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InsiderOnline Blog: December 2006

For the Holidays: Something Fun and Something Practical

Fun: Good magazines know their audience. Check out the agenda for Campaigns & Elections upcoming event and then ask yourself if this suggests something about the audience.

Practical: For those who make resolutions this time of year, the American Council on Science and Health has some good, rational, realistic, and science-based advice.

The Insider is out for the next week or so. Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, and Happy New Year.

Posted on 12/21/06 01:20 PM by Alex Adrianson

News You Might Have Missed

Uncle Sam wants you (to pay taxes): There have been a lot of tax cuts in the past three years, including some just this past week. But one group that’s been left out is Americans living abroad. In fact, earlier this year Congress increased taxes on U.S. citizens living in foreign countries. According to the New York Times, international tax lawyers now are reporting a rising demand for renunciation of  U.S. citizenship. The United States is the only developed country in the world that taxes its citizens abroad.

Taxes induce labor: Staying with the theme of “tax incentives matter,” some economists have found evidence that the timing of childbirths is influenced by tax breaks. There’s nothing like becoming eligible for a tax break on December 31, and these days drugs can bring about labor sooner than would nature. New York Times writer David Leonart estimates that 5,000 babies who would otherwise be born in the first week in January are born in the last week of December instead.

Handing out money not a new idea: New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has a plan for tackling poverty. The Mayor, it seems, wants to pay people for behaving well. Manhattan Institute’s Harry Siegel is not impressed.

Some indecency is protected, some isn’t: A judge hearing a challenge to the Federal Communications Commission’s indecency policy wanted to know how the FCC could rule a reality show exempt as news, but not a music awards show. An FCC lawyer explained simply that the network airing the awards show never claimed the show was news. The judge: “Are you telling the networks to make some cockamamie claim and they will survive?” Bloomberg reports that at least “10 four-letter words or variations of four-letter words were used by lawyers and judges during the hearing.” C-Span General Counsel Bruce D. Collins stated: “It’s good news to have the FCC state in open court that C-SPAN's coverage of this event is not subject to liability.”

A trade-off for consumers, not regulators: The market for light, environmentally friendly, high-gas mileage cars is booming, in part because of concerns about gas prices (which have abated slightly since the summer). Just one problem with the new mini-cars: They’re not as safe as bigger cars. That’s what the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found when it assessed the new breed. IIHS President Adrian Lund: "People traveling in small, light cars are at a disadvantage, especially when they collide with bigger, heavier vehicles. The laws of physics dictate this." Before anybody jumps on the ban-the-SUV bandwagon again, keep this in mind: Single-vehicle crashes, too, are more deadly for drivers of small cars than for drivers of big cars.

A job well done: Members of Brazil’s Congress gave themselves a 90 percent pay raise. Just think how good the raise could have been if one in five members wasn’t being either investigated by the police or prosecuted in the courts.

Posted on 12/21/06 09:48 AM by Alex Adrianson

The Root Cause of Ahmadinejad (and other Hitlers): Undeveloped Capital Markets

Reuven Brenner, at National Review Online, offers some advice on how to export democracy. He says it needs to be done simultaneously with creating open capital markets so that the economic fortunes of individual citizens do not depend on the whims of political parties:

What happens when societies either do not have or destroy their financial markets? Even today very few societies have developed the institutions that can enable the development of deep financial markets—a solid legal infrastructure and free media among them. In this scenario, most people wanting access to capital have no other option but to turn to government, which will raise the money—either through taxes or borrowing—and then distribute it.

That’s how one-party states such as Ahmadinejad’s Iran emerge: People bet on crazy ideologies when their customary ways of living suddenly crumble and capital markets close. Capital markets are the unique feature of the West, and their democratization is the key to the civilizing process and the best insurance against the emergence of one-party states. Indeed, that’s what the U.S. should have been “exporting” all along in the Middle East, coordinating the promotion of capital markets with the necessary political changes in Iraq.

How dependent are we on government in the United States? Check out Heritage’s 2006 Index of Dependency.

Posted on 12/20/06 03:39 PM by Alex Adrianson

Person of the Year

Jeremy Lott of the Competitive Enterprise Institute detects a bit of old-media haughtiness in Time magazine’s choice of Person of the Year. This year, Time chose you, dear reader. No, not you, the one with a family, a career … a life. You, the blog-writing, YouTubing navel gazer. It’s a concept story, you see, one that Time chose to do after asking YouTubers for help in picking Person of the Year. Lott:

It's worth noting that the selection was really the opposite of a democratically informed decision. A lot of people put in great efforts to vote for their choices, and what did the staff of Time do? Did they cede some of their coveted big media gatekeeper status and acknowledge the wisdom of the little guy? No. They decided to toss those results and do something completely different: a trend story about the social effects of better, cheaper technology.

Time, says Lott, bungled the story:

As far as trend stories go, this should have been an easy one. That advances in technology are allowing more people to customize and produce their own media is inarguable, and some of the results are truly impressive. Rather than seeking out great examples, the magazine chose to highlight mostly the weird and embarrassing. Why?

Part of the problem is institutional. The issue was written entirely by regular Time staffers and contributors who seem to have great difficulty understanding this strange new media man—especially the part about his hatred of condescension.

So to sum up: Old media reports on new media, gets the story wrong.

Posted on 12/19/06 05:22 PM by Alex Adrianson

Bringing Entitlement Spending Into the Budget Process

Heritage’s Alison Fraser and Brian Reidl have written a letter to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi urging her to make good on her stated intent of reintroducing pay-as-you-go (PAYGO) budget rules. PAYGO requires Congress to cut spending or increase taxes in order to fund any new entitlement spending. Fraser and Reidl also suggest another mechanism for bringing entitlement spending into the annual budget process:

To address the steep growth of current entitlement programs, however, analysts at the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and elsewhere have suggested supplementing PAYGO with a trigger for current entitlement programs. Congress would set multi-year spending targets for entitlement programs covered by PAYGO. If OMB projects that spending will exceed these targets, the president would have to submit reform proposals as part of the annual budget request, and Congress would have to act on those proposals. A similar trigger for Medicare spending was included in the 2003 Medicare prescription drug legislation, and expanding the concept could help Congress address current entitlement spending growth.

