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InsiderOnline Blog: March 2008

More Unions Now Have to Show Their Expenses

Some good news on union transparency occurred last week. As the result of a U.S. District Court ruling, numerous state affiliates of national unions will now be required to file financial disclosure reports with the U.S. Department of Labor. The ruling will allow employees of those unions to know how their union dues are being spent.

The Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 exempts unions representing public employees from its reporting requirements. But in 2003, the Department of Labor decided to reinterpret the law as applying to state affiliates whose parent organizations are composed in part of private-sector employees, even if the state affiliate represents exclusively public employees.

Numerous affiliates of the National Education Association challenged the Department of Labor in court. Last week, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia upheld the Department of Labor’s interpretation as reasonable and therefore within the scope of its authority.

Barring a reversal on appeal, the ruling means that public school teachers around the country will now be able to peer at the books of the unions that represent them.

Hat tip: Liberty Live

Posted on 03/31/08 05:35 PM by Alex Adrianson

Prison Pays

A new report by the Pew Center on the States supposedly shows that the United States puts too many people in jail. In today’s Los Angeles Times, James Q. Wilson says the report is discouraging—discouraging because it gets so much wrong.

Yes, we put a lot of people in prison compared to other countries, says Wilson. But the authors of the Pew report forgot a fairly elementary part of the public policy equation: What do we get in return for the money spent? Wilson writes:

In the last 10 years, the effect of prison on crime rates has been studied by many scholars. The Pew report doesn’t mention any of them. Among them is Steven Levitt, coauthor of “Freakonomics.” He and others have shown that states that sent a higher fraction of convicts to prison had lower rates of crime, even after controlling for all of the other ways (poverty, urbanization and the proportion of young men in the population) that the states differed. A high risk of punishment reduces crime. Deterrence works.

But so does putting people in prison. The typical criminal commits from 12 to 16 crimes a year (not counting drug offenses). Locking him up spares society those crimes. Several scholars have separately estimated that the increase in the size of our prison population has driven down crime rates by 25%.

… in 1976, Britain had a lower robbery rate than did California. But then California got tough on crime as judges began handing out more prison sentences, and Britain became soft as laws were passed encouraging judges to avoid prison sentences. As a result, the size of the state’s prison population went up while Britain’s went down. By 1996, Britain’s robbery rate was one-quarter higher than California’s. Compared with those of the U.S. overall, Britain’s burglary and assault rates are twice as high, according to a comparative study done by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Posted on 03/31/08 03:51 PM by Alex Adrianson

The Coming Week – Monday, March 31, 2008

Monday
Learn how removing Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid from budgetary “autopilot” is essential to restoring fiscal responsibility. The Heritage Foundation and the Brookings Institute team up to address the nation’s unsustainable budget deficits.

Tuesday – Thursday
Find out what central banks do. The Mercatus Center offers a timely three-part series on monetary policy.

Wednesday
Discover what World of Warcraft can teach us about economics. The Mercatus Center hosts William Bainbridge who discusses how virtual worlds can serve as social laboratories.
Assess a radical solution to underdevelopment in Africa. At the Cato Institute, Edward N. Luttwak, George Ayittey, and Mauro De Lorenzo consider whether ending aid to corrupt, predatory regimes would be good for Africans.
Learn how “open access” requirements will impact the Web. The American Enterprise Institute hosts a half-day conference looking at regulatory restrictions on the use of network management practices.

Thursday
Examine the place of the Constitution in American political debate. The Heritage Foundation hosts Andrew Busch of Claremont McKenna College, who considers how presidential campaigns have historically used constitutional arguments to bolster their vision of government.
Take in a discussion of radical populism in Latin America, hosted by the Hudson Institute.
Consider the prospects for change at the Federal Communications Commission. The Free State Foundation hosts a panel discussion on what’s in store for the FCC.

Posted on 03/28/08 01:58 PM by Alex Adrianson

At Heritage

Mickey Edwards: The mantle of conservatism has been taken over by people whose beliefs and policies threaten the entire constitutional system of government. … Defeating future Jihad requires a coordinated strategy. … What’s next in Iraq and Afghanistan? … The U.S.’s new unified combatant command for Africa (AFRICOM) has some challenges to figure out.

Posted on 03/28/08 01:56 PM by Alex Adrianson

Coming Up: Resource Bank

Don’t forget to mark your calendars for this year’s Resource Bank in Atlanta, Ga., April 24-25. Be there to to get the big picture on the issues, plus all the latest strategies and methods for advancing free markets, and limited government public policies. This year we are expecting over 500 participants—think tank executives, public interest lawyers, policy experts, and elected officials from around the world.

Register now!

Related events in Atlanta include the State Policy Network’s 2008 Leadership Development Breakfast on April 24; the World Taxpayers Associations’ 2008 Members Conference, April 24-26; and the Atlas Economic Research Foundation’s 2008 Liberty Forum, April 25-27.

Posted on 03/28/08 01:50 PM by Alex Adrianson

ABC Smears Singer

On March 23, ABC News reporter Dan Harris produced an incredibly one-sided profile of climate scientist S. Fred Singer. The piece cast Singer as a kooky denier who has created a fiction of scientific debate on global warming in order to delay action on the supposed problem. Harris adduced no evidence for this assessment other than that some other scientists and global warming activists say so.

Here’s some of what Singer himself had to say about the ABC report:

Dan Harris … referred to unnamed scientists from NASA, Princeton and Stanford, who pronounced what I do as 'fraudulent nonsense.' … They are easily identified as the well-known Global Warming zealots Jim Hansen, Michael Oppenheimer, and Steve Schneider. They should be asked by ABC to put their money where their mouth is and have a scientific debate with me. (I suspect they'll chicken out. They surely know that the facts support my position – so they resort to anonymous slurs.) … Dan Harris completely ignored the new scientific evidence against anthropogenic (human-caused) global warming (AGW) and the fact that 100 other scientists presented papers that support this view. The Heartland Conference in NY had an attendance of more than 500, practically all of them AGW skeptics. That’s news, but ABC ignored it.

Stephen Milloy also wrote about ABC’s smear, and provides some details on Singer that ABC ignored:

Dr. Singer played a key role in the U.S. Navy’s development of countermeasures for mine warfare during World War II. From there, Dr. Singer went on to achieve fame in space science.

Some of his major accomplishments include: using rockets to make the first measurements of cosmic radiation in space along with James A. Van Allen (1947-50); design of the first instrument for measuring stratospheric ozone (1956); developing the capture theory for the origin of the Moon and Martian satellites (1966); calculating the increase in methane emissions due to population growth which is not key to global warming and ozone depletion theories (1971); and discovering orbital debris clouds with satellite instruments (1990). …

Among his many prominent positions, Dr. Singer was the first director of the National Weather Satellite Center and the first dean of the University of Miami’s School of Environmental and Planetary Sciences. He’s also held many senior administrative positions at federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Transportation and Department of Interior.

Despite this illustrious bio, ABC News’ Harris was apparently too busy swallowing the Greenpeace caricature of Dr. Singer to do any research on the actual man.

Obviously, global warming is a complicated issue, but one thing should be fairly evident to any neophyte: Disputing that there is a debate demonstrates that there is in fact a debate. The debate should be joined with facts and evidence, not slander.

Posted on 03/28/08 11:36 AM by Alex Adrianson

Tax Freedom Day: April 23

Tax Freedom Day arrives April 23 this year, says the Tax Foundation. This year, the average taxpayer will need 113 days to earn enough to pay his tax bill for 2008. The 113th day falls on April 23.* It takes only 108 days to pay for food, housing, and clothing.

The April 23 date is actually a bit of an improvement over both 2006 and 2007 when Tax Freedom Day fell on April 26 in each of those years.

In 1908, though nobody celebrated it at the time, Tax Freedom Day fell on January 21. If Tax Freedom Day fell on January 21 next year, we would probably celebrate it.

*In calculating Tax Freedom Day, the Tax Foundation ignores leap days.

Posted on 03/27/08 05:45 PM by Alex Adrianson

Unsustainable Entitlements

Between now and 2082, Social Security and Medicare have promised $42.9 trillion in benefits that the programs will not be able to provide under current financing arrangements, according to the 2008 Annual Report of the Social Security and Medicare Trustees.

What The Heritage Foundation says should be done:

Medicare: “The only responsible policy option for Congress and the Administration is to embark quickly on serious reform of the Medicare program, changing it from an open-ended entitlement to a defined-contribution program, adjusting government contributions to seniors for age, health costs, and income.”

Social Security: “Allowing American workers to save and invest a portion of their income in accounts that they would own is the lowest-cost way to ensure that they have an adequate retirement income. The alternative is a combination of benefit cuts and tax increases. Without personal retirement accounts, workers will end up paying more taxes for less benefits.”

