote about this here.

Welcome to the Defense Download! This new round-up is intended to highlight what we at the Cato Institute are keeping tabs on in the world of defense politics every week. The three-to-five trending stories will vary depending on the news cycle, what policymakers are talking about, and will pull from all sides of the political spectrum. If you would like to recieve more frequent updates on what I’m reading, writing, and listening to—you can follow me on Twitter via @CDDorminey

  1. Bolton Calls National Debt ‘Economic Threat’ to US,” Toluse Olorunnipa. Hot off the presses! National Security Advisor John Bolton calls for significant cuts to discretionary spending in order to get the country back on the path of fiscal sustainability. The new trajectory? Bolton, and the President himself, have called for defense spending to be cut or levelled off in the short-term—a radical change from the administration’s previous two budgets. 
  2. In The Shadow of Reagan’s Legacy, Trump Is Failing,” Alexandra Bell. This article talks about why Reagan negotiated the INF treaty that President Trump is trying to dismantle and juxtaposes Reagan’s belief in arms control as a stabilizing force against the current administration’s actions. 
  3. The Nation Needs A 400-Ship Navy,” Thomas Callender. In the interest of showing the true breadth of this field, I’ve included this new report by the Heritage Foundation that calls for an increase over the adminstration’s current 355-ship plan for the Navy. Building to a 400-ship Navy will require $4-6 billion more annually than is already allocated, during a time of competing priorities and sky-high debt (see first article). 
  4. Mattis wants to boost fighter readiness. Here’s how industry could help,” Valerie Insinna. Last month, Secretary Mattis said that he’d like to get fighter readiness up to 80 percent—this would include all the F-35, F-22, F-16, and F/A-18 fighter jets. Readiness has been a rallying cry from the Pentagon for several years, but if Mattis intends to put his money where his mouth is, that could mean fewer dollars for new procurement projects in favor of upgrading and sustaining current platforms. 

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