Posted on 12/19/06 04:10 PM by Alex Adrianson

Jimmy Carter and Israel

Jimmy Carter continues to be a controversial ex-President. Carter says in his new book that Israel is practicing apartheid toward the Palestinians. The Washington D.C. Examiner says Jimmy Carter is practicing dishonesty:

Since Carter’s book appeared, it has sparked heavy and unrelenting criticism from thoughtful people across the political spectrum, as well as the resignation of Dr. Ken Stein, one of the nation’s most respected Middle East scholars, from a Carter-led academic institute at Emory University.

At the root of Carter’s Middle Eastern perspective, of course, is his unalloyed blindness toward the Palestinians in particular and the political Muslim world’s long-running antipathy towards Jews. It is that blindness that prevents him, as The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Goldberg noted in a recent review in The Washington Post, from recognizing and accounting for “the fact that the Arabs who surround Israel have launched numerous wars against it, all meant to snuff it out of existence.”

But policy blindness is at least understandable. What is not is Carter’s intellectual dishonesty, as described by Stein in his recent letter of resignation: Carter’s latest tome is “replete with factual errors, copied materials not cited, superficialities, glaring omissions and simply invented segments.” Stein further claims that “aside from the one-sided nature of the book, meant to provoke, there are recollections cited from meetings where I was the third person in the room, and my notes of those meetings show little similarity to points claimed in the book.”

Everybody is entitled to their opinion, just not to their own set of facts. That observation has particular relevance for Carter because, as Stein noted in his letter, “being a former president does not give one a unique privilege to invent information or to unpack it with cuts, deftly slanted to provide a particular outlook.”

Posted on 12/19/06 01:36 PM by Alex Adrianson

A Long Way from Free Markets in Education

The Cato Institute has released an index measuring the friendliness of state policies toward free markets in education. Interesting findings:

Wisconsin and Texas are the most market friendly states for education, and Arizona is a close third.

No state rates higher than 30 out of 100, prompting lead author Andrew Coulson to conclude: “No state’s education policies are likely to create a free market in education if left unchanged.”

The bottom three states: Mississippi (9), Kentucky (8), and Alabama (6).

A policy of tax credits for education is more market-friendly than a policy of school vouchers. Coulson:

The chief reason that the idealized voucher scenario scores well below the idealized tax credit program is that it more severely limits the share of educational costs paid directly by parents in the form of tuition. Because personal use tax credits allow parents to pay for their children’s schooling with their own money, they maximize the share of the population in which the consumer is also the payer and minimize third-party payment.

Even though Sweden and The Netherlands have nationwide school choice programs, those countries still rate low on Cato's Education Market Index because of the extent to which the schools are regulated by government. Sweden scores 40, The Netherlands, 31.

Posted on 12/19/06 11:37 AM by Alex Adrianson

Arthur Brooks on Charity, Religion, and Government


Arthur Brooks came to The Heritage Foundation today to speak about his new book on charity. Out for three weeks now, it’s called Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism—America’s Charity Divide—Who Gives, Who Doesn’t and Why It Matters.

Brooks finds that those who practice religion (attend church at least once per week) are much more likely to give to charity than those who do not practice religion. Religion is so important a factor that it subsumes other observed correlations such as political ideology. Political conservatives give more than liberals, but that’s not because they are conservative. It’s because they are more likely to be religious than liberals. Religious liberals, notes Brooks, give at the same rate as religious conservatives.

Brooks believes that for many people giving is a religious experience, one that is unequivocally good for them. Givers need good causes, and that’s what fundraisers provide. Fundraisers and givers together, then, comprise a market for charity. Like any market, the market for charity is most vibrant when the government stands aside and lets it work. Government programs, however, crowd out private giving by reducing the incentives of fundraisers to seek out private givers. That’s bad for those who would give as well as those who receive charity. Government funding doesn’t completely displace private charity, but, says Brooks, the displacement is enough that it needs to be considered when assessing government programs. If a vibrant market for charity helps draw people into the giving mode, then government programs may threaten more than just funding. They may threaten the giving spirit.

Listen

Watch

Posted on 12/18/06 06:12 PM by Alex Adrianson

Still Not Ready for Bioterror

A report from Trust for America’s Health finds that many states are still not ready for bioterror, pandemic disease, or a natural disaster. The report says there are 25 states that would run out of hospital beds within two weeks of a moderate pandemic flu outbreak. The report also observes that 40 states face a shortage of nurses; vaccination of seniors for the seasonal flu decreased in 13 states; 11 states and the District of Columbia are unable test for biological threats; four states do not even test year-round for the flu, which is necessary to monitor for a pandemic outbreak; and the median rate for state public health spending is $31 per person per year.

Posted on 12/15/06 12:13 PM by Alex Adrianson

Health Savings Accounts Get Better

The 109th Congress’s legacy achievement may well be legislation that it passed in the dead of night without hearings. As it prepared to bow out this week, Congress passed a bill making Health Savings Accounts even better. Now, rollovers from other types of accounts—e.g., Flexible Spending Accounts—will be easier, annual contributions can be higher (no longer limited to the deductible), younger workers can build up balances quicker, and employers can help out lower-paid employees with higher contributions.