Posted on 03/27/08 05:22 PM by Alex Adrianson

Gun Rights: What the Public Thinks

According to a Gallup Poll conducted in February, 73 percent believe “the Second Amendment to the Constitution guarantees the rights of Americans to own guns.” The poll found that only 20 percent believe that “the amendment only guarantees the rights of state militia members to own guns.”

Posted on 03/27/08 03:27 PM by Alex Adrianson

Handouts for Sports Owners

According to calculations by author Neil De Mause, federal, state, and city governments spend $2 billion per year subsidizing the construction of sports stadiums.

John Miller talks with De Mause about his book Field of Schemes: How the Great Stadium Swindle Turns Public Money into Private Profit in the latest “Between the Covers.”

Posted on 03/27/08 03:11 PM by Alex Adrianson

For Health Care Policy News

The Manhattan Institute’s Center for Medical Progress has launched an array of new features on MedicalProgressToday.com, a Web magazine chronicling the connection between market-oriented policies and more accessible, better quality medical care. Every day, MPT features a round-up of the best news, commentary, and research related to medical innovation and health care policy. Each week, the Spotlight Column highlights an important opinion piece by a leading health care scholar. In addition, the “Second Opinion” Expert Forum provides a venue for the country’s foremost health care experts to voice their opinions. Check MedicalProgressToday.com every day for the best round-up of health care policy news and opinion.

Posted on 03/26/08 05:07 PM by Alex Adrianson

Get the Facts on the Budget

The Heritage Foundation has just released an attractive set of 41 charts that provide the latest facts about federal spending and taxing. Did you know … ?

Get these and more facts by checking out the 2008 Federal Revenue and Spending Book of Charts.

Posted on 03/25/08 06:17 PM by Alex Adrianson

Targeting Payday Lending

Considering the poor state of Ohio’s budget, it seems ironic that some in Columbus think their time is best spent focusing on the financial choices of others.

Marc Kilmer, “Batchelder, Hagan Wrong About Payday Loans,” Buckeye Institute, March 20, 2008

Posted on 03/24/08 05:51 PM by Alex Adrianson

Who’s Watching the Regulators?

In the new issue of PERC Reports, Joel Schwartz notes that our air is cleaner than ever, but the Environmental Protection Agency has no intention of declaring victory. Why not?

The Environmental Protection Agency and state regulators, for public support, depend on a perception that there is still a serious problem to solve. But they are also the ones who decide when their own jobs are finished, because the EPA gets to set the pollution standards and specify the means by which the standards will be achieved. Not surprisingly, no matter how low air pollution goes, the EPA has never declared the air safe and continues to tighten the standards. The EPA is like a company that gets to decide how much of its product people must buy. Congress also charges the EPA with reporting on the costs and benefits of its own regulatory programs—like a company that gets to audit its own books.

Regulators are also major funders of the health research they use to justify tougher air pollution standards. In other words, the EPA funds the research intended to demonstrate the need for the EPA’s services. Regulators decide what questions are asked, which scientists are funded to answer them, and how the results are portrayed in official reports. Government-funded scientists sit on the advisory committees that give the EPA “independent” scientific advice. Regulators also provide millions of dollars a year to environmental groups, who then use the money to foment public fear and lobby to increase regulators’ powers. The EPA and its allies put great effort into exaggerating air pollution risks and maintaining public fear, despite today’s record-low air pollution levels … .

According to Schwartz, the fundamental problem with our clean air (and other) regulations is that Congress is unwilling to set standards itself because it is sensitive to the political cost of imposing burdensome regulations. So Congress delegates the writing of regulations to independent agencies that end up creating regulations that, ironically, are even more burdensome. Clean air regulations focus on process, not outcomes. Complexity gives the EPA more power to confer benefits on the special interest groups that support it.

The fix, says Schwartz, is for Congress to set clean-air standards itself, let the states figure out the best way of meeting those standards, and limit EPA’s role to measuring pollution and enforcing limits.

Posted on 03/24/08 05:26 PM by Alex Adrianson

Free Market Ideas—in Spanish

The Hispanic American Center for Economic Research has launched an online library of Spanish translations of classic free market books and articles. The library includes works by Lord Acton Frederic Bastiat, James Buchanan, Friedrich Hayek, Henry Hazlitt, Hernando De Soto, Richard Epstein, Milton Friedman, Ludwig von Mises, George Orwell, Jose Piñera, Richard Posner, Ayn Rand, Ronald Reagan, Murray Rothbard, Mario Vargas Llosa, and many others.

Posted on 03/24/08 11:14 AM by Alex Adrianson

Regulations Expanding

Last year Bush rule-making agencies imposed $11 billion of net new economy-wide regulatory costs (mostly in the environmental area). The cost of new regulations has increased every year on Mr. Bush’s watch, but last year was by far the highest. … The Small Business Administration calculates that the total cost in 2005 of complying with 145,000 pages of federal rules and procedures was $1.1 trillion. This is the rough economic equivalent of imposing a second federal income tax on the economy. … Excluding homeland security regulations, the budgets of Uncle Sam’s 50 largest agencies, such as the Federal Communications Commission and the Consumer Products Safety Commission, are up almost one-third since 2001. There are now some 200,000 full-time government employees writing and enforcing federal commandments. … Heritage analyst James Gattuso warns that “A catalog of new rules are already in the pipeline for 2008. This list is diverse: ranging from Department of Agriculture strictures on genetically modified food, to Food and Drug Administration rules on dietary supplements, to Americans with Disability Act rules for airlines.”

Wall Street Journal, Review and Outlook, March 21, 2008

Posted on 03/24/08 10:13 AM by Alex Adrianson

The Coming Week – Monday, March 24, 2008

Monday
• Review the failings of Robert Mugabe’s rule. The Cato Institute hosts a panel on Zimbabwe as the country prepares for its March 29 elections.
• Learn the history of the conservative legal movement. The American Enterprise Institute hosts author Steven M. Teles.

Wednesday
Get a blueprint for defeating Jihadism. The Heritage Foundation hosts author Walid Phares.

Thursday
Discover how to reclaim conservatism with author and former Congressman Mickey Edwards at The Heritage Foundation.
• Hear a personal history of school reform. The Center of the American Experiment hosts Chester E. Finn, Jr.
Find out whether sovereign wealth funds are an instrument of state power or just another investment device. Mercatus offers a primer on sovereign wealth funds.
Assess the future of U.S. trade policy with representatives of the McCain, Clinton, and Obama campaigns, hosted by the Institute for Policy Innovation.

Posted on 03/20/08 02:25 PM by Alex Adrianson

Heritage on Video

Heritage in Focus: The D.C. gun ban is unconstitutional

At Heritage: Does the United Nations deal fairly with news outlets that are critical of the United Nations? … The Lincoln-Douglas debates engaged a key question in American political life: What is democracy’s purpose?

Posted on 03/20/08 02:22 PM by Alex Adrianson

Good News on Consumer-Directed Health Plans

There’s good news about consumer-directed health plans, but the Commonwealth Fund and the Employee Benefit Research Institute have buried it. The two groups recently published a survey on consumer-directed plans and they emphasized only the bad news in their press materials. According to the groups, enrollment remains low, the plans do not help to reduce the number of the uninsured, and participants are less satisfied with their plans and have more missed care.

Grace-Marie Turner of the Galen Institute dug into the report and pulled out the good news, too. She read it, so you don’t have to. She notes that, compared to individuals in comprehensive plans, individuals in CDHC plans are more cost-conscious in their health care decision-making; significantly less likely to report avoiding or delaying needed care; are more, or at least as, likely to get their blood pressure or cholesterol checked, have a dental exam, or receive a mammogram, pap test, or colon screening; and less likely to be obese or to smoke and are more likely to get regular exercise.

She also notes:

  • The number of people with comprehensive coverage in large firms is declining while the number of people in consumer-directed plans is increasing
  • The overwhelming reason that people pick CDHC plans is that they are less expensive than other plans and that they have an opportunity to save money in their accounts for future needs
  • Sixty-one percent of employers are contributing to the accounts of people with CDHC plans at work
  • Forty-four percent of people with CDHC plans have $1,000 or more in their health spending accounts
  • People in consumer-directed plans continue to say they don’t get enough information about quality and cost from their health plans, but they are more likely to seek information elsewhere.

Critics of consumer-directed plans cite lower utilization of services as a point against such plans. But that’s a feature, not a bug. Since consumer-directed plans by design make consumers sensitive to cost, it should not be surprising if research finds that in some ways enrollees respond to the incentives by consuming less. The question, as always, is: Are the services used worth the cost? That’s a question that only consumers with alternative uses of those resources (e.g., keeping the money in their HSAs) can answer.

