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InsiderOnline Blog: June 2007

Hooray Bald Eagle! Boo ESA!

Today the federal government officially removed the bald eagle from the endangered species list, citing the successful recovery of the species from 410 mating pairs in 1972 to over 11,137 pairs today. An unequivocal success for the Endangered Species Act? Not quite, according to Brian Seasholes.

In a new paper for the Reason Foundation, Seasholes says that the role of the Endangered Species Act is much overrated. He says the banning of the pesticide DDT in 1972—one year before the Endangered Species Act—is the real reason for the recovery of the bald eagle.

DDT, specifically its metabolite DDE, or the form into which it breaks down, caused widespread reproductive failures in raptors like the bald eagle as well as the brown pelican. DDT reduced the amount of calcium in eggshells, which resulted in thinshelled eggs susceptible to breaking or infertility. DDT came into widespread use after World War II. It proved very effective as a means to control mosquitoes as well as a wide range of insects problematic to the agricultural and forestry industries. The relationship between DDT and the bald eagle’s decline and subsequent recovery has been very well established by an authoritative body of peer-reviewed literature.

On the other hand, notes Seasholes, the Endangered Species Act creates perverse incentives for land owners that may have done more harm than good for bald eagles. In order to avoid having the use of their land compromised by ESA restrictions, some land owners may take proactive measures to remove protected species from their land or make their land inhospitable to such species. This might take the form, for example, of knocking down nests before environmental officials notice them. And it can also mean what’s known as “shoot, shovel, and shut up.”

Seasholes notes some other misconceptions and exaggerations about the ESA:

  1. While the bald eagle was threatened in the United States, it was never threatened in British Columbia or Alaska. Those areas have always accounted for the majority of the bald eagle population. Bald eagles were never really in danger of becoming extinct.
  2. Human activity is not necessarily a threat to bald eagle habitat. In three states with 28 percent of the bald eagle population, bald eagles thrive near human activity. James Grier, a biology professor at North Dakota State University, says: “As long as people aren’t shooting at them or bothering them, as long as everybody is minding their own business, the eagles basically accept humans are part of the natural environment.”
  3. Bald eagles should have been removed from the endangered species list in 1991 when the number of mating pairs reached the act’s goal of about 3,000. The reason the bald eagle is being delisted now is that the Fish and Wildlife Service lost a lawsuit and was ordered to do so.

Seasholes has written a separate paper for Reason in which he elaborates on the perverse incentives that may actually do more harm to bald eagle habitat than good. Unfortunately, warns Seasholes, the Fish and Wildlife Service has incorporated the bad land-use restrictions in the Endangered Species Act into the Eagle Act, a law that predated the Endangered Species Act. That, says Seasholes, amounts to rewriting the law, a move that the Pacific Legal Foundation is preparing to challenge in court.

Posted on 06/29/07 05:11 PM by Alex Adrianson

The Coming Week

Monday: Hear Bryan Caplan discuss why voters are irrational when it comes to free trade at The Heritage Foundation.

Wednesday: Celebrate America’s Independence! If you work or live in our nation’s capitol, you may welcome an opportunity to escape the beltway for an afternoon. The 36th Annual National Conservative 4th of July Soirée will be held at Bull Run Regional Park in Centerville, Va., from noon to 5 p.m. You can enjoy roast pig and turkey, family activities, sports, and live entertainment. Donald Devine of the American Conservative Union will present a tub-thumping patriotic speech before receiving the 2007 Award for Outstanding Service to Conservative Principles. And all you need to do is bring a side dish!

Thursday – Saturday: Meet some great minds and discuss some great ideas at FreedomFest 2007. Keynote speakers include Mark Skousen, George Gilder, Charles Murray, Nassim Taleb, Art Laffer, Nathaniel Branden, and José Piñera. Who else would you want to meet?

Posted on 06/28/07 08:56 AM by Alex Adrianson

Heritage on Video

Heritage in Focus: Ernest Istook assesses Congress’s low approval ratings … Ed Meese answers the question: What would Reagan do about immigration today?

At Heritage: An examination of what’s wrong with U.S. energy policy … a look at Hong Kong 10 years after returning to China … Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao on the U.S. job creation machine.

Posted on 06/28/07 08:55 AM by Alex Adrianson

News You Might Have Missed

The parents are doing all right. Some members of Congress want the government to clean up television. But a new poll indicates that parents are significantly involved in managing their children’s consumption of television. According to the TV Watch poll, 73 percent of parents monitor what their children watch, including 87 percent of parents whose children are ages zero to 10; and 83 percent of parents are satisfied with the effectiveness of the V-Chip and other blocking tools. If parents are paying attention, do we really need Congress to play parent, too? Ninety-two percent of respondents to the poll agreed with the statement that “the best way to prevent a child from seeing content deemed inappropriate is a parent in the home ... not a politician in Washington.” A poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found similar results. (Via Progress & Freedom Foundation blog.)

The cost of price controls. Iran’s government decided on Tuesday that it could no longer afford the $10 billion annual price tag of importing gasoline to be sold at discounted rates to drivers. Instead of ending the subsidy for gas, however, the government announced a rationing plan three hours before it was to take effect. Around the country, reports Associated Press, lines formed immediately at gas stations, and violence erupted in numerous spots as drivers vented their frustrations at the government.

Competition equals lower prices. Ohio has done something sensible about soaring cable television prices. Around the country, local governments have been limiting competition in cable TV in order to increase the value of the franchises they award—so as to increase the amount of money the local government can extract from companies bidding to offer service to the community. On Tuesday, the state of Ohio said enough and passed a law that, beginning September 24, puts the state’s Department of Commerce in charge of granting licenses for cable TV service. The Columbus Dispatch reports that opponents of the new law lamented the loss of local control. Of course they did: Such control allowed them to increase the resources they could dispense as they saw fit. No reports of consumers lamenting the prospect of lower prices and more choices, however.

Americans are generous. Americans gave $295 billion to charity last year, according to a report by the Giving USA Foundation at Indiana University's Center on Philanthropy. The figure for 2006 tops the previous record of $283 billion in 2005—the year of hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma and the Asian tsunami. (Via USA Today.)

Reclaiming the commanding heights. Hugo Chavez’s continued travels down the misbegotten socialist path is driving foreign oil companies out of Venezuela. Tuesday was the deadline for foreign companies to agree to accept state ownership of a majority stake in their operations. Two U.S. companies, ConocoPhillips and Exxon Mobil Corp., said no thanks, Hugo, even though it meant abandoning billions of dollars worth of assets. (Via Bloomberg.)

Posted on 06/28/07 08:54 AM by Alex Adrianson

The Horrible Sugar Program

The farm bill is coming, and that means an opportunity for Congress to end one of the federal government’s most pernicious bits of corporate welfare: the sugar racket, otherwise known as price guarantees, import restrictions, and production quotas. What it amounts to is taking money out of your pocket and putting it into somebody else’s pocket for no good reason, except that that somebody else already had deeper pockets, deep enough to ensure Congress voted its interests instead of those of consumers and taxpayers.

As Chris Edwards reminds us in a recent paper for Cato, the direct cost of sugar subsidies to taxpayers over the next decade will be $1.4 billion. But that is dwarfed by the cost to consumers of higher prices for sugar: $1.9 billion per year.

Further, the program imposes costs on sugar-using industries and distorts their decisions. From Edwards’s paper:

  • Employment in U.S. food businesses that use substantial amounts of sugar is declining.
  • For each sugar-growing and sugar-harvesting job saved by current sugar policies, nearly three confectionary manufacturing jobs are lost.
  • Sugar costs are a major reason why some U.S. sugar-using businesses are relocating their factories abroad.
  • Numerous food companies have relocated to Canada, where sugar prices are less than half of U.S. prices, and Mexico, where prices are two-thirds as high.
  • Imports of food products that contain sugar are growing rapidly because it is not competitive to manufacture those items in the United States.