Posted on 12/15/06 12:09 PM by Alex Adrianson

News You Might Have Missed

Ohio packs heat: The Ohio legislature overrode a Gov. Taft veto of a law that establishes statewide shall-carry permits for concealed weapons. As a result, all local gun ordinances are wiped out, and some local officials are not happy. A spokesman for Columbus Mayor Michael B. Coleman said: “It just shows that once again there is a clear common sense vacuum in that the legislature can’t see the difference between urban crime guns and rural hunting guns.” It seems the mayor wants to let people have guns, but only after he’s figured out how to end crime.

New York did it first: The Cleveland City Council has passed, unanimously, a measure encouraging the city and county health authorities to consider a ban on trans fats in Cleveland restaurants.

Who will think of the skiers? The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development says global warming is threatening the economic viability of Alpine ski slopes. The report says a one-degree centigrade rise in average temperature is likely to happen between 2020 and 2025, and that this magnitude of change would reduce the number of viable slopes to 500 from 666.

The basics of education: reading, writing, and spotting building code violations: Fayetteville Ark. has created a program to teach fourth- and fifth-grade students about compliance with city building codes. Federal Community Development Block Grants provided some of the money for the program. One city official said a possible benefit of the program is that the kids will take the information home to their parents.

Posted on 12/15/06 12:07 PM by Alex Adrianson

Maybe Some People Like Sitting in Cars Not Going Anywhere

Traffic congestion is a growing problem in a number of big cities. And yet people still choose to live in those big cities—which is what makes them big. One deduces that big cities must have something going for them after all. Still, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that congestion increases when it is the avowed goal of many urban planners to increase the population densities of cities in order to make providing city services cheaper. In case you haven’t been keeping up with the jargon, that’s called “smart growth”—confusing, I know. The idea that people might want to move around in cars instead of waiting for buses or trains seems not to have occurred to the planners. One hopes that planners who plan congested cities live in those same cities. If so, they may realize their folly and these things could end up being self-regulating after all. On the other hand, maybe cities just attract those who prefer congestion.

Posted on 12/15/06 11:10 AM by Alex Adrianson

The Coming Week

Monday: Find out who’s giving. Arthur Brooks discusses his new book Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth about Compassionate Conservatism—America's Charity Divide—Who Gives, Who Doesn't, and Why It Matters at The Heritage Foundation.

Monday: Remember Milton Friedman. The Cato Institute presents a viewing of Free to Choose: Tyranny of Control.

Tuesday: Enjoy a reading of Dante’s The Divine Comedy by Dana Gioia at The American Enterprise Institute.

Posted on 12/15/06 11:02 AM by Alex Adrianson

Who Really Cares

Arthur Brooks talks to National Public Radio about what he found while researching his new book, which includes a “surprising” finding about compassionate conservatism:

I was under the stereotype about charitable giving in America, which is that those who are most charitable are the people who say that they care the most about the needy in America—and that typically involves the political left. And what I found when I started doing analysis on this some years ago was that actually the opposite is true: that political conservatives, or at least declared political conservatives, give more of their resources, even proportionate to their incomes, than liberals do.

Brooks will discuss his book at The Heritage Foundation on Monday.  

Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth about Compassionate Conservatism—America's Charity Divide—Who Gives, Who Doesn't, and Why It Matters

Posted on 12/14/06 02:02 PM by Alex Adrianson

Another Conservative Classic on the Web

Albert Jay Nock’s The Book of Journeyman is now available online at the Mises Institute’s archive of full-text books.

(This information comes from Brian Doherty at Reason magazine’s Hit and Run blog. The title of Doherty’s post is too good not to share also: Nock, Nock, Albert Jay’s Here.)

Correction: A reader has kindly pointed out that I completely messed up Doherty's clever pun by spelling Nock's name with a K. Of course, it's not a pun at all if you spell it that way. So that has been corrected. Lesson: Puns do not need to be spell checked, at least not by a computer.

Posted on 12/14/06 12:37 PM by Alex Adrianson

A Hopeful Development on Spending

The King of Pork, as anointed by Citizens Against Government Waste, did something good for taxpayers—or at least he announced something good for taxpayers. Take CAGW’s word for it:

Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) today applauded a decision by incoming House and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairmen David Obey (D-Wis.) and Robert Byrd (D-W. Va.) to pass a continuing resolution (CR) for the remainder of fiscal 2007. The CR will keep most agencies running at fiscal 2006 funding levels and will stave off the estimated 10,000 earmarks costing approximately $17 billion in the nine unfinished appropriations bills. The duo also announced a “moratorium” on earmarks until budget reforms are passed.

“Today’s announcement is a huge victory for taxpayers,” CAGW President Tom Schatz said. “A CR pre-empts funding increases for bloated federal agencies and thousands of pork-barrel projects. However, Congress must pass earmark reforms during its ‘pork diet’ or it will gain back the weight it loses.’”

Budget watchers expect that a continuing resolution to fund the government for the remainder of the fiscal year will lead to a lower level of spending than if Congress had actually passed all its appropriations bills. However, there are no facts about the future. We can’t be certain what the next CR will do until it is drafted and passed into law. That may not happen until February. Stay tuned.

Posted on 12/14/06 12:19 PM by Alex Adrianson

A Worthy Trip

Brandon Dutcher of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs is glad he traveled to Washington, D.C., recently to meet with his friends in other state-based think tanks.

Judging from his remarks in The Edmond Sun, it sounds like he thinks some of us here inside Mount Doom aren’t so bad either.

Posted on 12/14/06 11:53 AM by Alex Adrianson

What Jennifer Gratz Did for Michigan

Sally Pipes of the Pacific Research Institute on the other Jennifer’s victory in Michigan:

Racial, ethnic, and gender preferences are the imposition of politicians and unelected bureaucrats. When given the chance, as the Michigan results showed, voters reject preferences. The clear policy choice is to let voters make the call and respect the voice of the people.