Posted on 03/20/08 02:09 PM by Alex Adrianson

Protectionism Hurts Poor the Most

Nobel economics laureate Gary Becker estimates that a 30% rise in food prices over five years would cause living standards to fall by 3% in rich countries and by more than 20% in poor countries. … it is the world’s poorest countries that impose the highest barriers against trade with each other: agricultural exports between sub-Saharan countries face an average tariff of 33,6%, the highest of any region on Earth. … A whopping 70% of the world’s trade barriers are imposed by governments in poor countries on people in other poor countries.
—Caroline Boin and Alec van Gelder of the International Policy Network

Posted on 03/20/08 10:53 AM by Alex Adrianson

Oakland Police to Citizens: You’re Going to Be Burgled, So Turn in Your Guns

In counterpoint to the argument that gun buy-back programs do not net guns that would actually be used in a crime, USA Today quotes Oakland police spokesman Roland Holmgren: “That little old lady’s gun at the bottom of a closet often finds its way to somebody who’s up to no good when her house is burglarized.”

So, in the view of the Oakland police, the reason grandma should turn in her gun is not that she won’t ever need it, but that in fact she might—probably will, according to Holmgren—find herself in a situation where she will need it.

USA Today reports that Oakland police just spent $250,000 of its taxpayers’ money to disarm all the little old ladies in Oakland. That’s money the city could have spent paying officers to apprehend criminals instead. If grandma feels the need to keep her gun, you might understand.

Hat tip: The Foundry

Posted on 03/19/08 08:31 PM by Alex Adrianson

Seventy-One Porkers of the Month!

All 71 senators who voted against the year-long earmark moratorium share the March 2008 Porker of the Month award from Citizens Against Government Waste. Good choice.

Posted on 03/19/08 03:33 PM by Alex Adrianson

Why Aren’t the Oceans Getting Warmer?

A system of 3,000 robotic buoys that can dive up to 3,000 feet has detected no warming trend in the oceans during the five years that it has been deployed. Scientists are puzzled because without warming, sea levels should not have risen by half an inch over the past five years. Scientists do not believe that melting glaciers alone can explain the increase. While surface temperatures have been rising, the ocean holds so much more heat that the lack of warming has made some scientists wonder if there has been a slow-down or pause in global warming.

Posted on 03/19/08 03:03 PM by Alex Adrianson

Has Risk Management Regulation Made Things Worse?

Economist magazine is sponsoring an online debate on the proposition “By intervening to regulate business and financial risks, government has made things worse.

John Berlau of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, representing the pro side, argues that government-imposed risk management practices will never be flexible enough to anticipate the next problem. They are not, he says, a substitute for good business judgment. Exhibit A: Countrywide Financial Corporation, an exemplary practitioner of the risk-management practices imposed by Sarbanes-Oxley, and owner of over $600 billion in subprime loans, now hurtling toward bankruptcy.

Go follow the debate and if you agree with Berlau’s arguments, vote for the pro side of the debate.

Posted on 03/19/08 12:37 PM by Alex Adrianson

Where Bad Tax Policy Starts

And now, time for a look inside the beast: In the video below, Dan Mitchell of the Cato Institute and the Center for Freedom and Prosperity explains how Congress’s revenue-estimating models are systematically biased against tax cuts and for tax increases. 

Posted on 03/19/08 10:19 AM by Alex Adrianson

Let There Be Light—For All

Posted on 03/18/08 05:52 PM by Alex Adrianson

Mandating Consumers Out of the Market

Health insurance would be a lot less expensive if states would stop telling consumers what they had to buy. Kalese Hammonds of the Texas Public Policy Foundation writes today that Texas is one of many states whose legislatures have inflated the cost of basic health insurance through mandating what must be covered in a health insurance contract. She writes:

… researchers have found that the combined effect of the mandates drive up the cost of a basic health plan by nearly 50%.

With 55 mandates, Texas ranks among the five most heavily regulated health insurance markets in the country. Recent studies show that one-fourth of uninsured individuals go without coverage because of the increased costs from health insurance mandates. Curtailing such mandates presents an immediate opportunity for lawmakers to lower the cost of insurance plans and help reduce the number of uninsured.

Texas mandates require coverage for services such as in vitro fertilization, marriage and occupational therapists, and drug and alcohol rehabilitation. The latest addition is the “mental health parity” mandate, which alone has been estimated to increase premiums by as much as 10%.

Hammonds notes a solution for all states to consider:

Several state legislatures have already designed legislation that would allow people in their states to purchase health insurance plans that have been approved for sale in other states. Lifting the barrier to interstate purchase would give individuals the opportunity to buy a more affordable health insurance policy from a state with fewer mandates, while simultaneously encouraging heavily regulated states to deregulate. This competition would curb the impulse of lawmakers to expand the number of mandates each session, and provide an incentive for protecting “mandate lite” health insurance policies the legislature has already approved for sale to certain people.

Posted on 03/18/08 05:37 PM by Alex Adrianson

China’s Olympics

Nobody likes to contemplate boycotting the Olympics, but the situation in Tibet calls for some response from the United States. The rioting in Tibet is the result of China meeting peaceful protests with police and military force. Since 2002, the Dalai Lama has engaged China’s leaders in an attempt to accommodate their concerns about Tibetan independence. In return, China has refused to address Tibetan grievances.

According to the Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, China’s government has systematically marginalized Tibetans within Tibet. It has encouraged non-Tibetan migration to Tibet, confiscated property held by Tibetans, reassigned land-use rights to non-Tibetans, and reduced the proportion of Tibetans employed by the local government, and given Han Chinese all the top positions in the local government. Further, Tibetans report that permits and loans to open businesses are much harder for Tibetans than for Han Chinese to get.

China’s domestic policies are reflected in its choice of foreign allies. It is patron to some of the world’s most egregious violators of human rights, including North Korea, Burma, Iran, Syria, Zimbabwe, Cuba, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Eritrea, and Sudan.

John Tkacik, Heritage Foundation’s China expert, proposes that the United States allow its athletes to participate, but that President Bush should reconsider his plans to attend the Olympics. He writes:

… the President of the United States need not lend his prestige to China's global debut as host of the Olympic Games—prestige that China craves. If President Bush hopes to influence China's behavior, not just with Tibetans, but with Beijing's many friends around the world that are "America's adversaries," he must leverage his attendance and that of his family and even his father. He should also have a confidential chat with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who also plans to be in Beijing, and the leaders of other democracies. Nothing flashy need be arranged.

President Bush needs only to let it be known, quietly, that he is rethinking his participation in the Beijing Olympics, and his press spokesmen need only respond to questions with a shrug of the shoulder and a noncommittal grunt.

China will get the message.

See With Repression in Tibet, Rethink Olympics by John J. Tkacik, The Heritage Foundation, March 18, 2008.

Posted on 03/18/08 05:00 PM by Alex Adrianson

Supreme’s Questions Tilt Toward an Individual Right

An early take on the oral arguments in the D.C. gun case (District of Columbia v. Heller), from Tom Goldstein at Scotusblog:  

Based just on the questioning, which can prove inaccurate, the Court is divided along ideological lines in Heller, with Justice Kennedy taking a strong view that the “operative clause” of the Second Amendment protects an individual right unconnected with militia service that guarantees the right to hunt and engage in self-defense. If the oral argument line up were to hold when the Court votes, the Court will recognize an individual right to bear arms that will not be seriously constrained by military service of any kind.

Hope he’s right.

Hat tip: Volokh Conspiracy

Posted on 03/18/08 03:04 PM by Alex Adrianson

Competition Saves Consumers Money

According to Wal-Mart, its program of selling many generic drugs for $4 per one-month prescription has saved consumers over $1 billion since it started in September of 2006. Wal-Mart’s program includes over 300 different generic drugs, which account for nearly 40 percent of the prescriptions sold by Wal-Mart. Since September 2006, other retailers, including Target, have followed Wal-Mart’s lead in slashing prices for generics, and that, too saves consumers money.

Wal-Mart calculates that as of Friday the savings to the nearest penny have been $1,032,573,012.61. In terms that people can relate to, that’s equivalent to about 2.2 million Vizio 26-inch high definition televisions purchased for Wal-Mart’s going price of $474 each. Not bad.

Posted on 03/18/08 02:49 PM by Alex Adrianson

Freedom of Religion Coming to Saudi Arabia?

The Vatican has disclosed that it is negotiating with Saudi Arabia for permission to open a Roman Catholic church in the country. Saudi Arabia does not allow any faith other than Islam to be practiced publicly. Muslims, meanwhile, are free to worship publicly in the United States and Europe. The Vatican has said that allowing Christians to worship publicly is a prerequisite for opening formal diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia.

It sure would be nice if a country that the United States has considered an ally in the war against Islamic extremism would embrace religious tolerance—even if it takes a diplomatic carrot to get it to do so.