There’s no time like the present to stop such nonsense.

Posted on 06/28/07 08:50 AM by Alex Adrianson

The Last Place to Look for Agriculture Reform is the Agriculture Committee

The Washington Post doesn’t like the fact that the House Agriculture Committee wants to continue farm subsidies unchanged from 2002:

The 2002 farm bill is a monument to craven interest politics and federal waste. Its commodity supports are too often misdirected: High-income farmers collect increasing shares of the largess, and, by The Post’s calculations, between 2000 and 2006 about $1.3 billion went to Americans who do not farm at all.

These payouts distort domestic markets for crops and cropland to favor large agribusinesses over smaller outfits. They affect international crop prices, undercutting poor nations’ economies and derailing vital world trade talks. Indeed, Brazilian and Indian trade negotiators recently indicated that even Mr. Bush’s proposed cap on subsidy spending would not be enough to get the Doha round of talks back on track. And the system has cost more than $70 billion since 2002—hardly the model of good government on which the Democrats ran in 2006.

And neither does the Los Angeles Times, which tallies up the others who don’t like the current system:

Conservatives don't like them because they're a waste of taxpayer money and interfere with free trade. Consumers don't like them because they inflate food prices. Anti-poverty activists don't like them because they encourage American farmers to overproduce certain crops and dump them on the world market, putting farmers in poor countries out of business. Even most U.S. farmers don't like the current system because its benefits are distributed so unevenly: The top 20% of recipients collect 84% of crop payments, and roughly two-thirds of American farmers don't get any subsidies at all.

Posted on 06/26/07 05:07 PM by Alex Adrianson

Hassett Fixes the AMT

Some in Congress want to raise the top marginal income tax rate in order to “pay” for fixing the Alternative Minimum Tax—which is projected to ensnare 23 million taxpayers next year. Kevin Hassett says this proposal actually helps point the way to a real solution:

… if Congress is raising marginal tax rates to preserve the current system, they are effectively giving rich taxpayers money with one hand, when they allow them deductions, then taking the money back with the other, by raising marginal rates.

Talk about needless complexity. It is a fool’s game, and it’s not all that hard to stop. Just eliminate or cap the deductions.

Posted on 06/26/07 04:45 PM by Alex Adrianson

LA Times: Deregulate the Marketplace of Ideas

There’s at least one big corporation that doesn’t want the government to protect it from competition. Commenting on yesterday’s Supreme Court decision addressing the McCain-Feingold law’s ban on issue ads near an election, the Los Angeles Times editors write:

This newspaper, which is owned by a corporation, prizes its freedom to endorse or criticize a candidate right up to election day. We see this as our 1st Amendment right, not a favor bestowed by Congress in excluding newspaper editorials from the ban on “electioneering communications.” We can hardly begrudge others the same right.

Thanks.

Posted on 06/26/07 03:51 PM by Alex Adrianson

This Week on the Hill, June 26, 2007

Top issues this week—again—are immigration, spending, and union organizing.

Immigration. The new immigration bill in the Senate has the same major flaw that the previous bill had: It offers amnesty to illegal immigrants. If you need some elaboration on that point, see Matthew Spalding’s Undeniably Amnesty: The Cornerstone of the Senate’s Immigration Proposal.

Last week, apparently responding to previous Heritage research on the fiscal drain of low-skill immigrants, the Council of Economic Advisors issued a report finding that the overall economic impact of immigration is positive for the United States. In separate responses, Robert Rector and William Beach each point out that the CEA report is silent on the issue over which there is real contention: whether low-skill immigrants are a fiscal drain on the taxpayer. As Beach artfully puts it:

Hardly anyone disputes that the overall effects of immigration have been positive. Instead, Heritage Foundation research has drawn attention to the naivety of many policymakers in assuming that the historical record of immigration is immigration’s future. It may not be if the U.S. retains its current immigration policies. Today, there is a rising tide of workers who lack many of the skills and educational attributes needed to contribute at an economic level similar to those who preceded them to this country.

So the bill provides amnesty. What else does it do? Kris Kobach reports that the bill creates a mess of new procedures for adjudicating amnesty decisions, and triples the workload of an already overburdened U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service.

Proponents of the amnesty bill claim that getting illegal immigrants to enter a legal process will help the government find the terrorists and other bad guys who are hiding in the tall weeds of the illegal community. According to Kobach, however, the bill actually gives those who mean us harm new options for operating under our radar.

Could the bill get any worse? Of course it could. James Jay Carafano notes that some Senators have proposed amendments to the bill that would make it more difficult for the government to identify illegal aliens. One amendment would remove REAL ID requirements from the bill’s workplace enforcement provisions, and defund a grant program for helping states comply with REAL ID. Contrary to its detractors, notes Carafano, REAL ID does not create a national ID card. Similarly misguided is an amendment that would dismantle the sharing of information between the Social Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security. Such information could be used to strengthen workplace enforcement.

If you haven’t done it yet, download and read the new bill.

Spending. In the House, the spending bill for the Department of the Interior and environmental agencies is expected to reach the floor. How much pork will it contain? Will we know? Thankfully, as Brian Riedl recounts, numerous Republican lawmakers defeated Appropriations chairman David Obey’s attempts to keep earmarks secret. Hopefully, this will lead to earmarks actually being cut.

Union organizing. Card check is still on the Senate’s to-do list, unfortunately. As noted in last week’s edition, James Sherk and Paul Kersey’s How the Employee Free Choice Act Takes Away Workers’ Rights is the must read source on this topic. And Heritage’s card check page has lots of other resources, too.

Posted on 06/26/07 11:59 AM by Alex Adrianson

The Coming Week

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday: Hear Joel Schwartz explain why Al Gore is wrong on global warming. The John Locke Institute offers this program at multiple locations throughout the week (Monday in Charlotte and Hickory, Tuesday in Greensboro, Wednesday in Raleigh, and Thursday in Wilmington).

Tuesday: Find out who wins the Pioneer Institute’s 16th Annual Better Government Competition.  

Tuesday: See the film PBS doesn’t want you to see. The Heritage Foundation hosts a screening of Islam vs. Islamists: Voices from the Muslim Center.

Wednesday: Listen to Robert Bradley Jr., President of the Institute of Energy Research, offer principles proposals on energy policy at The Heritage Foundation.

Wednesday: Explore the nexus of social science and policy reform as historian Alice O’Connor discusses her book Social Science for What? at the Hudson Institute.

Thursday: Take in a lively discussion on the Massachusetts health plan, featuring David Hyman, Edmund Haislmaier, and Michael Cannon at the Cato Institute.

Thursday: Assess the state of broadband in the United States at a seminar hosted by the Progress & Freedom Foundation.

Thursday: Learn how differences in labor regulations affect entrepreneurs in Europe and the United States at the Hudson Institute.

Thursday: Enjoy music, dancing, and libations at the AFF Annual Gala at the Eighteenth Street Lounge.

Friday: Examine the problem of the rising costs of medical malpractice insurance at the American Enterprise Institute.

Posted on 06/22/07 03:33 PM by Alex Adrianson

Heritage on Video

Heritage in Focus: Brian Riedl reviews the fight over making pork public … James Sherk explains how binding arbitration in the so-called “Employee Free Choice Act” amounts to de facto wage controls that serve the interests of neither workers or employers.

At Heritage: George Nash on Russell Kirk … a look at the Law of the Sea TreatyJen Marshall discussing her new book about single life in the 21st century … a panel on Islamic extremism.