Contrary to what some contend, this is not the end of “affirmative action.” Universities in California and Michigan are free to cast a wide net and help students based on economic need. That is not the same as giving points for skin color. Those told to go away because of theirs now have the law on their side.

Jennifer Gratz proves the value of persistence, but it’s not just about her. “The people of Michigan are the ones who have won today,” she told reporters. “They stood up to big business, big labor, to the entire establishment and said, ‘We want to be treated equally’.”

Posted on 12/14/06 11:34 AM by Alex Adrianson

A Crack in the FDA Iron Curtain

So Torcetrapib failed in drug trials; Pfizer was foiled. Good thing the FDA is protecting us from Big Pharma, right?

Jerome Groopman, in The New Yorker, makes me wonder who’s protecting us from the FDA. And by “us” I mean anyone who could end up with a life-threatening illness, just as Kianna Karnes did.

Karnes couldn’t get into a trial for an experimental drug that might have helped treat her kidney cancer. And in spite of a clause that is supposed to allow for “compassionate” access for very ill patients, her father, John Rowe, still couldn’t overcome the bureaucratic hurdles. The rest of the story:

“By this time, we were way down the road, and Kianna was in dire straits,” Rowe said. “So I finally asked Congressman Burton for help.” Burton told a staff member to look into Karnes’s case, and, in March, 2005, Rowe got a call from Robert Pollock, a journalist on the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal, who had been writing about the efforts of politicians in Congress to prevent the husband of Terri Schiavo, the brain-dead Florida woman, from removing her feeding tube. “I think if the Congress can pass a law for Terri Schiavo, a single person, that’s O.K.,” Pollock told Rowe. “But there are a lot of people like your daughter. And I think Congress should pass a law to help all of them.” On March 24th, the Journal published an editorial titled “How About a ‘Kianna’s Law’?,” urging Congress to pass legislation requiring the F.D.A. to grant dying patients access to experimental drugs.

That morning, Burton’s office contacted Pfizer and Bayer, as well as the F.D.A. In the afternoon, an F.D.A. official called Rowe and told him that if either of the companies submitted an application for compassionate use on Karnes’s behalf the agency would approve it. A couple of hours later, Kianna’s doctor heard from representatives of Pfizer and Bayer, offering to prepare applications for Karnes. “At nine-forty-one that same night, Kianna died,” Rowe told me. “Just like Abigail. Too little, too late.”

By January, both experimental drugs had been approved by the F.D.A. for use against advanced kidney cancer. “Here is a case where her old man understood about clinical trials,” Rowe said. “I knew about compassionate use; I had a friendship with a powerful member of Congress; I’ve got the Wall Street Journal behind me. But I still couldn’t save her life. Now, what about the thousands of people out there who don’t have these kinds of resources available to them? I don’t know that either of these drugs would have saved Kianna’s life. But wouldn’t it have been nice to give her a chance?”

A group called Abigail’s Alliance, represented by the Washington Legal Foundation, has a case pending in federal court that seeks to force the FDA to allow greater access to experimental drugs for those who have no other treatment options.

On Monday, the FDA unveiled a proposal that it said would give seriously ill patients easier access. Frank Burroughs, head of Abigail’s Alliance, said the proposal simply codifies current policy.

Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) has introduced a bill to make it easier for terminally ill patients to obtain experimental drugs.

Background: Drug Lag by Daniel Henninger; Breaking the FDA Monopoly by Bartley J. Madden, Regulation Summer 2004

Posted on 12/13/06 01:34 PM by Alex Adrianson

Who’s Standing in the Way of Access to Medicines?

American Enterprise Institute's Roger Bate and Kathryn Boateng suggest that generosity on the part of wealthier countries and pharmaceutical companies needs to be matched by reform in recipient countries if access to medicines is to be increased. Recipient countries, say Bate and Boateng, hurt their own people with tariffs on medical products:

There is plenty of evidence to show that reducing tariffs on medicine and other health-related products yields abundant rewards. An earlier study of the effects of tariffs, domestic taxes, and other regulatory restrictions on access to essential drugs, vaccines, and devices concluded that governments could increase access to medicines by lowering tariff rates, as any decrease in tariffs for a particular class of medical products is directly associated with increased access to that class of products.

Other scholarly studies have also shown that countries with high tariff rates are often those with the lowest rates of access to available medicines. A study comparing the prices and availability of fifteen different essential medicines in Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania reinforced this assessment. In Ethiopia and Tanzania, where tariff rates are very high, there was little to no availability of the studied essential medicines.

Aside from increasing the prices on medical products, high tariffs lead to local corruption, and the smuggling and counterfeiting of drugs. They also discourage donors from being generous. As if that wasn’t enough,  

strict documentation requirements and the payment of “small” fees—supposedly for customs “support” services—are bound to make exporters increasingly wary. Consequently, imported drugs can sometimes languish for months in customs warehouses, awaiting required laboratory tests, even though local labs are rarely ever stocked with the reagents and other chemicals necessary to carry out the procedures.

Posted on 12/12/06 04:56 PM by Alex Adrianson

New Budget Chairmen Say No Earmarks for 2007

Yesterday, Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) and Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.), chairmen-to-be respectively of the Senate and House appropriations committees, announced a kibosh on budget earmarks—at least for 2007:

There will be no Congressional earmarks in the joint funding resolution that we will pass. We will place a moratorium on all earmarks until a reformed process is put in place. Earmarks included in this year's House and Senate bills will be eligible for consideration in the 2008 process, subject to new standards for transparency and accountability. We will work to restore an accountable, above-board, transparent process for funding decisions and put an end to the abuses that have harmed the credibility of Congress.

Posted on 12/12/06 10:35 AM by Alex Adrianson

Jeane Kirkpatrick, RIP

Sadly, Former Ambassador to the United Nations, Jeane Kirkpatrick has passed away.