Posted on 03/18/08 12:26 PM by Alex Adrianson

Broadband Buffet Closing?

Industry analysts say that the growth of Web applications needing high bandwidth and a consumer resentment of “fair use” policies will force internet service providers in Britain to put explicit limits on downloads into its broadband service contracts. If consumers don’t like the idea of paying more for using more bandwidth, then they should support a business model that requires the high-bandwidth applications to pay for the access. That would mean abandoning the idea of net neutrality.

Posted on 03/18/08 12:04 PM by Alex Adrianson

Gun Rights Before the Supreme Court

Tomorrow the Supreme Court hears one of the most important gun rights cases it has ever heard in D.C. v. Heller. Alan Gura, representing a D.C. resident who wants to be able to have a gun in his own home for self defense, will urge the Supreme Court to affirm the decision of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia that struck down D.C.’s ban on citizens having functional firearms in their own homes.

It is important to keep in mind that D.C.’s gun laws are the most restrictive gun control laws in the United States; for that matter, they are more restrictive than the gun control laws in most European countries. Those countries are often cited by gun-control advocates as models for the United States to follow. If they really believed that, then gun-control advocates, too, would oppose D.C.’s gun ban.

D.C.’s gun laws effectively prevent a citizen from having a gun in his own home for self defense. If that restriction is upheld, then no gun rights are safe from legislative enactments.

Gun control advocates have held that the Second Amendment’s preamble, “a well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free state,” implies that gun rights are only a collective right, not an individual right. In his summary of the case in today’s Legal Times, Alan Gura and Cato’s Robert Levy say this about the collective rights argument:

The Second Amendment guarantees a “right of the people.” The “people” protected by the Second Amendment, as well as by the First and Fourth Amendments, and to whom rights and powers are reserved in the Ninth and Tenth Amendments, are all the same: individual members of the American community.

Recognizing that truism, the city and its fellow prohibitionists have abandoned the “pure” collective-rights Second Amendment theory — which secures only a right of states to arm an organized militia. Instead the city has adopted the “sophisticated” or “hybrid,” but equally wrong, collectivist view: that the Second Amendment guarantees rights to individuals, but only when they are serving in a state-controlled military organization.

Imagine a right — intended, in part, as a deterrent to oppressive government — that can be exercised only when, where, and in the manner that government directs.

See Brief of the Respondents (Heller) and Armed for Liberty by Alan Gura and Robert Levy, Legal Times, March 17, 2008. See also: Amicus Brief of the Cato Institute and history professor Joyce Lee Malcom; The Second Amendment Comes Before the Supreme Court: The Issues and the Arguments by Nelson Lund, The Heritage Foundation, March 14, 2008; and The Federal Government’s Brief in the D.C. Gun Ban Case: A Glass That Is More Than Half Full by Todd Gaziano and Andrew Grossman, The Heritage Foundation, January 18, 2008.

Todd Gaziano on why D.C.’s gun ban is unconstitutional:

Posted on 03/17/08 06:37 PM by Alex Adrianson

What Do the Iraqis Think?

ABC/BBC/ARD (Germany)/NHK (Japan) Poll:  

Improved security and economic conditions have reversed Iraqis’ spiral of despair, sharply improving hopes for the country’s future. Yet deep problems remain, in terms of security, living conditions, reconciliation and political progress alike.

Fifty-five percent of Iraqis say things in their own lives are going well, well up from 39 percent as recently as August. More, 62 percent, rate local security positively, up 19 points. And the number who expect conditions nationally to improve in the year ahead has doubled, to 46 percent in this new national poll by ABC News, the BBC, ARD German TV and the Japanese broadcaster NHK.  

(Click on image to see larger version.)

 

Posted on 03/17/08 05:37 PM by Alex Adrianson

This Week in Washington – March 17, 2008

Related links
Reclaiming Conservatism: How a Great Political Movement Got Lost—and How It Can Find Its Way Back
, lecture on March 27, 2008, by author and former Rep. Mickey Edwards (R-Okla.)
Stolen Identities, Stolen Votes: A Case Study in Voter Impersonation by Hans A. von Spakovsky, The Heritage Foundatin, March 10, 2008
The Second Amendment Comes Before the Supreme Court: The Issues and the Arguments by Nelson Lund, The Heritage Foundation, March 14, 2008

Posted on 03/17/08 05:27 PM by Alex Adrianson

Is Global Warming Bad for Polar Bears?

Polar bears are in trouble, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council and Greenpeace. According to a scenario being pushed by the two environmental groups, global warming will cause most of the ice in the Arctic to melt away within the next 50 years, causing a decline in seal populations. Seals are the most significant source of food for polar bears, which means that melting arctic ice could threaten polar bears’ food supply.

Spurred by the two groups, the Fish and Wildlife Service is considering listing the polar bear as threatened (not quite as drastic as being listed as endangered). Last week the two groups sued the Fish and Wildlife Service for not issuing a decision yet. A decision by the Bush administration could occur this week.

Listing the polar bear as threatened could have significant consequences for the U.S. economy. So it’s worth asking: Is it really true that polar bears will be threatened by global warming.

According to H. Sterling Burnett of the National Center for Policy Analysis, there is plenty of evidence that polar bears actually thrive under warmer conditions. So far, polar bears worldwide have thrived during the current warming period, growing from an estimated 8,000 – 9,000 in 1970 to around 25,000 today. In the past decade, Alaska’s polar bear population has grown from 12,000 to 15,000.

Burnett also notes that an analysis of different populations shows warming to be beneficial. Two out of 20 polar bear population worldwide are declining. Those two live in regions where air temperatures have fallen. Another two populations that are growing live in areas where air temperatures have risen.

Further, he writes:

Evolutionary biologist and paleozoologist Susan Crockford, of Canada’s University of Victoria, points out that polar bears have historically thrived when temperatures were warmer than today’s — during the medieval warming 1,000 years ago and during the Holocene Climate Optimum 5,000 to 9,000 years ago.

Polar bears thrive during warmer climates because they are omnivores, like brown and black bears.  Though seals are currently their primary food source, research shows that they have a varied diet and take advantage of other foods when those are available.  Their diets can include fish, kelp, caribou, ducks, sea birds, the occasional beluga whale and musk ox and scavenged whale and walrus carcasses.

A listing of the polar bear as threatened would give the Department of Interior the authority to promulgate all manner of regulations over carbon emitting activities—which right now means just about all economic activity. And that authority would not even be limited to Alaska. If carbon emissions are the cause of climate change, then any carbon-emitting activity could be seen as a threat to the polar bear. Given the certainty of economic harm and the speculative nature of the benefit to polar bears, it would seem unwise to list the polar bear as threatened.

See Polar Bears on Thin Ice, Not Really! Redux by H. Sterling Burnett, National Center for Policy Analysis, February 21, 2008

Posted on 03/17/08 03:35 PM by Alex Adrianson

The Coming Week – Monday, March 17, 2008

Monday
• Get at answer to the question: Does the United Nations favors a free press only when the free press isn’t critical of the United Nations? The Heritage Foundation hosts a panel looking at the transparency of the UN’s dealings with the media.
• Assess the effects of corporate taxation. The American Enterprise Institute hosts a seminar looking at how corporate taxes affect the U.S. economy.
• Let the sun shine in. All week long, the Sunshine Week Alliance sponsors events promoting transparency in government.

Tuesday
• Find out if the American middle class is really fighting for its economic life. The American Enterprise Institute hosts a a panel examining the real state of the middle class.
• Hear Mark Hulliung review the idea of the social contract in American political thought at the Ashbrook Center.
• Learn whether the economy is in crisis. America’s Future Foundation hosts Megan McArdle, Rea Hederman, R.J. Lehman, and John Berlau.

Wednesday
• Discover why energy independence is a dangerous delusion. The Cato Institute hosts Robert Bryce, author of Gusher of Lies.
Have a perfectly safe lunch with Elizabeth Whelan who discusses the explosion of health scares. Dr. Whelan is hosted by the Heartland Institute at Chicago’s Lloyd’s restaurant.  
• Get a preview of the 2008 election with Fred Barnes, John Gizzi, John Hood, and Marc Rotterman, hosted by the John Lock Foundation.
• Take part in an economic experiment. Antony Davies, hosted by the Mercatus Center, offers an interactive lecture to demonstrate how the provision of public services impacts people’s choices.

Thursday
• Review the success of metrics in showing that most social programs fail. The Hudson Institute hosts a panel asking why the development of metrics hasn’t yet led to successful programs.

Posted on 03/14/08 03:08 PM by Alex Adrianson

Heritage on Video

Heritage in Focus: Strong families and religious practice have positive impacts on youth decision making.