Posted on 06/22/07 02:52 PM by Alex Adrianson

News You Might Have Missed

Incentivizing the Big Apple. Low-income adults and students will get paid to make better decisions as part of a pilot program in New York City, reports ABC. The cash rewards include $300 for doing well on school tests, $150 for holding a job, and $200 for visiting the doctor. The program is being funded entirely by through private donations.

A trade war over Internet gambling restrictions. The country of Antigua and Barbados has asked the World Trade Organization to impose commercial sanctions of $3.4 billion on the United States, reports International Herald Tribune. The Caribbean country says the United States should face those sanctions for its failure to comply with a World Trade Organization ruling that its laws against Internet gambling are illegal. Japan, India, and the European Union have also sought redress through the World Trade Organization. Last December, the United States passed a law prohibiting banks from processing overseas credit card transactions for gambling services. The World Trade Organization has ruled that the law unfairly targets overseas gambling.

Is global warming self-regulating? A new study by U.S. scientists says that while global warming may increase the number of free-floating icebergs, such icebergs help remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. According to the study, reports BBC, the melting of the icebergs produces blooms of phytoplankton which absorb carbon dioxide and get eaten by shrimp-like organisms called krill. The krill’s waste material containing the carbon dioxide ends up on the ocean floor.

China no. 1 in greenhouse gas emissions. According to a new report by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, China passed the United States in emissions of greenhouse gasses in 2006, reports International Herald Tribune. China edged the United States 6.2 billion tons to 5.8 billion tons.

On the way: a new ice age. Scientist R. Timothy Patterson, reviewing his latest research in Canada’s Financial Post, identifies the cause of global warming: the Sun. More precisely, Patterson says variations in the Sun’s solar energy correlate with changes in the earth’s temperature. What’s more, says Patterson, scientists believe that by 2020, the Sun will have started a significant cooling cycle that will lead to a new ice age on Earth.

Even the CIA is getting into the transparency act. The Central Intelligence Agency announced that next week it will make public hundreds of documents relating to questionable and illegal CIA activities from the 1950s up to the early 1970s. The 693-page file was compiled in 1973 on the orders of then-Director of Central Intelligence James Schlesinger, and will offer details on assassination plots, domestic spying and wiretapping, kidnapping and human experiments, reports BBC.

It’s almost as if they’re trying to prove something. An increase in raids and prosecutions has reduced the number of fugitive aliens in the United States for the first time since 2003, reports ABC. (Via Robert Bluey.)

Posted on 06/22/07 02:18 PM by Alex Adrianson

The Energy Bill Versus Consumers

If you are worried about gas prices, then you should be worried about the direction that energy policy is taking in the United States Congress. As Heritage’s Ben Lieberman notes, Capitol Hill has a lot of wrong-headed ideas on energy, and they all seem to be making their way into legislation. The Senate wants to promote energy efficiency, conservation, and renewable sources, but left behind is the consumer interest in inexpensive and plentiful energy.

The Senate bill proposes a variety of mandates—mandates on fuel (such as an expanded ethanol requirement), mandates on automobiles (higher fuel-efficiency standards), and mandates on appliances (higher energy-efficiency requirements). The result of such mandates will be that the prices of fuel, automobiles, and appliances will rise. The price of food will rise, too. Farmers will respond to the new demand for ethanol by growing less grain for food and more corn for ethanol.

The Senate bill also proposes additional subsidies for ethanol production, which are to be paid for with a series of tax increases, mostly on producers of petroleum. Heritage’s Shanea Watkins and Bill Beach estimate that those tax increases, which would be passed on to consumers, would raise the retail price of gasoline to $6.40 per gallon by the year 2016.

At the same time, the mandates will likely lead to products that do not perform as well as previous models. For example, fuel efficiency standards have been shown to induce car makers to make models that are lighter, and therefore deadlier to passengers in a crash. Some consumers may be willing to accept the added risk in exchange for saving money on gas, but that should be a choice for consumers not government.

The consumer harm doesn’t end there. The Senate bill makes it illegal for gasoline retailers to engage in price gouging during a time of emergency. Laws against price gouging are often thought to be pro-consumer, but in fact they are not. Emergencies produce real shortages that can only be overcome though efforts that would not normally be worthwhile to make. The prospect of higher profits is what encourages people to make extra efforts to bring new supplies to the market. Those new supplies eventually moderate the original price spike.

Energy policy should get government out of the way so that suppliers can discover and develop new sources of energy that lower prices for consumers. Instead, the Senate bill would constrict supplies by relying on unproven technologies that exist only because the government mandates and subsidized them with taxpayers’ money. Energy is what allows people to do stuff—e g. make things, go places, get an education, earn a living. A program of less energy consumption is a program of reducing American’s standard of living.

Additional Research

Numerous policy organizations have produced a large body of literature showing how government intervention in energy markets is bad policy. That literature is truly evergreen.

Ethanol. Subsidizing ethanol has produced numerous unintended consequences while failing to deliver the environmental benefits promised. Heritage’s Ben Lieberman provides an accounting of ethanol’s cost to consumers, while the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Fran Smith and Dennis Avery each provide an overview of the ethanol’s unintended consequences. Avery predicts that attempting to make ethanol a significant source of motor fuel would require clearing 50 million acres of forest for planting additional corn, a step with potentially dire consequences for wildlife habitat. Cato’s Jerry Taylor and Peter Van Doren examine the argument that environmental benefits make renewable fuels worth subsidizing, and find those arguments wanting.

Fuel-Efficiency Standards. Fuel-efficiency standards—aka Corporate Average Fuel Economy Standards (CAFE)—require automakers to achieve an overall fleet level of fuel efficiency for a given class. One way of meeting that standard is to make cars lighter than they otherwise would be. Studies have shown that drivers of lighter cars are more likely to die in car accidents than drivers of heavier cars. According to a report by the National Research Council in 2002, CAFE standards were responsible for between 1,300 and 2,600 extra fatalities in automobile crashes.

The Competitive Enterprise Institute has played a key role in drawing attention to CAFE’s deadly consequences. Sam Kazman has the latest CEI commentary on the issue, in which he notes the immutability of the size/safety relationship: “No matter what fuel-saving technologies we put into the car of the future, adding weight to that car will both lower its fuel efficiency and increase its safety.” Eric Peters of the National Center for Public Policy Research, and Diana Furchtgott Roth of the Hudson Institute have also written about the issue recently. The National Center for Public Policy Research has a good survey of literature on the issue as well.

Appliance Mandates. As with fuel-efficiency mandates for automobiles, mandating greater energy efficiency for household appliances can compromise the performance of those products. For example, in a recent survey, Consumer Reports found that today’s top-loading washing machines perform less well than older models. The reason: Since January of this year, washing machines have been subject to higher energy-efficiency standards. CEI makes the point in a funny way.

Anti-Price-Gouging. Basic economics teaches that a transaction occurs only when both parties to a transaction benefit. The price at which a transaction occurs, therefore, is a price that leaves both parties better off than they would have been without the transaction. This fact should make policymakers wary of questioning the validity of prices generally, even those prices arrived at during an emergency.  In a classic piece for The Freeman, Don Boudreaux comments on why price signals are especially important during a time of emergency: “… the fact that is unfortunate is not the higher price; it’s the underlying reality reflected by the higher price. That a natural disaster destroyed supplies and supply lines is indeed unfortunate. But this is the reality. Because, as Thomas Sowell reminds us, reality is not optional, we ought to deal with it as best as we can.” If prices reflect an underlying reality during both an emergency and a non-emergency situation, then how exactly is price gouging different from normal pricing behavior? Iain Murray says there is no such thing as price gouging. Ben Lieberman agrees and notes that the government agency that would be charged with enforcing a law against price gouging, the Federal Trade Commission, has no enthusiasm for the prospect. In fact, the FTC, has said: “Our examination of the federal gasoline price gouging legislation that has been introduced … indicates that the offense of price gouging is difficult to define. … the lack of consensus on which conduct should be prohibited could yield a federal statute that would leave businesses with little guidance on how to comply and would run counter to consumers’ best interest.” Bill Peacock and Margo Thorning of the Texas Public Policy Foundation concur and add the observation that “the very expectation of price controls would tend to discourage refinery investment, resulting in tighter capacity at all times.”