Heritage President Ed Feulner’s statement

Jeane Kirkpatrick’s essay “Defending U.S. Interests and Principles in the United Nations” from The March of Freedom

Posted on 12/08/06 05:21 PM by Alex Adrianson

The Coming Week

Saturday: Hear Robert Novak discuss the relevance of the Founders’ Federalist principles to events in Washington, D.C., today. The Washington Policy Center hosts the FOX News commentator.

Monday: Listen to William Easterly explain why we have too many planners and not enough searchers working on international development. Easterly discusses his new book, White Man’s Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good at the Hudson Institute.

Monday: Hear Juan Williams urge black Americans to open their eyes to a culture of failure that exists within their community. The John Lock Foundation hosts the author of Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements, and Culture of Failure That Are Undermining Black America—and What We Can Do about It.

Tuesday: Find out what it is like to live under martial law. The Heritage Foundation hosts a panel of those who experienced first-hand the crushing of Poland’s Solidarity movement in 1981.

Wednesday: Hear Max Boot and Frederick Kagan assess the impact of technology on war at the American Enterprise Institute.

Thursday: Attend a special documentary filming session with Stephen Hayward as he sorts out sense and nonsense on global warming at the Pacific Research Institute.

Thursday: Listen to a panel at the Texas Public Policy Foundation assess if stricter constitutional limits on spending would be a good idea for Texas.

Friday: Learn whether cost-effectiveness research can offer guidance for reining in health care budgets at the Pacific Research Institute.

Posted on 12/08/06 05:09 PM by Alex Adrianson

News You Might Have Missed

Expediency thy name is Breyer: On FOX News Sunday, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer discussed his new book Active Liberty. The First Amendment—that’s the one that begins: “Congress shall make no law …”—came up. Breyer’s view of the idea that limiting campaign financing is a limit on speech: “I'd say that's a slogan. Why? Because think about that First Amendment. It was done, enacted, passed, to help our country of now 300 million citizens run fair and free elections.”

A good idea: Arab women need more freedom, says the U.N. Others say Arab men, too.

If only it weren’t for politics: Some European governments actually prefer to let their consumers buy things cheaply rather than help producers prop up prices. That’s a problem for E.U.-wide anti-dumping policy. For consumers, not so much. Alisdair Gray, of the British Retail Consortium, described a meeting to discuss this problem: “Everyone agreed anti-dumping had become too politicised.” No word yet on what the E.U. will do to make anti-dumping policy politicized by just the right amount.

Just what businesses were looking for: B-school grads who don’t think about the bottom line. Who says higher education is disconnected from the job market?

Your papers please: Hugo Chavez has made gas in Venezuela cheaper than water. Now, Brazilians traveling into Venezuela have to show papers from their own government in order to buy cheap gas at Venezuelan stations guarded by military detachments. The soldiers are assigned to disrupt the smuggling of cheap gas back to Brazil.

Your wet papers please: Government investigators believe that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has given more than $1 billion in Katrina relief to those making fraudulent claims, of which FEMA has managed to recover only $7 million.

Will French Fries ever be the same? New York City bans transfats.

Citizenship taken seriously: The federal government is rolling out a new citizenship test that puts less emphasis on knowing facts about the United States and more on understanding the ideals for which the United States stands. Bravo!

Biotech at the trough: A technology consultant (which gets government funding for technology projects) has issued a report (funded by the state of Arizona) finding that the state of Arizona should spend more money on technology projects, specifically biotech.

Fannie Mae accounting: Auditors placed the final tally on Fannie Mae’s overstatement of past profits at $6.3 billion.

Iran marches to a different drum: The Auschwitz museum is pondering whether and how to preserve the gas chambers at the Auschwitz concentration camp from the ravages of time. One expert says any tampering with the original structure would give holocaust deniers grounds for claiming the gas chambers are not authentic.  Iran, meanwhile, has announced it will host a conference on the holocaust featuring over 60 scholars from 30 countries. Among the topics: gas chambers (if they could be proved or denied).

Posted on 12/08/06 03:03 PM by Alex Adrianson

Why the World Eats

Congress says food security is achieved by passing Farm Bills every five years. And yet, on Wednesday, the House of Representatives still did something eminently sensible regarding agriculture when it awarded Dr. Norman Borlaug the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest civilian award. Past winners include Thomas Edison, Pope John Paul II, Martin Luther King Jr, and President Ronald Reagan. Dr. Borlaug, winner of the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize, is recognized as the father of the Green Revolution. The Green Revolution yielded such significant increases in agricultural production that it is credited with saving the lives of a billion people.

The lesson: If you want to know what Congress really thinks, Gold Medals of Honor mean more than subsidy programs. House members don’t really believe that farm bills are necessary for food security. That’s why they gave credit where it was due: to the scientific advances achieved by Norman Borlaug.

Posted on 12/08/06 01:36 PM by Alex Adrianson

Some Jobs Are Harder to Get Than to Do

The Washington Post has a real good story on the problem of unemployment in Kinshasa, Congo. One passage in particular is worth noting:

None of the men had tried signing up with the newly created Office of National Employment a couple of miles away, housed in a stucco building called Le Royal that would be considered abandoned except that “O.N.E.M,” the office’s acronym, is freshly scrawled on a door.

In theory, the office is supposed to register all the unemployed in Congo and match them with companies that have jobs.

In reality, a couple dozen people came at their appointed time one recent morning, only to be turned away because none of the office’s employees showed up for work.

It sounds like the unemployment office is just a jobs program for the people who work there, which would make this the best illustration ever that it is productivity, not jobs, that improves the lot of workers.