At Heritage: Honest, respectful debates are necessary to preserve liberty amidst diversity. … Taiwan’s voters have choices to make that will impact their country’s relationship with both China and the United States. … Civil society is advancing across the globe, carrying with it new forms of philanthropy, citizenship, and volunteerism.Is there any other fate for Tibet than to become a quaint Chinese Disneyland for tourists?

Posted on 03/14/08 03:04 PM by Alex Adrianson

Lobbyists Say the Darndest Things

In arguing recently for a waiver that would make Hawaii eligible for subsidies from FCC’s Universal Service Fund—the goal of which is to promote service to rural areas that are more costly to serve—lobbyists for Hawaiian Telecom emphasized Hawaii’s role in national defense. Hawaii, their petition notes, is the home of the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Command, which is responsible for monitoring “over 50 percent of the earth’s surface,” “60 percent of the earth’s population,” and “the world’s largest armed forces, including those of China, Russia and North Korea.”

Would somebody please hurry up and get Pacific Command hooked up! They need their phone service!

Hat tip: James Gattuso at Technology Liberation Front

Posted on 03/14/08 10:19 AM by Alex Adrianson

There’s a Cure!

At Village Voice, screenwriter David Mamet explains why he is no longer a brain-dead liberal:

Prior to the midterm elections, my rabbi was taking a lot of flack. The congregation is exclusively liberal, he is a self-described independent (read “conservative”), and he was driving the flock wild. Why? Because a) he never discussed politics; and b) he taught that the quality of political discourse must be addressed first—that Jewish law teaches that it is incumbent upon each person to hear the other fellow out.

And so I, like many of the liberal congregation, began, teeth grinding, to attempt to do so. And in doing so, I recognized that I held those two views of America (politics, government, corporations, the military). One was of a state where everything was magically wrong and must be immediately corrected at any cost; and the other—the world in which I actually functioned day to day—was made up of people, most of whom were reasonably trying to maximize their comfort by getting along with each other (in the workplace, the marketplace, the jury room, on the freeway, even at the school-board meeting).

And I realized that the time had come for me to avow my participation in that America in which I chose to live, and that that country was not a schoolroom teaching values, but a marketplace.

Read the whole thing!

Posted on 03/13/08 08:17 PM by Alex Adrianson

Who Is the Worst Teacher in the Country?

School choice programs put parents in charge, not teachers, which is why teachers unions hate them. When parents pull their kids out of a bad public school, it’s almost like telling the public school teachers: You’re fired. Not every parent has that option, unfortunately, because teachers unions have been fighting school choice. But every parent can do the next best thing: They can nominate the union-protected teacher they think is the worst teacher in the country. The Center for Union Facts will offer $10,000 to each of the 10 worst teachers in the country; to accept the money, the teacher has to agree to give up his job and pursue some other career.

This should be interesting.

Nominate a bad teacher.

Posted on 03/13/08 07:41 PM by Alex Adrianson

The Founding Fathers on Earmarks

The debate in the Senate over whether to place a one-year moratorium on earmarks is heating up. The pro-earmark crowd has actually invoked the authority of the Founding Fathers to argue against the moratorium. At National Review Online, Sen. Tom Coburn corrects this revisionist history. Here’s a sample of what he says:

Even though he firmly believed that the power of appropriating federal money belonged only to Congress and that it was necessary to have a clear delineation of authority between the executive and legislative branches of government, Thomas Jefferson also fervently argued against the use of federal funding for local projects. For example, in a 1796 letter to James Madison regarding federally funded local projects, Jefferson wrote, “[O]ther revenues will soon be called into their aid, and it will be the source of eternal scramble among the members, who can get the most money wasted in their State; and they will always get the most who are the meanest.” Anyone who has observed the recent tantrums of those who have had their pork challenged knows that Jefferson’s statement was sadly prophetic.

Jefferson was not alone in his worry about the corrupting influence of money and political power. In a 1792 letter to Alexander Hamilton conveying what he believed to be the public’s perceptions of government, George Washington cited worries about the “increase in the mass of the debt,” which had “furnished effectual means of corrupting such a portion of the legislature, as turns the balance between the honest voters[.]” Hamilton, who famously clashed with Jefferson and Madison on fiscal matters, responded that “[e]very session the question whether the annual [funding] provision should be continued, would be an occasion of pernicious caballing and corrupt bargaining.”

Posted on 03/13/08 07:23 PM by Alex Adrianson

A Tale of Two Health Care Initiatives

A Senate hearing this morning revealed some news guaranteed to shock almost nobody: Drug companies, just like many other private companies, have sales reps. Those sales reps wine and dine doctors in order to push their product and diminish the products of their competitors. Further, the drug companies actually train their sales reps to do this wining and dining. As reported by ABC News, one witness said his training involved receiving pep talks along the following lines:

I want you out there every day selling Neurotonin. Neurotonin is more profitable than Accupril, so we need to focus on Neurotonin. Pain management, now that's money…. I don't want to see a single patient coming off Neurotonin before they've been up to at least 4,800 milligrams a day. I don't want to hear that safety crap, either.

Keep in mind, of course, that we are talking about drugs that the FDA has already approved because they are safe. So within the ambit of FDA approval, drug companies want to make a profit. That’s really not shocking at all. It is, of course, the doctor’s responsibility to decide what course of treatment is best for his patients. One would think that as part of that responsibility, the doctor exercises due diligence in seeking out information about pharmaceutical options. Democrats on the Senate Aging Committee want to shift that responsibility. They are pushing a bill that would pay “nurses, pharmacists and other health professionals to present objective academic literature on prescription drugs to doctors” as a way of countering pharmaceutical company marketing.

Before making taxpayers generally responsible for medical enlightenment, Senators should ask this question: Why would doctors not do right by their own patients? Isn’t it in a doctor’s own self interest to make sure his patients remain happy, healthy, bill-paying customers? Of course, patients these days are rarely bill-paying customers. They may represent a revenue stream, but that stream is far more likely to come from government or insurers. In the United States, 46 percent of all health care expenditures are paid by the government. Expenditures paid by consumers “out of pocket” constitute only 11 percent of total health care expenditures. That is the nexus of the problem. If consumers pay little “out of pocket,” then they have little reason to be diligent consumers who research their options in order to get the best value. Doctors with such patients have less reason to worry about losing a patient for making a less than optimal decision.

Government isn’t, so far as I know, concerned about the aggressiveness with which bakeries market their bread to sandwich shops. The makers of sheet rock don’t come under congressional fire for communicating puffery to general contractors. In a free market, what goes on behind the point of sale is directed at satisfying the consumer in order to make the final sale. Losing customers is the price of misfeasance at any point in the process. If it doesn’t work that way in health care, the reason is that government has displaced the consumer in the decision making process. Now, some in Congress want government to displace the doctor’s responsibility in exercising diligence, too.

There is hope, however, as many Web-based medical resources are becoming available to patients. And just today, it was reported that Aetna has launched a major new Web-based resource for those enrolled through employer plans. Aetna believes its product is a step ahead of WebMD, because it uses patients’ personal medical histories to tailor the information it provides. Importantly, the service was launched because many employers in Aetna’s plans have become concerned about rising health care costs. Just think how robust the market for information could be if it were composed of price-sensitive individuals instead of price-sensitive employers. In any case, the private sector is responding to consumers’ demand for medical information. Do we really need more government, too?

Posted on 03/13/08 06:03 PM by Alex Adrianson

Ignoring the Security Council

John Bolton:

However one views the U.S.-led overthrow of Saddam, or NATO’s 1999 air campaign against Serbia, or the current recognition of Kosovo’s unilateral declaration …, one theme ties all three of these decisions together. All were taken without express Security Council authorization. Indeed … recognition of Kosovo’s declaration is “worse” from that perspective, since recognition effectively violates Resolution 1244’s reaffirmation of Serbian sovereignty over the territory.

This commonality is significant not, as Serbia and Russia assert, namely that recognizing Kosovo violates “international law.” Instead, what is really significant is the unwillingness of many in Europe to appreciate that what they are doing in Kosovo today (and did in the 1999 air war) is precisely what they roundly criticized the United States for doing in Iraq in 2003.

Criticizing American policy in Iraq may reflect a legitimate difference in policy. What is not legitimate is to criticize the lack of Security Council authorization for overthrowing Saddam, unless those Europeans are willing to concede that in Kosovo, Europe is simply following in America’s footsteps.

Posted on 03/12/08 12:28 PM by Alex Adrianson

Hugo's Domestic Problems

Much has been made of Hugo Chavez’s connections to FARC, but Jamie Daremblum, in today’s New York Sun, points out another set of motivations for Chavez inserting himself into the Colombia/Ecuador dispute: with a faltering economy, his regime needs enemies abroad to unite the country. Daremblum writes:

Mr. Chavez was goading the Ecuadorian government, provoking it to overreact to what is finally a fairly mild incident, because he hopes no one will notice that his "Bolivarian Revolution" is crumbling and his popular support rapidly eroding. Not even a $100 price tag on a barrel of oil can hide his failures anymore.