Posted on 06/21/07 06:37 PM by Alex Adrianson

The Best Paycheck Protection: Make Unions Voluntary

Last week, the Supreme Court upheld a Washington state law that limited the use of union dues for politics. In an article today at National Review Online, James Bopp says the decision in Davenport v. Washington Education Association gives us only the second-best world; the first-best world would be one in which workers are not compelled to join a union and pay dues in the first place.

Posted on 06/19/07 04:18 PM by Alex Adrianson

Huber: First Amendment Trumps Privacy

Peter Huber on Google’s street cams:

If you’re thinking that they just can’t do that, that you’ve got a constitutional right to privacy, you’re dead wrong. The search-and-seizure clauses of the Fourth Amendment protect you from the police, not from your neighbor. The First Amendment, by contrast, gives your neighbor a near absolute right to use digital gadgets to engage in digital speech—ask any pornographer. And nothing in the Constitution bars the FBI from logging on to the Web to enjoy YouTube and pizza along with the rest of us. The feds can’t actively enlist us in certain kinds of snooping. But they sure can sit back and enjoy Google’s show.

Many people have the naive idea that the First Amendment doesn’t protect Google. But it certainly does. And, in any event, the tiny trickles of video from Google’s own cameras are already dwarfed by private feeds from billions of little-guy cameras. The Supreme Court isn’t going to trim the First Amendment just because your neighbor can now compete with NBC.

Posted on 06/19/07 03:35 PM by Alex Adrianson

G-Man Interviews Monckton

Listen to G. Gordon Liddy interview Lord Christopher Monckton (the guy Al Gore won’t debate). Monckton and Liddy review some of the numerous errors and misconceptions in the global warming debate.

Posted on 06/19/07 12:16 PM by Alex Adrianson

WikiFoia

If you follow freedom of information issues, you may want to visit WikiFoia from time to time. A project of the Lucy Burn Institute, WikiFoia has aggregated a lot of information about open records laws and how to use them. The site offers separate pages for each state, making it easy to pinpoint the information you need.

And, as the “Wiki” in the name suggests, the site allows users to edit pages and add information. So if you have FOIA related news or information, the sites creators want you to share it.

Also, there is a companion State Sunshine and Open Records blog.

Posted on 06/19/07 10:35 AM by Alex Adrianson

This Week on the Hill, June 18, 2007

Some important issues to be taken up by Congress this week include immigration, energy, union organizing, and, of course, spending.

Immigration. Comprehensive immigration reform (S. 1348) is back, this time with an extra $4.4 billion for border security enhancements. But, according to James Jay Carafano, the extra funding is just a political ploy with no relation to sound policy. “It is difficult to imagine how current government efforts could absorb significant additional funds and allocate them effectively,” says Carafano.

Extra spending can’t help a bill that already puts $2.6 trillion in future obligations on the backs of the American taxpayers. Contrary to the claims of administration spokesmen, says Robert Rector, “over time nearly all amnesty recipients would be offered legal permanent residence and access to more than 60 federal means-tested welfare programs.”

Instead of trying to revive a “grand bargain,” say Carafano and Matt Spalding, the administration should adopt reasonable enforcement measures and embrace incremental reforms such as creating a flexible temporary worker program, and making legal immigration more attractive by improving Immigration Services.

For additional research, see Heritage’s immigration page.

Energy. The Senate will take up an energy bill (S. 1419) that, according to Ben Lieberman, makes a home for just about every bad energy idea floating around Washington. Lieberman says the bill will make gas more expensive and lead to shortages; it will make appliances, automobiles, and food more expensive; and it will decrease consumer choice.

Spending. Appropriations bills are moving through the House. The Energy and Water, Legislative Branch, and State and Foreign Operations bills may reach the House floor later this week. How much pork will the bills contain? According to Brian Riedl, there may be as much as $23 billion.

Union organizing. The Senate is set to consider a bill already passed by the House that would change the way unions are formed. Currently, workers vote in a secret ballot election on whether to form a union. The House bill would replace secret-ballot elections with a procedure known as card check. Under card-check rules, the Department of Labor would have to certify a union as soon as 50 percent plus one of workers have signed cards pledging support for a union. This procedure, as James Sherk and Paul Kersey note, gives workers no protection against intimidation from union organizers. Sherk and Kersey also debunk the argument of the unions that the card-check procedure is needed to protect workers from unfair practices by companies. Data from the National Labor Relations Board show that violations by companies are rare and that accusations of such are investigated promptly.

For additional research, see Heritage’s card check page.

Posted on 06/18/07 05:33 PM by Alex Adrianson

Heads Up: Countering Sicko

Michael Moore has been getting lots of attention with his documentary Sicko which claims, among other things, that Cuba’s socialist health system is better than that of the United States. Moore’s agitprop unfortunately will be grist for those who want even more government-run health care here.

Next week, the alternative idea on fixing health care—getting the government out of the way and letting market forces work—will be showcased in a couple of venues. On Tuesday, Star Parker will take her turn as a potential replacement for Rosie O’Donnell on The View. The guest for The View that day will be none other than Michael Moore. Sources close to Parker say that she is confirmed as a guest host and briefed up on health care. We’ve heard Star before and all we have to say is watch out Michael Moore. This should make for good TV. Set your TiVOs!

And on Thursday, Cato will show dueling movie clips from Sicko and from the Moving Pictures Institute, which has put together some shorts explaining the problems with government-run health care.

It should be an interesting week for health care issues.

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

The Coming Week

Monday: Confab with Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and lots of young conservative leaders on the rooftop of the Heritage Foundation.

Monday: Learn whether Sarbanes-Oxley is impairing corporate risk-taking at the American Enterprise Institute.

Monday – Thursday: Get the latest strategies for promoting pro-life reforms at the Americans United for Life Legal Institute in Chicago.

Tuesday: Hear Stephen Bainbridge discuss his book The Complete Guide to Sarbanes-Oxley: Understanding How Sarbanes-Oxley Affects Your Business. The Manhattan Institute hosts Prof. Bainbridge at New York’s Century Club.

Wednesday: Assess the state of the market for parental controls over media. The Progress & Freedom Foundation launches Adam Thierer’s new book Parental Controls and Online Child Protection: A Survey of Tools & Methods at the National Press Club.

Wednesday: Find out who killed health care with author Regina Herzlinger and the National Center for Policy Analysis.

Wednesday: Make sense of single life in the 21st century with author Jennifer A. Marshall at The Heritage Foundation.

Thursday: Catch some health care on film. The Cato Institute offers dueling clips from the documentaries of Michael Moore and Stuart Browning as a launching pad for discussion of health care system failures, both domestic and foreign.

Friday: Find out who owns your health care at a Cato Institute Capitol Hill briefing.

Friday: Learn about the life and legacy of Russell Kirk at The Heritage Foundation.

Saturday: Smoke, drink, and shoot stuff at the Independence Institute’s 5th Annual Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms Party in Bennett, Colorado.