Posted on 12/08/06 11:44 AM by Alex Adrianson

Bad News for Free Markets: The Right Rules Germany

American Enterprise’s Jurgen Reinhoudt says things were better for Germany when the Left was in charge:

Germany leads the crowd when it comes to political inversions. The nominal German left has shown that it can be a remarkable force for free-market reforms, having led such reforms with verve between 1998 and 2005. The German right, by contrast, far from embarking on more free-market reforms since it entered a "Grand Coalition" government with the left in November 2005, has recently voted to turn back some of the far-reaching free-market reforms initiated by the left between 1998 and 2005 and shows no signs of reconsidering course.

Posted on 12/07/06 03:45 PM by Alex Adrianson

Don’t Fear the Job Reaper


Mercatus's Tyler Cowen reviews a new book on Economic Turbulence, which finds that an economy that loses jobs is an economy that improves jobs:

For certain obvious reasons, labor-market turbulence has a reputation as a wrecker of lives, families and pocketbooks.

But is it really? Economists Clair Brown, John Haltiwanger and Julia Lane have their doubts. On closer inspection, they note, job turnover and firm disappearance have positive effects, in the aggregate. A clerk’s job at a retail warehouse is replaced by a computer, but the warehouse firm can use the savings to hire a better and better-paid office manager. As workers lose jobs in one niche or sector, they gain in another, moving on to better jobs and higher pay. In the software sector, new businesses are more productive, over a five-year period, than the firms they replace. This new-business productivity gain, the authors show, is true generally across sectors—generating efficiency, products and, most important, jobs. And new businesses tend to pay more.

In short, America is not becoming a nation of part-time Wal-Mart cashiers or burger flippers. In four of the five sectors studied by the authors—semiconductors, software, financial services, retail food and trucking—the growth rate for full-time jobs exceeds the growth rate for jobs in general. (Retail food is the exception.)

Posted on 12/07/06 03:31 PM by Alex Adrianson

The Price of Adjustment

Hudson’ Irwin Stelzer explains why, in spite of our trade deficit, nobody wants a precipitous fall in the dollar:

Economists are generally agreed that if the United States is to bring its trade deficit down from over 6.5% of GDP to a sustainable 2%, the dollar will have to fall by about 40%. That means that Britain’s exporters—America is their biggest market, worth £31 billion—will find themselves trying to persuade Americans that the Jaguar that has been selling for, say, $80,000 is still a good buy at $133,000, and that a bottle of 18-year-old Macallan whisky that now retails in America for about $140 is worth sipping even at a price of $230.

German exporters will also find life unpleasant. The $100,000 Mercedes would cost $166,000. Italy might find that American tourists willing to pay, say, $200 for a hotel room in Venice, would decide that $320 is so stiff that a vacation in Las Vegas, with its faux canals, will have to do. And the French, vocal critics of the US trade deficit, are now calling for “collective vigilance” to stem the fall of the dollar, which is making it difficult for their winemakers to sell in America.

Posted on 12/07/06 03:11 PM by Alex Adrianson

An Exit Strategy for No Child Left Behind

Heritage’s Dan Lips, Evan Feinberg, and Jen Marshall on how to improve primary education with more federalism:

Congress should em­brace a "charter state option." This would allow every state to choose be­tween the status quo and a simplified contractual arrangement in which the state would have broad authority to consolidate and refocus its federal funds on state-directed initiatives in exchange for monitoring and report­ing academic progress. The charter state option would restore greater federalism in education, allowing state leaders to embrace innovative strate­gies according to their local needs, priorities, and reform philosophy while making them more directly responsible to parents and taxpayers for the results.

Posted on 12/07/06 02:32 PM by Alex Adrianson

Render Unto Galileo …

Funny thing: Sometimes those who seem most certain of science are the ones who understand it least. The Competitive Enterprise Institute's Iain Murray makes the simple but important point that scientific truth doesn’t need a Gestapo. The furor over climate-warming denial arises not because climate-warming activists care about truth, but because they care about politics:

There is another, even more worrying result of the denial charge. It enables alarmists to portray the science as dispositive. The only way to solve the problem, science supposedly shows, is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions radically. Anyone who argues against this conclusion is deemed a denier.

Yet in public policy, science is not dispositive. Economic, political, and moral considerations also need to be taken into account. Practical tradeoffs and competing priorities need to be considered. By tarring those opposed to climate-change policy with the charge of denial, the alarmists have elided the economic, political, and moral debate to their great advantage.

Even worse, the denial charge obscures the many uncertainties that surround our understanding of climate change and its implications. Global warming is a serious enough subject that it needs to be debated fully, submitting every hypothesis to rigorous testing and hard-headed analysis. When the alarmists say the debate is over, responsible scientists and policymakers must reply, like Galileo, “And yet it moves.”

Posted on 12/07/06 02:23 PM by Alex Adrianson

When Defectors Speak Against Dictators

The Litvinenko affair reminds Alvaro Vargas Llosa, of the Independent Institute, of what he learned watching those who spoke against another brutal regime, that of Peru’s Alberto Fujimori. Three lessons:

First, in a struggle between a ruthless regime and a small bunch of committed defectors, the former is a pretty good judge of the strength of its enemy. Second, no matter how impotent the critics seem in the early stages of their effort, the combination of former spies who defy their old bosses, a businessman able to fund them, and a safe haven abroad can be lethal to the regime. This applies even when the “safe” haven proves to be not so safe for some of the opponents. Third, the struggle for liberation is inevitably tainted with moral ambiguity because the most effective information usually comes from regime insiders who are themselves part of what they denounce, and because motives such as revenge, opportunism or greed often coexist with the desire for freedom. The moral ambiguity of the people involved in the just cause, of course, does not detract from the need to pursue it.

Posted on 12/07/06 01:51 PM by Alex Adrianson

On the Front Lines in the States

Wondering what state-based think tanks have been up to this year? The State Policy Network has the rundown on the activities of 48 groups in 41 states.