Among these failures are food shortages — staples such as milk are in short supply in much of the country following years of government interference in production decisions — and the highest inflation rate in Latin America and the Caribbean — 22.5% last year, in spite of price controls over many products. This combination of shortages and high inflation takes a particular toll on the poor, whom Mr. Chavez had counted among his most loyal followers, but who are now beginning to doubt the wisdom of backing him.

To shore up their support, Mr. Chavez established new price controls, which — as anyone could have predicted — have further discouraged production and worsened inflation. The well-off turn to the black market for goods, but the poor, whom Mr. Chavez claims to protect from price increases, are increasingly left in need.

Displaying something like an inverted Midas touch, Mr. Chavez also has managed to weaken the oil industry, the lifeblood of Venezuela's economy. Although the regime keeps the data hidden from the public, many telltale signs point to deep trouble in this vital industry. Oil output has been declining for almost three years, ever since Mr. Chavez ousted most of the managers of the national oil company, PDVSA, and replaced them with his cronies.

Posted on 03/12/08 11:40 AM by Alex Adrianson

Colombia’s Contribution

Investor’s Business Daily on how Colombia’s raid into Ecuador has helped fight terrorism elsewhere:

Colombia’s swift use of intelligence also may have contributed to the fall of Victor Bout, a Russian weapons trafficker whose arms sales to savage regimes made him known as “The Lord of War.” He was not only a FARC quartermaster. He also supplied guns to Afghanistan’s Taliban, al-Qaida in Iraq and the monstrous warlords who scourged western Africa in the 1990s.

Five days after Reyes’ computer was confiscated, Bout somehow was lured out of his hiding place for a Drug Enforcement Administration sting. He now sits in a Bangkok jail.

American lawmen had access to information from Reyes’ computers, and it is likely something there persuaded Bout that it was safe to go to Bangkok. Taking him out of circulation will cut off arms to rogue actors in war-plagued regions such as Africa, as well as save American troops’ lives on overseas fronts.

Then there’s Mexico. In the March 1 raid, the Colombian army blew away five Mexican nationals whom some believe were taking a FARC explosives course.

FARC has decades of experience destroying oil pipelines, and Mexico has seen several terror attacks on its oil and gas installations over the past eight months. A Marxist terror group with Cuban links called EPR claimed credit. This group probably is connected with FARC.

Mexico is America’s third-largest oil supplier. Thus, Colombian intelligence may have broken a key FARC link in a chain of attacks that not only threatened the Mexican government’s revenue, but also America’s energy supplies.

Colombia sounds like a good ally. Hey Congress, don’t we trade with our allies anymore?

Posted on 03/12/08 10:15 AM by Alex Adrianson

Prevention Doesn’t Pay for Itself

Governments have long targeted cigarettes as a great source of excise tax revenue, and food activists have been promoting the idea of taxes on foods that are unhealthy, too. Why should cigarettes and fatty foods be singled out for extra taxes? Shouldn’t grown adults be allowed to make their own decisions? One argument for such taxes has been that risky behaviors impose costs on health care systems, and thus it makes sense to expect those who engage in those behaviors to pay more.

That justification now appears dead, as the result of a new study by Dutch economist Pieter van Baal. Van Baal studied three groups of 1,000 people—obese people, smokers, and non-smoking thin people. Van Baal estimated that non-smoking thin people have average lifetime health care expenses of $417,000, while obese people average only $371,000, and smokers only $326,000. Obese people and smokers have lower lifetime health care costs than thin people because they die sooner. Everybody dies of something; those who live longer just end up getting sick and needing expensive treatment later.

The finding means that governments should not expect a focus on prevention to save them money. Van Baal commented: “We are not recommending that governments stop trying to prevent obesity. But they should do it for the right reasons.”

Or they should just let grown-ups be grown-ups.

Hat tip: John Goodman’s Health Policy Blog

Posted on 03/11/08 04:55 PM by Alex Adrianson

Charters Must Be Doing Something Right

A Washington Post editorial today laments that the D.C. public school system excludes charter schools from competing in post-season play for city championships. That means 22,000 children who attend those 56 schools are denied athletic opportunities that students in the regular school system get.

In spite of the unfair treatment, which the Post attributes to “the antagonism that surrounded the creation of the charter movement,” parents still choose to send their kids to these schools. Those schools must be doing something right, like focusing on giving the kids a good education.

Posted on 03/11/08 02:47 PM by Alex Adrianson

Energy Bill Says No Thanks to 1.6 Trillion Barrels of Oil

Alberta, Canada, has an estimated 1.6 trillion barrels of oil located in tar sand reserves, but the Canadian government is worried it won’t be able to sell any of it to the U.S. Department of Defense—or any other part of the U.S. government. Investor’s Business Daily reports the Canadian government has sent Secretary of Defense Robert Gates a letter warning about the impact of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. The law classifies oil from tar sand as an alternative fuel and requires alternative fuels sold to the U.S. government to emit fewer greenhouse gases than are produced from conventional oil. IBD notes: “Estimates show that removing the highly sticky, coagulated oil found in tar sands produces as much as five times the amount of greenhouse gas as pumping from a conventional well.” How big a deal is 1.6 trillion barrels? Consider that Saudi Arabia’s reserves are estimated at only 270 billion barrels.

Hat tip: Daily Policy Digest

Posted on 03/11/08 12:25 PM by Alex Adrianson

Sugar: An Anti-Jobs Program

The sugar program, which props up sugar prices through a system of loan guarantees and tariffs, expires March 15. The program will cost taxpayers $1.4 billion over the next decade; and consumers will end up spending an extra $1.9 billion per year in higher sugar prices. The program also drives candy making operations and jobs to other countries, as David Freddoso writes:

A 2006 Commerce Department study found that three confectionary manufacturing jobs are lost for every sugar-growing job the program preserves. Ten thousand such manufacturing jobs were lost between 1997 and 2002. The artificially high price of sugar in the U.S. has driven Hershey, Fannie May, and Kraft to shutter domestic candy factories and move them to Mexico and Canada this decade. At the time of the report, sugar in Mexico cost two-thirds of the U.S. price; in Canada, it cost less than half.

Members of Congress who are concerned that American jobs are being sent to foreign countries will have an opportunity to do something about it by letting the sugar program expire.

Posted on 03/11/08 11:08 AM by Alex Adrianson

Taxing Times

If the budget resolution proposed by House Democrats passes, the average American household will pay an extra $3,153 per year in taxes for the next 10 years, according to calculations by Heritage’s Brian Reidl.

Posted on 03/10/08 06:19 PM by Alex Adrianson

New Media Makes Shield Laws Outdated

Glenn Harlan Reynolds, aka Instapundit:

Ordinarily, people are required to respond to subpoenas by providing information. …

Journalists, however, claim a special status: They argue that complying with subpoenas in ways that would identify their sources might make people less likely to confide in them in the future. There are two problems with this argument: The first is that the Constitution doesn’t require it. The second is that we’re all journalists now.

The Constitution merely protects the freedom of speech and publication — not the freedom to keep secrets, which is what journalists are asking for when they seek special privileges of non-disclosure. …

The other problem with journalist “shield” laws is that journalism isn’t a profession; it’s an activity, one now engaged in by many. With the proliferation of blogs, podcasts, YouTube videos and the like, anyone can be a journalist. But if anyone could assert a journalistic privilege not to disclose sources, the work of the courts would be far tougher.

Efforts to limit the privilege to “professional” journalists, on the other hand, quickly transform into a sort of guild or licensing system for the press — ironically, something that the First Amendment clearly prohibits.

Posted on 03/10/08 05:40 PM by Alex Adrianson

This Week in Washington – March 10, 2008

Posted on 03/10/08 05:12 PM by Alex Adrianson

Earmark Moratorium Proposed

Tomorrow, Sen. Jim DeMint will propose a one-year moratorium on earmarking as an amendment to the budget resolution. In his column today, Bob Novak reports that this can only be a source of embarrassment for the equivocating Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and other pork friendly Republicans. Fellow Senator and Republican Presidential nominee John McCain supports DeMint’s idea. Meanwhile, McConnell has appointed a task force to examine the practice of earmarking. Novak notes that four members of the five-member task force were responsible for adding $1.1 billion worth of earmarks to the budget last year. Those earmarks included $475,000 for beaver management in Mississippi (Thad Cochran); $240,000 to rehabilitate the Alhambra Theater in Evansville, Indiana (Richard Lugar); $300,000 for Old Fort Jackson in Savannah, Georgia (Johnny Isakson); and $250,000 for the Idaho sage grouse (Mike Crapo).