Posted on 06/15/07 03:49 PM by Alex Adrianson

Heritage on Video

Heritage in Focus: Ben Lieberman lays out the ways that expanded ethanol requirements would raise gas prices … Christine Kim looks at the importance of fathers … Brian Reidl says let the free market work in agriculture … Brian Darling discusses what’s next for immigration reform.

At Heritage: Phil Kent on the destructiveness of the liberal super-rich … identifying the origin of big government … a look at U.S.-Baltic relations … a roundtable on Communism’s crimes.

Posted on 06/15/07 03:47 PM by Alex Adrianson

News You Might Have Missed

Green—the new brown. According to a report by Cybercast News Service, 60 percent of the country’s ethanol refineries have been cited for environmental violations in the past three years, with most of those violations involving state or federal clean air laws.

Study confirms: Scientists shouldn’t be politicians. A new study, reports NewScientist.com, claims that people enjoy paying taxes more than they admit. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, scientists found that the pleasures centers in people’s brains respond positively when they are presented with hypothetical scenarios requiring them to pay taxes. The same study, however, found that the pleasure response was even stronger for scenarios involving donating to charity.

Ideas on obesity: Put the parents in jail, flunk the kids. According to Scotsman.com, Dr. Matthew Capehorn said he intends to put before the British Medical Association a motion that would call on authorities to treat obesity as grounds for intervention by child protection authorities. Meanwhile, New Jersey’s Office of Health and Senior Services is considering adding an assessment of students’ Body Mass Indexes to their reports cards. The American Council on Science and Health says schools should give parents more information, but the report card idea oversimplifies the problem. In any case, says ACSH: “There’s a reason report cards include math, science, and English, not tooth-brushing, sleeping, and weight (despite their undoubted significance for a child’s health).”

Where’s the love? Washington Times:The words ‘natural family,’ ‘marriage’ and ‘union of a man and a woman’ can be punished as ‘hate speech’ in government workplaces, according to a lawsuit that is being appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Everyone deserves choices. The fifth legal challenge to an Arizona program offering school choice for special needs and foster children has been denied by the Maricopa County Superior Court. Judge Bethany Hicks ruled that the state’s voucher program does not violate the Arizona constitution. Said Institute for Justice’s Tim Keller: “It is time for opponents of genuine education reform to get the message and stop these frivolous legal battles.  All our clients want is a good education that meets their children’s unique needs.”

Report: Zimbabwe on verge of collapse. According to the BBC, a report prepared for aid workers in Zimbabwe predicts that within six months the country will have no functional government and economic transactions will occur only through barter. Zimbabwe’s inflation is 3,714 percent and business quotes are good for only a matter of hours.

Socialism equals sacrifice. Hugo Chavez issues new requirements for joining his political party, as reported by Reuters: “Anyone owning a refrigerator he does not use should take it to Bolívar Square. Anyone owning a truck he does not need, a fan, a stove, anything, should give it away. Do not be selfish. I am demanding this!”

Who needs the fairness doctrine? Broward County, reports Sun-Sentinel.com, briefly flirted with the idea of canceling its contract for providing emergency communications services to the county—flood warnings, and such. The reason: The station, WIOD-AM, offered too much conservative fare, like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hanity. Said Stacy Ritter of the County Commission: “They have every right to speak, but we don’t have to do business with them.” Heritage’s James Gattuso responds: “How thoughtful. I know when I’m looking for disaster information, I’ll want it to be from someone who is in step with my area’s politics.”

Posted on 06/15/07 03:43 PM by Alex Adrianson

A Small Memorial for the Victims of a Gigantic Crime

Photo by Andrew Blasko

The nation’s capital has a lot of monuments and memorials. This week it has one more—and it’s a must see. In a small plot bounded by New Jersey Avenue, NW, Massachusetts Avenue, NW, and G Street, NW, sits a modest statue—modest, certainly, compared to the object of its remembrance, the approximately 100 million people murdered by Communism in the last century. The Victims of Communism Memorial, dedicated earlier this week, stands apart. Perhaps more than any other monument in town, it directs our attention to the consequences of an idea—in this case, the idea of force marching humanity into utopia at the point of a gun. It’s a lesson for everyone to ponder, and so the memorial is one for everyone to see.

We all have Heritage’s own Lee Edwards to thank for bringing the monument about. Well done, Lee.

Posted on 06/15/07 02:39 PM by Alex Adrianson

Vaclav Klaus: Environmentalism a Threat to Freedom

Says the president of the Czech Republic in yesterday’s Financial Times:

As someone who lived under communism for most of his life, I feel obliged to say that I see the biggest threat to freedom, democracy, the market economy and prosperity now in ambitious environmentalism, not in communism. This ideology wants to replace the free and spontaneous evolution of mankind by a sort of central (now global) planning.

The environmentalists ask for immediate political action because they do not believe in the long-term positive impact of economic growth and ignore both the technological progress that future generations will undoubtedly enjoy, and the proven fact that the higher the wealth of society, the higher is the quality of the environment.

Posted on 06/14/07 06:04 PM by Alex Adrianson

A Blow Against Compelled Speech

The Supreme Court today ruled unanimously that states may require unions to get permission from workers before spending union dues on politics. The ruling in Davenport v. Washington Education Association means that the state’s teachers and other workers covered by public collective bargaining arrangements may ask for a refund of their portion of union dues spent on political purposes.

The Washington State Supreme Court had struck down Washington’s so-called paycheck protection law as an unconstitutional infringement on the First Amendment rights of unions. In today’s decision, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that since the right to collect dues from non-members is an extraordinary privilege that states grant to unions, the state may also establish restrictions on the use of those dues.

The Seattle Times has more coverage.

The Evergreen Freedom Foundation has led the way in fighting the problem of compelled speech via compulsory unionization, and the group played a key role in this case in particular. EFF has set up a Web page containing lots of resources on the issues in this case.

Go read the decision, too.

Posted on 06/14/07 03:36 PM by Alex Adrianson

Get Ready for the Farm Bill

The next Farm Bill is coming. Congress will have to reauthorize farm programs this year. Here are some recent resources for understanding the issues.

If you want to know who actually gets farm subsidies, see the Environmental Working Group’s latest Farm Subsidy Database, just released yesterday. The database allows you to search recipients of farm subsidies by name, county, state, congressional district, etcetera. This year’s database names names even more thoroughly than previous versions. EWG made use of previously unpublished USDA data on pass-through arrangements that shielded the identities of individual recipients.

The American Enterprise Institute’s collection of papers, The 2007 Farm Bill and Beyond, examines the economic impacts of farm programs. The papers include the following bits of information:

  • Elimination of farm subsidies for corn, wheat, and soybeans would have virtually no effect on the production or prices of these commodities. These subsidies are, in effect, “money for nothing.”
  • Farm households earn an average of 20 percent more than the average American household. The average income of commercial-scale farms—which receive almost all farm subsidies—is more than three times that of the average household.
  • Farm households are also wealthier than the average American household. The median net worth of farm households in 2005 was estimated at $460,000, close to five times the estimated $92,000 for all U.S. households.

And in Freeing the Farm: A Farm Bill for All Americans, Cato’s Sallie James and Dan Griswold say that the next farm bill will be an opportunity to get cheaper food for Americans, reduce the fiscal burden of farm programs on taxpayers, and advance America’s interest in free trade abroad. To get there, James and Griswold propose that income support programs and trade barriers be replaced with “buyout” payments and “concrete steps to ensure the changes are permanent.”

See also Farm Subsidies for Billionaires from the Heritage Policy blog.

Posted on 06/13/07 05:51 PM by Alex Adrianson

Helping Africa: Lack of Money Isn’t the Problem

One Vote ’08 launched yesterday. It’s a campaign to get U.S. presidential candidates to commit to fighting disease and poverty in Africa. Addressing those problems is a very worthy aim, and the organizers should be commended for it. They certainly have some bi-partisan support, with former Senators Tom Daschle (D) and Bill Frist (R) onboard.