Posted on 12/07/06 10:13 AM by Alex Adrianson

Once More About the Educational and Fun Mount Vernon

Apropos of the previous post, I took my own advice and went to see the new facilities at George Washington’s Mount Vernon yesterday. It is every bit as good as I said that other people said it was.

There’s a lot to see, but one thing to make sure you get to is the Revolutionary War Theater, which is in the new Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center. This theater is not your typical movie theater. A dual-screen array gives you two different views of the action at Boston, Trenton, and Yorktown. As the main screen shows what the soldiers were doing at each battle, another provides the overall scheme of the three military campaigns. You will be hit with “snow” when the revolutionary army crosses the Delaware, and your seats will shake when cannons are fired.

Most importantly, you will learn about the sacrifices and the risks that Washington and his men took. You will learn that the success of the American bid for independence was not preordained. It happened because individuals chose to continue the fight after it looked lost and even though many were sick, cold, ill-fed, and ill-clothed. The success of the fight for liberty depended most particularly on a set of decisions General Washington made on Christmas Eve 1776.

The new facilities are nicely built into the landscape so none of the bucolic loveliness of Mount Vernon has been compromised. After you tour the house, make sure you walk down to the waterfront to see the amazing view up and down the Potomac. And be sure to taste the terrific Virginia peanut and chestnut soup at the Mount Vernon Inn.

Posted on 12/06/06 11:38 AM by Alex Adrianson

History You Can Use

Newt Gingrich took my advice and went to see the new facilities at George Washington’s Mount Vernon. The film depicting Washington’s trials of 1776 and his army's crossing of the Delaware for a Christmas attack at Trenton inspired Gingrich to ask: What if there had been a Baker-Hamilton Commission advising Washington?

Posted on 12/06/06 09:07 AM by Alex Adrianson

Idea Entrepreneurs Plan the Next Conservative Resurgence

When outgoing RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman met with Republican governors in Miami last week he told them it was time to get back to basics. “If we shrug our shoulders and say, ‘It was just a fluke, a perfect storm of factors out of our control,’ then we will lose again in 2008.” Mehlman said it was time to go back to “good policy that makes good politics.” And this was reported as news.

Members of the network of state-based think tanks across the country (the State Policy Network) already know this. In fact, it’s a bit of a maxim among the think tanks. Several have even printed up stickers to hand out to local politicians that say: “Good Policy Makes Good Politics.”

But they also know that we need politicians willing to advance the good ideas and idea entrepreneurs who are committed to core principles and willing to do battle in the marketplace of ideas—day in and day out—to make good policy happen. This network of think tanks is growing and demonstrating its ability to shape policy on the ground in 41 states.

While Mehlman was meeting in Miami, the State Policy Network members gathered in Washington for their annual “DC Networking Trip” and made a stop at The Heritage Foundation. While at Heritage they heard from outgoing Republican Study Committee Chairman (and former Indiana state think tank founder) Mike Pence, and they took part in a half-day meeting to share the latest in policy innovations, and discuss marketing strategies and networking with the media.

Heritage’s Ronald Reagan Fellow Edwin Meese gave a dinner address on the question “Can We Rebuild the Reagan Coalition?Reagan, said Meese, had numerous personal qualities that allowed him to endure tough times, withstand electoral setbacks, reinvigorate our economy, and win the Cold War: vision, integrity, courage, and persistence. But above all, cheerfulness and optimism, said Meese, were Reagan’s most impressive personal qualities. Said Meese:

He understood something that we need to be reminded of today. And that is that conservative principles do work and you just have to keep fighting for them and allowing them to work, even in difficult times.

Meese said conservatives should try to communicate like Reagan did, too:

Too often conservatives think in terms of policies, and too often our liberal friends on the other side talk in terms of people. And one of the great lessons that we have to remember is how to put this in a form that people will remember and recognize, and that relates to them.

Several times during his talk, Meese dipped into Reagan’s considerable treasure trove of jokes to illustrate the 40th President’s knack for explaining complex problems. Once, for example, rather than discourse at length on economic data from the Soviet Union, Reagan told this joke:

The commissar goes to the farm and he says to the manager: “Comrade manager, how are the crops this year?” And the manager says: “Oh comrade commissar, they are just magnificent. Why, if you took the potatoes and put them one on top of each other they would reach to the foot of God.” The commissar shakes his head and he says: “Comrade, comrade, this is the Soviet Union, there is no God.” And the manager says: “That’s alright. There are no potatoes either.”

“He could take,” said Meese, “a complex subject and by putting it into a humorous illustration make it understandable to people.”

Posted on 12/04/06 07:17 PM by Alex Adrianson

What Pro-Regulation Environmentalists Have Learned … So Far

Washington Post’ s Blaine Harden reports that pro-regulation environmentalists in the West have realized people count, too:

In the 1990s, environmental groups rarely bothered to listen to the concerns of farmers, ranchers or business leaders, according to Chris Wood, vice president for conservation programs at Trout Unlimited.

“We thought we didn’t need to, that we could ride these demographic changes to a better regulatory outcome for the environment,” Wood said. “Now we are recognizing that we can still achieve good outcomes by sitting and listening to people, without landowners feeling like we forced it down their throats.”