The fifth member is anti-pork warrior Tom Coburn.  Novak predicts that the only consensus the task force will reach is the need for transparency.

They don’t need a task force to figure out that transparency is a good thing.

In Friday’s Wall Street Journal, Kimberly Strassel writes that the House is moving in the right direction on earmarks, with GOP leader John Boehner convincing Speaker Nancy Pelosi to hold a vote on a one-year earmark moratorium: “California’s Henry Waxman, a powerful committee chairman, recently intoned that ‘Congressional spending through earmarks was out of control’ and announced he’d ask for none himself this year. This sort of success has helped inspire some doubtful Republicans. At the recent House Republican retreat, several previous worshippers at the earmark church announced they were switching religions.”

Like Novak, Strassel concludes that the problem is in the Senate.

Posted on 03/10/08 03:43 PM by Alex Adrianson

Support Colombia with Trade

Documents recovered by Colombia from captured laptops show that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and leaders of the terrorist group FARC had agreed to cooperate to overthrow the democratically elected government of Colombia. The Colombian military had captured the laptops when it raided FARC bases located inside Ecuador. The documents are reported to detail secret meetings in which Chavez agreed to supply up to $300 million to FARC and to organize other sympathetic Latin American governments in a coalition to push for international recognition of FARC as a legitimate rebellion.

Now would be a really good time for Congress to stop dallying and bring the Colombian free trade agreement up for a vote. Following 9/11, George Bush said that it in the fight against terrorism, other countries would be either with us or against us. The United States needs to recognize that the calculus works both ways. Colombia is an ally against terrorism. The United States needs to be an ally to Colombia. Expecting a country’s cooperation in the fight against terrorism while simultaneously communicating the message that we regard their economy as a threat is nothing less than schizophrenic policy. In the long-run, such an approach can only fail.

Posted on 03/10/08 02:24 PM by Alex Adrianson

The Coming Week – Monday, March 10, 2008

Monday: Discover how Iranian textbooks are indoctrinating children with a global Jihadi mindset. The Hudson Institute hosts the authors of a new comprehensive survey on Iranian textbooks.

Monday: Explore Friedrich Hayek’s complex views on social justice and safety nets with Prof. John Tomasi at the American Enterprise Institute.

Monday: Get the lay of the land in missile defense policy at the American Foreign Policy Council’s seventh annual Missile Defense and American Security conference. Featured speakers include Robert C. McFarlane, former National Security Advisor to President Ronald Reagan; Senator Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.); and Keith Payne, President, National Institute for Public Policy. RSVP to smith@afpc.org or 202-543-1006.

Tuesday: Hear a talk on atonement in corporate America. The Pacific Research Institute hosts Fred L. Smith Jr. of the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Wednesday: Learn about the key role students played in defeating Hugo Chavez’s attempt to grab more power in Venezuela last December. The Cato Institute hosts a panel examining how a diverse group of students came together to defeat the referendum on Chavez’s proposed changes to the Venezuelan constitution.

Wednesday: Celebrate the 25th anniversary of two speeches that changed history. At the American Enterprise Institute, Newt Gingrich asks: What if Reagan had not run and the Soviet Union still existed?

Wednesday: Find out how to make Cuba more free. The Reason Foundation hosts Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.)

Thursday: Learn how to reclaim the conservative vision of small government. The Cato Institute hosts author Mickey Edwards.

Thursday: Hear an idea for bringing civility back into the public square. The Heritage Foundation hosts author Os Guinness.

Posted on 03/07/08 03:32 PM by Alex Adrianson

Heritage on Video

Heritage in Focus: A new Heritage book asks: What does America need to do to remain the leader of the free world?

At Heritage: Whether to store spent nuclear fuel in Yucca Mountain is a key question for the prospects of a revived nuclear power industry. … India has achieved impressive economic growth in the past 15 years, but more needs to be done to sustain and extend that prosperity. … Military recruiters face a challenge in maintaining a robust all-volunteer force. … The surge in U.S. troops and the adoption of a new counterinsurgency strategy has markedly improved the security situation in Iraq. … Throughout the developing world, courageous women leaders are surmounting deeply entrenched cultural and legal barriers to secure freedom, advance democracy, and create pathways to prosperity for themselves and their countries. … Accepting defeat in Iraq, deferring to the United Nations, and holding international conferences with rogue states is not the way to lead the free world in the 21st century. … Raúl Castro will play a decisive role in charting Cuba’s future.

Posted on 03/07/08 03:26 PM by Alex Adrianson

Appeals Court Ruling Threatens Homeschooling

Last week, a California appeals court ruled that California law requires all children to be taught by accredited teachers. That means homeschooled children can now be considered truants unless the parents doing the teaching happen to be accredited teachers. About 166,000 children are taught at home in California.

As Cato’s Adam Schaefer notes, the decision cites making good (and loyal!) citizens as a primary purpose of public education. Schaefer dissents:

To all who feel a twinge of sympathy at the mentioning of civic education and patriotism, just remember the patriotism and attachment to American civic traditions that fueled the American Revolution grew from a diverse population without a government education system. 

And remember that our private schools do a better job teaching the principles and structure of American government and American history, the knowledge of which most often leads to a natural, uncoerced, organic patriotism that is the strength of this country. 

Freedom, not state indoctrination, creates good American citizens.

Posted on 03/07/08 03:20 PM by Alex Adrianson

Conservatives at PoliticsOnline

The PoliticsOnline conference earlier this week was very Leftward oriented (see my earlier post), reflecting liberals continued advantage in online activism. Thanks to Rob Bluey, however, conservatives made a better showing at the event this year. Rob, who is the Editor of Heritage.org, pushed for greater conservative involvement at the conference and secured extra tickets for conservative friends and allies—including me. His report at Bluey Blog makes a good point: “If 90% of life is just showing up, then there was no excuse for conservatives in Washington to skip a conference a few blocks away.”

Posted on 03/07/08 02:43 PM by Alex Adrianson

Better Government Competition

The Pioneer Institute is accepting entries for its 18th annual Better Government Competition. This year’s competition is focused on education. If you have an idea for decreasing drop-out rates, increasing graduation rates, increasing attendance rates, improving student performance, or making schools safer, share your idea with Pioneer. The deadline for entry is April 7.

Posted on 03/07/08 02:08 PM by Alex Adrianson

A Democrat Against Paternalism

Should government protect consumers from products that are bad for them? Many would say that’s a core function of government. The problem, however, is that when politicians decide what is bad, they are often just substituting their preferences for the consumer’s preferences—with the consequence that consumers are left without options that would have benefited them.  

In today’s Wall Street Journal, George McGovern, former Senator from South Dakota and 1972 Democratic presidential candidate, takes up this theme. He argues that mandates on what health plans must cover often force health care consumers to choose between gold-plated plans that they might not be able to afford or going without insurance altogether. He also points out that when regulation makes payday loans go away, many borrowers are forced into even less savory options to bridge the gap until the next paycheck.  

McGovern concludes:

Since leaving office I’ve written about public policy from a new perspective: outside looking in. I’ve come to realize that protecting freedom of choice in our everyday lives is essential to maintaining a healthy civil society.

Why do we think we are helping adult consumers by taking away their options? We don’t take away cars because we don’t like some people speeding. We allow state lotteries despite knowing some people are betting their grocery money. Everyone is exposed to economic risks of some kind. But we don’t operate mindlessly in trying to smooth out every theoretical wrinkle in life.

The nature of freedom of choice is that some people will misuse their responsibility and hurt themselves in the process. We should do our best to educate them, but without diminishing choice for everyone else.

Well said, George!

Posted on 03/07/08 10:07 AM by Alex Adrianson

What Role for Government in Promoting Personal Autonomy?

Matt Bai, venerated New York Times reporter and author of The Argument: Billionaires, Bloggers, and the Battle to Remake Democratic Politics, spoke today at the PoliticsOnline conference in Washington, D.C. He observed that the Web portends a great boon in personal autonomy that has not yet been realized to its fullest. Though telecommuting is growing, most of us still get up and drive to work in the morning. If the Web achieves its potential, he says, most of us will be returned to a pre-industrial revolution lifestyle in which we don’t have to go to work in order to work. We’ll be able to wear what we want, take a break to get groceries when we want, and not have to worry at all about the dry cleaning. And won’t that be great for the environment, too? he adds.

Sounds good. But according to Bai, it’s also a problem. Not everybody’s work can be performed remotely. Janitors come to mind, he says. (Apparently in the officeless world of the future, we’ll still need janitors.) Moreover, some of us are limited in our ability to freelance, because our health insurance isn’t portable. He goes on to argue that there is a misfit between the future of work and the government’s social insurance programs created decades ago when most people were expected to work their whole professional lives for one company.