Hopefully, a part of the push to help Africa will involve making an effort to understand where the problems in Africa come from in the first place, and a good place to start is understanding how foreign aid can and has made things worse. James Shikwati, a Kenyan, and Andrew Mwenda, a Ugandan, are two good people to listen to on this topic. At the recent Technology, Entertainment, Design conference in Tanzania, both Shikwati and Mwenda made the case that aid provides the wrong incentives to Africans. Mwenda says that foreign aid convinces the brightest Africans to work for corrupt governments. Shikwati, meanwhile, says Africans need to develop confidence as entrepreneurs, something that aid forestalls.

Mwenda has also written on this theme. In a 2006 paper for the Cato Institute, he wrote that

most of Africa’s problems are internal, not external, and concern domestic policies and institutions. Until those internal problems are addressed, no amount of Western assistance will bring Africa out of poverty. In fact, Western assistance could postpone much-needed reforms in the way that African countries are governed.

And in his 2006 lecture at the Heritage Foundation—titled How Will Greater Foreign Aid Help the Poor This Time?—William Easterly describes how the problem of bad incentives extends to the aid industry itself. Instead of grandiose plans such as the U.N. Millenium Development Goals, Easterly asks: “[W]hy doesn’t somebody just get held accountable for getting 10-cent medicine to babies?”

It seems that to help Africa, emotional appeals to our better angels and such need to be tempered with insight into the important role of incentives in driving human behavior.

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

Mapping the Need for Reform

Using data from its Doing Business project, the World Bank has made a map showing how difficult it is to run a business in different countries. Clicking on a country’s marker gives you a display of the country’s overall and component scores.

Last year, Heritage incorporated data from the Doing Business project into its Index of Economic Freedom. The data are now used to calculate the Business Freedom component of the Index.

Posted on 06/12/07 10:29 AM by Alex Adrianson

The 2008 Budget: Just the Facts—Graphically

Got a blank wall to decorate in your office? Or do you really like graphical representations of data? Check out the recently released 2008 Death and Taxes Poster.

Posted on 06/11/07 01:59 PM by Alex Adrianson

Congress at Work

Congress is a great source of useless information. Here’s a gem:

According to a resolution to be considered in the House of Representatives, this year marks the 50th anniversary of the beginnings of marinas, power production, recreation, and boating on Lake Sidney Lanier, Georgia. The bill (H. Res. 354), which does nothing more than to recognize the foregoing statement, was introduced by Rep. Nathan Deal (R.-Ga.). Thanks Nathan!

Posted on 06/11/07 12:43 PM by Alex Adrianson

Shikwati: For God’s Sake, Please Just Stop

James Shikwati, interviewed by SpiegelOnline, comments on the plans of the G8 to expand aid to Africa

Shikwati: … If the industrial nations really want to help the Africans, they should finally terminate this awful aid. The countries that have collected the most development aid are also the ones that are in the worst shape. Despite the billions that have poured in to Africa, the continent remains poor.

SPIEGEL: Do you have an explanation for this paradox?

Shikwati: Huge bureaucracies are financed (with the aid money), corruption and complacency are promoted, Africans are taught to be beggars and not to be independent. In addition, development aid weakens the local markets everywhere and dampens the spirit of entrepreneurship that we so desperately need. As absurd as it may sound: Development aid is one of the reasons for Africa’s problems. If the West were to cancel these payments, normal Africans wouldn’t even notice. Only the functionaries would be hard hit. Which is why they maintain that the world would stop turning without this development aid.

Addendum: Note: This interview is from 2005. Still good stuff, and, unfortunately, still relevant.

Posted on 06/11/07 11:23 AM by Alex Adrianson

The Coming Week

Monday: Examine how biologics may require different regulatory treatment than pharmaceuticals at the American Enterprise Institute.

Tuesday: Help remember the victims of Communism by attending the dedication ceremony of the Victims of Communism Memorial.

Tuesday: Hear a roundtable discussion on the human toll of Communism at the Heritage Foundation.

Wednesday: Take in an overview of the Middle East with Daniel Pipes hosted by the Pacific Research Institute.

Thursday: Stay up to date on the latest in health care policy by attending the Washington Policy Center’s Fifth Annual Health Care Conference, Co-presented by Premera Blue Cross.

Thursday: Learn about the role of markets in health care at the National Press Club, sponsored by the Galen Institute.

Saturday: Examine the roots of American order at the Intercollegiate Studies Institute.

Posted on 06/08/07 04:08 PM by Alex Adrianson

Heritage on Video

Heritage in Focus: Lisa Curtis provides a strategy for changing global perceptions of the United States … Ariel Cohen reflects on the lessons of Israel’s Six-Day War on the events 40th anniversary … Mike Franc lays out the problems with the rushing the immigration bill … Ariel Cohen considers the state of U.S.-Russian affairs … James Jay Carafano predicts three stupid things that will be said regarding the JFK terror plot … Israel Ortega examines rhetoric and reality in the immigration debate.

At Heritage: A look at visa waiver reform with Sen. George Voinovich … Douglas Brinkley on The Reagan DiariesAmity Shlaes’s account of why the Great Depression was so great and long … Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson’s take on U.S.-China relations … a look at the Navy’s aging fleet of aircraft.

Posted on 06/08/07 03:42 PM by Alex Adrianson

Sen. Coburn: Senate Heal Thyself

On Monday, the Senate will take up a resolution (S.J. Res. 14) expressing no confidence in Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) has introduced an amendment (no. 1491) to that resolution that expresses no confidence in Congress’s ability to handle fiscal policy. Specifically, the amendment states  

that Congress neither has the will nor the desire to cut frivolous, excessive, or wasteful spending and therefore the American people should have no confidence in Congress or its members to balance the budget or protect the long term financial solvency of Social Security, Medicare of the Nation itself.

Coburn had previously stated his intent to introduce such an amendment in a May letter to Republican Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (Ky.). In that letter he explained:

Experts point out that the most important step an addict can take is to first admit you have a problem. It is obvious to everyone that Congress has a big problem. It’s time that we finally admit it and take responsibility. Unfortunately, the Senate has twice this year rejected amendments that expressed the sense of the Senate that Congress has a moral obligation to offset the cost of new Government programs and initiatives. Our national can not afford for the Senate to live in such a state of denial.

It is hypocritical for the Senate to grand stand for political purposes while ignoring its own shortcomings that threaten the solvency of Social Security and Medicare and the standard of living of future generations.

It may not be what Congress wants, but Dr. Coburn has prescribed a course of self-help.

Posted on 06/08/07 12:37 PM by Alex Adrianson

Bono Tells Ugandan Journalist: You Don’t Know How to Fix Africa

A conference in rural Tanzania has produced a noteworthy contretemps involving pop star Bono over whether self-help or foreign aid is the best approach to helping Africa. MIT’s Technology Review blog reports that many speakers at the Technology, Entertainment, Design conference echoed the theme “that traditional aid and charity, whether distributed by nation-states or nongovernmental bodies, have failed.” The report continues:

Andrew Mwenda, a Ugandan journalist and social worker, now a fellow at Stanford, made the case most strongly. He argued convincingly that 30 years of Western aid to Africa has achieved nothing at all. More, he said that the persistence of African poverty could be explained, in part, by aid. He explained that aid had convinced the brightest Africans to work for corrupt governments rather than as entrepreneurs, and it had “distorted the incentive structure.”

“What man or nation,” Mwenda asked, “has ever become rich by holding out a begging bowl?”