That’s nice. But hopefully the point of listening is more than just making the other person feel like you listened. One thing the pro-regulation crowd might learn by listening is that private property and conservation are complimentary values. It would help, too, if reporters stopped equating the pro-regulatory position with environmentalism.  There are plenty of true environmentalists who do not accept the regulate-first mantra. Here are some of them:

Posted on 12/04/06 01:41 PM by Alex Adrianson

Toleration and Turkey

The Pope says the EU should welcome Turkey. It’s all well and good that Europeans should open their arms to the Turks, but perhaps the Turks should work on their tolerance toward each other—especially those with dissenting viewpoints, like Atilla Yayla. Yayla is a professor at Gazi University and President of the Association for Liberal Thinking. On November 18, at a public discussion panel, Yayla dared to suggest that one-party politics is a slightly backward system. He was referring to the first half of the previous century when Turkey was dominated by the party created by the founder of modern Turkey, Kemal Ataturk. This infuriated the Kemalists of today. Yayla tells what happened next:

I was declared a traitor who “swore at and insulted Ataturk heavily.” This was the beginning of a media defamation campaign against me. I have never experienced anything like this. Some newspapers and television stations were judging and hanging me. For four days I tried to resist. I appeared on TV shows to reply to their accusations. It was an impossible mission. They were biased. Their intention was not to discover the truth but to destroy me. For four days I struggled and could not eat or sleep. Before a TV discussion program on the evening of November 23rd, my body collapsed, and I was hospitalized. I am still recovering at home.

Gazi University, where I work, also took action against me instead of defending academic freedom. It decided to kick me out of my classes and started to investigate me for leaving Ankara without official permission. The investigation will surely cover accusations of me teaching against Ataturk’ principles and reforms.

This was something unbelievable. I thought that I was in a dream. Later I came to realize the reasons behind the defamation campaign of these newspapers and TV channels.

I am a well known classical liberal. I openly defend human rights for everybody. That naturally includes the rights of Kurds and conservative Muslim masses.

If you care about freedom of speech and tolerance—especially religious tolerance—express your support for Dr. Yayla. Contact Ms. Ozlem Caglar Yilmaz, executive director of the Association for Liberal Thinking in Ankara. E-mail: ozlemcaglar@liberal.org.tr. Fax: +90 312 230 80 03.Thanks to Tom Palmer, who has more background on this at Cato@Liberty, for the contact info.

Posted on 12/01/06 06:07 PM by Alex Adrianson

The Coming Week

Saturday: Find out if Sarbanes-Oxley has helped or hurt investors. John Berlau of the Competitive Enterprise Institute speaks at the Institutional Investor Education Foundation’s Fifth Annual Conference.

Monday: Learn whether increasing the minimum wage will help or hurt low-wage workers. The American Enterprise Institute hosts David Neumark as he reviews minimum wage research from the past 15 years.

Tuesday: Hear Dennis T. Avery and S. Fred Singer dispel the widespread notion that global warming is caused by, and can be controlled by, human beings. Avery and Singer, authors of Unstoppable Global Warming: Every 1,500 Years, present an assessment based on peer-reviewed research at this Discovery Institute Event.

Wednesday: Help the Commonwealth Foundation honor Frederick W. Anton III for demonstrating true statesmanship and commitment to the cause of liberty. The Heritage Foundation’s Edwin J. Feulner will deliver the keynote address at the 2006 Speaker Franklin Awards Gala.

Wednesday: Examine the implications of "buy American" legislation on U.S. national security. The Hudson Institute hosts Defense Coalitions and the Global Character of the New Defense Industry.

Thursday: Hear Eugene Hickok, Larry Arnn, and Richard Vedder assess the deleterious consequences of federal aid to higher education. The Heritage Foundation hosts The Real Costs of Federal Aid to Higher Education.

Friday: Learn how a lack of interoperability in communications equipment contributed to the loss of life on 9/11 and how it continues to threaten our first responders’ ability to protect Americans during crises. The Mercatus Center hosts The Crisis in Public Safety Communications.

Posted on 12/01/06 05:17 PM by Alex Adrianson

News You Might Have Missed

History judges Stalin, again: Ukraine’s Parliament has voted to recognize the 1932-1933 famine induced by Soviet collectivization of agriculture as genocide. The Russian Foreign Ministry objects. It says Ukraine is trying to politicize history. Perhaps that’s better than politicizing food. Amazingly, the opposition party in Ukraine objected, too. They need to consult Trotsky: “In a country where the sole employer is the state, opposition means slow starvation. The old principle, who does not work shall not eat, has been replaced by a new one: who does not obey shall not eat.”

Whose grass is greener? The United States, worried that it is losing its edge in capital markets (specifically to London), is re-considering parts of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and is considering other ideas for easing capital market regulation. Meanwhile, the European Union, worried about an impending exodus of research talent, has decided to boost funding for science research, and has adopted a plan laying out funding targets for specific areas of research, such as food, health, security, space, environment, and information technology. Europe worries about losing people; the United States worries about losing capital. Europe sees its problem as not enough state involvement in the economy, and the United States (hopefully) understands that its problem is too much.

Out-of-wedlock births are on the rise again: The percentage of those born to unmarried parents in 2005 was 36.8 percent, up from 34.7 percent in 2003. Says Heritage’s Pat Fagan:

Children need love (that means commitment, staying the course, sacrifice and giving) and parents who can love. But the courts don’t think so, the schools don’t teach so, the churches look away, the marketplace is indifferent, most parents disagree in practice, and government is quite prepared to have us all foot the bill.

The government makes more money: A federal judge has ruled that U.S. paper currency violates the federal Rehabilitation Act because it doesn’t allow the blind to distinguish between different denominations. The judge has ordered a redesign to incorporate different sizes or tactile impressions. Meanwhile, in spite of the fact that dollar coins have already failed to capture consumer interest twice, the U.S. Treasury will try again next year—apparently on the theory that Presidents faces on the coins will be more attractive than those of Susan B. Anthony or Sacagawea.

Not sure on flat tax anymore: The countries of Eastern Europe have been at the forefront of experimentation with flat (or flatter) tax systems. Now some of those countries may be moving toward more progressive tax systems. The problem is that flat taxes are not the same as low taxes, so unless governments actually cut spending, flat taxes are a political loser with the middle classes.

Posted on 12/01/06 12:35 PM by Alex Adrianson

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