Thus, Bai reports yesterday’s news at a conference about the future of technology. He goes on to suggest that we need a government initiative to promote telecommuting and other elements of a personal autonomy agenda. His line of thought actually sounds darkly corporatist when he predicts that government will need to take charge of rewriting the entire social contract of the workplace. (Jonah Goldberg, call your home office!)

There is a sense in which Bai is correct, though it is hard to tell if it’s the sense he intends. Conservatives have been discussing the idea of the “ownership society” for years now. In the ownership society, you own your retirement plan and your health plan. You take your benefits with you when you change jobs or when you decide to work for yourself.

Implementing the ownership society means creating personal accounts in Social Security (a proposal of President Bush rejected by the Democrats a few years back). In health care, it means changing the tax code to put the individual health insurance market on an even footing with employer-provided health insurance (another Bush proposal, rejected last year). Some might call those proposals rewriting the social contract of the workplace, but it is really just fixing what the government had previously broken. Fixing the workplace means giving individuals more control and government less.

All technology eventually becomes obsolete. Ownership of benefits, however, gives individuals greater flexibility to adjust on their own to the changing realities of the workplace. Hopefully, that’s what Bai has in mind. If, on the other hand, he means that increasing individual autonomy requires new government programs … well that’s the worst idea ever—or at least of this week.

Posted on 03/05/08 05:15 PM by Alex Adrianson

The Candidates’ False Picture of Trade

In the runup to Ohio’s Democratic primary, Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have zeroed in on expanded trade with Canada and Mexico as the cause of tough economic times in Ohio. Both candidates have pledged to dissolve the North American Free Trade Agreement unless Canada and Mexico adopt labor and environmental standards more in line with those of the United States.

A variety of comment has zeroed in on what’s wrong with the picture painted by Obama/Clinton.

At Cato@Liberty, Dan Griswold comments on the idea of trying to “harmonize” environmental and labor standards with Canada and Mexico:

Talk about a non-starter. It is unlikely that our two neighbors would agree to reopen a 14-year-old agreement that has worked well for all three nations. … In effect, Obama and Clinton will be asking our two neighbors to bend their national labor and environmental standards to the demands of the U.S. Congress under threat of trade sanctions. Where exactly is the upside for Canada and Mexico in such a request?

Of course, there is no upside. So the only motivation will be the threat that the United States will unilaterally withdraw from NAFTA. …

The Democratic candidates have been critical of the Bush administration for its checkered record of winning friends abroad. But have the Clinton and Obama campaigns considered how our friends in Canada and Mexico will react to the heavy-handed demand that they re-write their domestic labor and environmental laws under threat of face tariff retaliation from Uncle Sam?

At The Weekly Standard, Matthew Continetti notes the diplomatic benefits of free trade:

Prior to NAFTA Mexico was a political and economic basketcase. It had widespread political instability and a history of nationalizing industries. Today, in nominal terms, Mexico’s GDP is about twice what it was when NAFTA came into being. Mexico’s inflation rate is lower than our own. The (still high) poverty rate has fallen. Mexico was spared the worst effects of the 1998 international monetary crisis. Mexicans have broken the PRI’s stranglehold on political power and elected two pro-American reformers to the presidency. Democrats like Obama say they want to emphasize America’s influence via “soft power” rather than the projection of military force. Is there a surer way to improve our ideological and cultural appeal than through free trade with our neighbors?

A number of writers have observed that NAFTA has nothing to do with the long-term loss of manufacturing jobs, and that overall trade has been a good deal for U.S. workers.

Dan Griswold, Wall Street Journal:

American factories actually added a net half-million new manufacturing jobs in the five years after Nafta.

The loss of manufacturing jobs in Ohio and elsewhere since 2000 is the result of increased automation and our own domestic slowdown. U.S. factories are producing more and better stuff with fewer workers because their workers have become so much more productive.

Behind this trend has been a shift of production down South to nonunion, right-to-work states, and up the value chain to more technology-intensive products. After 15 years of expanding trade, U.S. factories today are producing fewer shirts, shoes and lower-end auto-parts, and more pharmaceuticals, chemicals, semiconductors and sophisticated machinery and equipment.

USA Today:

But the number that best displays the nonsensical nature of the debate is 66% — the increase in the manufacturing output of American industry since 1993.

It’s impossible to look at an economy that has increased its manufacturing output so dramatically while simultaneously cutting its manufacturing workforce and not see a much larger force at work than NAFTA.

That force has been the unprecedented and sweeping gains in worker productivity that have allowed U.S. companies to churn out more goods with fewer people. Some of this has come from outsourcing the most labor-intensive parts of manufacturing, particularly to Asia. But much of it is from the use of more automated systems for assembly lines and high-tech inventory management.

Steve Chapman, Reason:

According to data compiled by Harvard economist Robert Z. Lawrence, the average blue-collar worker’s wages and benefits, adjusted for inflation, have risen by 11 percent under NAFTA. Instead of driving pay scales down, it appears to have pulled them up.

Manufacturing employment has declined, but not because we’re producing less: Manufacturing output has not only expanded, but has expanded far faster than it did in the decade before NAFTA. The problem is that as productivity rises, we can make more stuff with fewer people. That’s not a bad thing. In fact, it’s essentially the definition of economic progress.

Cato’s Dan Ikenson, (Fort-Worth) Star Telegram:

Since 1993 (the year before NAFTA), the size of the U.S. economy has grown by 54 percent in real terms; 27 million net new jobs have been created, worker productivity has increased by 39 percent, and real compensation has increased by 23 percent. This economic expansion occurred as U.S. imports increased from $589 billion in 1993 to $1.9 trillion in 2007.

Comparing Texas, another state with a primary tomorrow, to Ohio, The Wall Street Journal’s editors observe that low taxes and flexible labor laws, not trade barriers, are the real key to economic growth and job creation:

Mr. Obama’s claim of one million lost jobs due to trade deals is laughable in Texas, the state most affected by Nafta. Texas has gained 36,000 manufacturing jobs since 2004 and has ranked as the nation’s top exporting state for six years in a row. Its $168 billion of exports in 2007 translate into tens of thousands of jobs. …

Ohio now ranks 47th out of 50 in economic competitiveness, according to the American Legislative Exchange Council. Ohio politicians deplore plant closings even as they impose the third highest corporate income tax in the country (10.5%) and the sixth highest personal income tax (8.87%). …

States with “right to work” laws that make union organizing more difficult had twice the job growth of Ohio and other forced union states from 1995-2005, according to the National Institute for Labor Relations.

On the other hand, Texas is a right to work state and has been adding jobs by the tens of thousands. Nearly 1,000 new plants have been built in Texas since 2005, from the likes of Microsoft, Samsung and Fujitsu. Foreign-owned companies supplied the state with 345,000 jobs. No wonder Texans don’t fear global competition the way some Presidential candidates do.

In a paper for The Heritage Foundation last November, Terry Miller also took issue with the gloom-and-doom storyline that was developing on the campaign trail. He commented:

One of the biggest mistakes of trade opponents is thinking of the global economy in static terms: Jobs lost in the United States must mean jobs gained elsewhere. This representation of trade as a zero sum game is simply not accurate. The U.S. and world economies are dynamic things, growing and evolving daily. Rapid technological advances are driving down the cost in labor of manufacturing around the world. To resist this trend by adopting protectionist measures that subsidize less efficient producers is to buy into a world vision of lower productivity and slower growth, a poorer world in which everyone has less and produces less than they otherwise could.

Posted on 03/03/08 04:26 PM by Alex Adrianson

Another Problem with Ethanol

To the legion of problems with expanding the use of ethanol—food inflation, no carbon reduction, more volatile gas price spikes, not to mention the hit you take as a taxpayer for ethanol subsidies—add one more: the additional cost to first responders of fighting a different kind of fire. Eric Peters notes:

Alcohol fuels may constitute a new type of fire hazard because they are harder to extinguish than gasoline fires and require new types of fire-extinguishing equipment and training.

The problem is especially acute when a railroad tanker carrying pure alcohol is involved. The foam flame suppressants currently in use are reportedly ineffective; the fires just burn through. According to news accounts, many fire departments are either not trained to fight these alcohol fires, or inadequately equipped to do so.

Think about race cars that run on alcohol fuels. The fires are extremely hot, and the flames invisible. Special means are necessary trackside to deal with it.

Unfortunately, these special means are not widely available outside of racing circles, mainly, because no one thought much about it during the frenzy to push "renewable" and "alternative" fuels into widespread circulation.

Naturally, these special means cost more. Foams designed to combat alcohol fires are made using specific polymers that can smother the flames of an ethanol fire but carry a price tag about 30 percent higher than conventional flame suppressing foams. That means your local fire department has a new line item on the budget.

Posted on 03/03/08 12:46 PM by Alex Adrianson

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