Far better, he said, is finding Westerners to invest in African entrepreneurs or businesses, which would create wealth. Mwenda, like other speakers, described at length the investment opportunities in Africa. ...

This line of argument enraged Bono, however, who began heckling Mwenda.

“Bollocks!” he shouted. “That’s bull****.”

Bono is a strong supporter of intelligently managed aid. When it came his turn to speak, he said that Ireland’s current prosperity is explained by government investment in its people, particularly education. He said that listening to Mwenda was like listening to an African Margaret Thatcher.

It’s worth noting in passing that not everyone agrees with Bono’s interpretation of Ireland’s success either. In a paper for the Heritage Foundation, Sean Dorgan argues that low taxes and openness to international trade are two of the key policies, in addition to education investment, that have led to Ireland’s success. And Benjamin Powell reaches similar conclusions in a report for the Goldwater Institute.

Update: Benjamin Powell has a paper trail on Ireland, having also written previously for Cato on the subject. See his article Economic Freedom and Growth: The Case of the Celtic Tiger, Cato Journal, Winter 2003.

Posted on 06/08/07 11:56 AM by Alex Adrianson

News You Might Have Missed

A free market in ticket brokerage. New York has ended price controls on the markups that brokers can add to tickets. In laymen’s terms: Ticket scalping is now legal. Greg Mankiw quips:Now that we have set the market free for Yankee tickets, how about other, less crucial commodities, like housing and kidneys?”

Germany Shrugged. High taxes are inducing so many skilled Germans to leave the country that German emigration has reached a 60-year high, reports The Independent. For the first time since the 1950s, more people emigrant from than immigrate to Germany. (Via Cato@Liberty.)

Public health comes to the Internet. An Internet security expert, reports Wired, has proposed that the federal government set up and fund free clinics that would treat “zombie” computers—those taken over by malicious code and used for criminal purposes. Another proposal put forth at a conference on electronic crime includes requiring computer users to get an Internet “drivers” license, have “botnet” insurance, and have their machines inspected regularly. Yet another attendee said the federal government needs to provide financial incentives for ISPs to be more aggressive in taking down botnets. Zombies, of course, are the tough case for solutions based on individual liberty and limited government.

Is indecency regulation becoming obsolescent? The ruling of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in Fox Television Stations v. Federal Communications Commission—which overturned sanctions against Fox for airing brief expletives on live television—contains some pointed language suggesting that the constitutional legitimacy of indecency regulation is eroding. Said the court: “The proliferation of satellite and cable television channels—not to mention internet-based video outlets—has begun to erode the “uniqueness” of broadcast media, while at the same time, blocking technologies such as the V-chip have empowered viewers to make their own choices about what they do, and do not, want to see on television. If the Playboy decision is any guide, technological advances may obviate the constitutional legitimacy of the FCC’s robust oversight.” (Via Adam Thierer.)

Doctors to police bad habits in Britain. Britain’s National Health Service, reports the Daily Mail, has started requiring patients to quite smoking at least four weeks before receiving surgery or face longer waits for procedures. A spokesman for the National Health Service says the policy is intended to improve outcomes for patients. Critics say the policy is just intended to save money. Smokers take longer to recover and cost more to treat. In order to enforce the policy, doctors will have to order patients to take a blood test to prove they have not been smoking.

Urban sprawl cited as a cause of global warming. Opening up a new front against global warming, California Attorney General Jerry Brown has sued San Bernardino Country for failing to include steps to reduce global warming in its growth plans. Reports USA Today:If the suit is successful, California cities and counties could be forced to take steps to limit sprawl, promote compact development, require builders to design energy-efficient houses that offer solar power, and encourage less driving, more mass transit and use of alternative fuels.”

NBA Finals produce a lesson in federalism. Celebrating the Cleveland Cavaliers successful run to the NBA finals may cost the state of Ohio millions in federal highway money, reports the Associated Press. A banner ad for Nike, hung from the side of a building in downtown Cleveland, features a picture of Cavs star Lebron James and the words “We Are All Witnesses.” The Ohio Department of Transportation had asked the banner’s owner to reduce the size of the banner or remove it because it runs afoul of federal highway guidelines on the size of ads near federal highways. Gov. Ted Strickland (D), however, has intervened, instructing the Ohio DOT to cease efforts to have the sign removed. Failure to enforce the federal standards could lead to the state being penalized by losing 10 percent of its federal highway funds—about $130 million.

Posted on 06/08/07 10:31 AM by Alex Adrianson

What a Commencement Address Should Be

Many dreadful commencement addresses will be delivered this season by actors, authors and cartoonists.  A wonderful antidote is the commencement address delivered by Terrence Moore, principal of Ridgeview Classical School in Fort Collins, Colorado to the graduating class of 2007.  Terrence was our Salvatori Prize winner from 2006, and Ridgeview is recognized as one of the top charter schools in the country, and the best high school in Colorado. It’s not hard to understand why when you read his address.  (Ridgeview’s Web site.)

An excerpt:

A liberal education is not just an attempt to put a lot of fancy information into our heads. A liberal education is an effort to strengthen our souls so that we may do noble deeds throughout our lives.

You see, there is all the difference in the world between reading to attain erudition and reading to form a plan of action. The first sort of reader will look at Aristotle’s Ethics and learn that Aristotle said this and that about virtue and happiness. This reader may be able to say a lot of clever things about how much Aristotle agreed or disagreed with his teacher Plato and how both of these philosophers compare to modern philosophers. The second, active reader studies Aristotle’s account of the great-souled man so that he may himself become great-souled, so he may become the man who in Aristotle’s words “thinks himself worthy of great things and is really worthy of them.” Such a reader does not just learn the definitions of, but labors to acquire the great virtues: prudence, courage, temperance, and justice. Acquiring those virtues is the end for Aristotle. As he tells us in the first book of the Ethics, “The purpose of our examination is not to know what virtue is, but to become good, since otherwise the inquiry would be of no benefit to us.” The Scriptures put this same sentiment even more succinctly and more poetically into the imperative: “Go thou and do likewise.” This sort of reading, this reading for action, equips us, encourages us, ennobles us to do good in the world.

—Bridgett Wagner

Posted on 06/08/07 09:37 AM by Alex Adrianson

A Radical Proposal: Legislate Less

The Mackinac Center’s Ken Braun identifies Michigan’s problem: a legislature with too much time to legislate. Braun writes:

Michigan lawmakers receive a $79,650 annual salary, plus an additional $12,000 expense account. According to the National Council of State Legislatures, Michigan has the second-highest paid legislators in America. Well over half the states pay lawmakers less than half of what Michigan does. Some much less than that: New Hampshire pays $200 for a two-year term, Alabama $10 per session day, and New Mexiconothing (just expenses).

Michigan is one of a dozen or so states with a full-time Legislature. There is no evidence that it needs to be full time or that we are better governed than the part-time states. Texas, the second largest state in both people and geography, has part-time lawmakers and pays them just $7,200 annually.

It cost taxpayers $113.9 million for their Legislature in fiscal year 2006. This divides out to $167,000 per law passed and approximately $54,000 per bill introduced. We could do without much of this legislative activity. For example, last year a dozen bills designed to name or rename roadways after historical people, groups and politicians were pending in legislative committees. Seven received enough attention to become laws.

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

The Cost of Amnesty

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the immigration bill would boost federal tax revenues by $48 billion while costing the government only $43 billion over the first 10 years. Providing the rest of the story, both the Washington Times, and Heritage’s Robert Rector, point out that the real cost concerns lie beyond the CBO’s 10-year snapshot.

As Rector notes, under the proposed immigration plan “many illegal immigrants who are currently working ‘off the books’ and paying no direct taxes will begin to work ‘on the books’ after receiving amnesty, and therefore tax payments will rise immediately.” Meanwhile, says the Times,

[W]ith the exception of the earned-income tax credit and one smaller welfare program, illegal aliens granted amnesty under the bill do not become eligible to benefit from federally funded means-tested welfare programs until 2018 and beyond … . After 10 years, amnesty beneficiaries become eligible for nearly 60 taxpayer-subsidized programs ranging from food stamps to Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security.

Roughly 9 million adult illegal immigrants will be given amnesty under the bill; 7 to 8 million of them will live to retirement age. When this occurs, 30 to 35 years from now, they will receive from the taxpayer an average of $17,000 a year in benefits above and beyond the taxes they pay. When amnesty recipients retire, the situation becomes much worse for the taxpayer: these people will pay approximately $5,000 a year in taxes and receive approximately $37,000 in benefits. The total net cost of the amnesty over the next three to four decades will be approximately $2.5 trillion, estimates Heritage Foundation scholar Robert Rector, who has done pioneering work in analyzing the effect of low-skilled immigrants on taxpayers.

Posted on 06/07/07 01:48 PM by Alex Adrianson

Stossel v. Economic Illiteracy

At Human Events, John Stossel takes on the media’s economic illiteracy over gas prices. He notes that prices are not, as claimed, at an all time high. When adjusted for inflation, prices today are still below the high reached in 1981.

And as for the idea that profit is a dirty word, Stossel advises the oil companies thus:

I wish the oil executives would face the media. They could say something like:

What are you complaining about? What do you think we do with our profits? Buy fancy cars and homes? Well, we do, actually, but nearly all the money goes to looking for more oil and following environmental rules that you want us to follow. You should want us to make more profit. Anyway, we make less profit per gallon than your beloved government takes in taxes.

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

Oklahoma Opens Its Books to Citizens

The National Taxpayers Union reports, happily, that Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry (D) has signed into law a bill that will create an online searchable database of government spending. The database, which is supposed to be operational by January 1, 2008, should make it easier for Oklahoma citizens to know how the state government is spending their money. The database will include all state government expenditures—not just contracts and grants, as other such Web sites, including one created by the federal government, have done.

Last month, Minnesota and Kansas passed similar legislation. According to NTU, Oklahoma’s initiative makes it three states down and 47 to go. You can track progress on transparency initiatives at ShowMetheSpending.org.

Posted on 06/06/07 05:18 PM by Alex Adrianson

Not Too Late for 2007 Bastiat Entries—Yet

Do you have a published work that eloquently and wittily elucidates the institutions of a free society? Or do you know a writer who has such work?

The entry deadline for the International Policy Network’s $15,000 Bastiat Prize is coming up: June 30, 2007. Enter or remind eligible writers to enter before it’s too late!

Posted on 06/05/07 05:46 PM by Alex Adrianson

Traveling with Tuberculosis: Who Failed?

Ignoring the Centers for Disease Control can get you branded as a bad guy in the media, as both Andrew Speaker and a Customs agent at the Canadian border have discovered. But Elizabeth Whelan makes the case that the responsibility for Speaker’s predicament lies largely with the CDC which failed to give Speaker timely information about his condition before he departed the United States, and then failed to help him find a way home once it became clear that Speaker had the drug-resistant variety of TB.

Whelan also notes that the Fulton County Health Department instructed Speaker not to leave the country by sending a letter to his house that did not arrive until after he had already left for his wedding and honeymoon.

Whelan concludes:

Mr. Speaker remains confined to a Denver hospital now under an isolation order from the state of Colorado. Given the repeated assertions of the “experts” at the CDC that he was non-infectious even before treatment, I wonder if this confinement is merely the continuation of the overkill approach that various public health officials have taken since this incident became public.

I said it before, and I'll say it again: Free Andrew. It’s time for the honeymoon to continue.

Posted on 06/05/07 05:22 PM by Alex Adrianson

CBO on the Immigration Bill

From the Washington Times:

The Senate’s immigration bill will cut annual illegal immigration by just 25 percent, and the bill’s new guest-worker program could lead to at least 500,000 more illegal aliens within a decade, Congress’ accounting arm said yesterday.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said in its official cost estimate that many guest workers will overstay their time in the plan, with the number totaling a half-million in 2017 and reaching 1 million a decade later.

Posted on 06/05/07 11:14 AM by Alex Adrianson

Muslim Assimilation

Irshad Manji says a recent survey by the Pew Research Center provides a largely positive view of Muslim assimilation in the United States. According to Pew:

  • Seventy-one percent of Muslim Americans believe most people in the United States “can make it if they are willing to work hard.” 
  • Seventy-three percent of Muslims say they have never been discriminated against in the United States.
  • Most Muslims have close friends who are non-Muslims.
  • More than half of Muslims in the United States identify themselves as Americans first.

By contrast, says Manji, Muslims in Europe face discrimination in employment, subsist largely on welfare, and face secular contempt toward their faith—circumstances that induce many to fall under the sway of radical clerics.

Posted on 06/04/07 03:43 PM by Alex Adrianson

Beware the “Danger du Jour” Approach

Over the weekend, authorities discovered a terrorist plot to attack the pipelines that ferry fuel to John F. Kennedy airport in New York City. James Jay Carafano predicts what comes next:

Without a doubt, some in Congress will want to hold hearings on pipeline safety and then create another cash-cow homeland-security grant to upgrade security.

The “danger du jour” approach to protecting the homeland could not be more wrongheaded. After the Madrid and London bombings, Congress wanted to throw billions more toward homeland-security grants. This penchant for chasing the latest threat makes no sense. The United States is a vast and populous nation with an infinite number of vulnerabilities. If Congress wants to spend billions of dollars to eliminate one of these vulnerabilities, then there will be infinity minus one.

The most effective way to counter terrorism is to find the terrorists before they strike. Since the attacks of 9/11, U.S. law enforcement has broken up at least 16 potential terrorist plots inside country, counting this latest one. Continued emphasis on law enforcement and intelligence that uncover and interdict schemes before they can be carried out is the cost-effective way to stop terrorist attacks.

Posted on 06/04/07 02:02 PM by Alex Adrianson

The Experts Have It Figured Out

What’s the optimal tax on carbon emissions—i.e. what rate of taxation would get consumers to internalize fully the costs that their energy consumption imposes on society? As Iain Murray reports, there’s quite a range of estimates of the social costs of carbon emissions. At the high end, the Stern review implies carbon taxes that would cost the average American family $1,697 per year. At the low end, the appropriate carbon tax would dent the average American family’s wallet to the tune of $98 per year.

Posted on 06/04/07 11:37 AM by Alex Adrianson

Links, June 1, 2007

There haven’t been any updates this week because I am on vacation. However, here are some recent links that I find interesting:

No More the Hopeless Continent by Nicky Oppenheimer, International Herald Tribune

The Legal Visa Crunch, Wall Street Journal

Hidden Rations, Why Poor Kids Can’t Find a Dentist by Anne Alstott, Slate

That’s Enough Happynomics, Free Exchange

Chinese Activists Turn to Cell Phones, by Mitchell Landsberg, Los Angeles Times

Air Hostesses Told to Shed Weight, BBC News

John O’Sullivan Talks About the Cold War, Hoover Institution

The Double ‘Thank-You’ Moment by John Stossel, Human Events

Eric The Red Vs. Nancy The Green, Investor’s Business Daily

A Tank Full of Hypocrisy by Robert Samuelson, Washington Post

Making the Pain Worse by Ben Lieberman, Washington Times

Protests in Venezuela, Human Rights Foundation

Rules 'Hiding' Trillions in Debt by Dennis Cauchon, USA Today

Posted on 06/01/07 03:06 PM by Alex Adrianson

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