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InsiderOnline Blog: July 2007

Again with the Poor and Dumb Storyline?

The myth of the underprivileged solider has reared its head again, this time in a new book, AWOL: The Unexcused Absence of America’s Upper Classes from Military Serviceand How It Hurts Our Country by Kathy Roth-Douquet and Frank Schaeffer.

Heritage’s Tim Kane looked at this issue last fall and found that the numbers just don’t back up the claim that the burden of military service falls more heavily on the uneducated and the poor. His study found the opposite to be true, much to the embarrassment of folks who were claiming otherwise, like Sen. John Kerry, and Rep. Charles Rangel.

Kane reviews AWOL in the latest issue of Army Magazine, and finds that the book’s argument is based largely on the observation that some elite schools and neighborhoods are hostile to Army recruiting, as if that were evidence of elite underrepresentation.

This deeply flawed logic is woven into the fabric of every chapter and almost every page of AWOL: the assertion that America’s upper classes are not serving in uniform. “One class of Americans has been absent,” write Roth-Douquet and Schaeffer, yet they offer almost no facts or statistics other than passing reference. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq had just begun as the book was being written. At the time the myth of the underprivileged soldier was rampant in the media, and some members of Congress were calling for a draft. But recruiting data said otherwise. I published a study in 2006 showing that the average enlistee (not to mention officer) is from a wealthier neighborhood than the average civilian. Actually, the only class that is lowering its participation in the military is the poor. The percentage of recruits from the poorest fifth of U.S. neighborhoods declined from 18 percent in 1999 to 13.7 percent in 2005.

With such data available, the book’s conclusion that the all-volunteer force should be replaced with conscription looks irresponsible. Logically, using volunteers instead of draftees implies a higher quality recruit.

Sure, real data can be slog, but that’s no excuse for writing a whole book without any.

Posted on 07/31/07 05:25 PM by Alex Adrianson

The Lawyers Are Coming

Warns Stephen Bainbridge:

Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that the climate change phenomenon commonly called “global warming” exists and is being caused, at least in part, by human activity. Who is responsible? The only sensible answer is, everybody. We all contribute to the release of greenhouse gasses, as did our ancestors going back at least to the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

One would therefore think litigation is no more an appropriate response to global warming than litigation would be to any so-called “act of god.” One would be wrong.

Earlier this year, Texas trial lawyer Stephen Susman told the Dallas Morning News that “You’re going to see some really serious exposure on the part of companies that are emitting CO2.” He added, for good measure, that “I can’t say for sure it’s going to be as big as the tobacco settlements, but then again it may even be bigger.”

Bainbridge notes that some law firms are setting up units specializing in in suing companies and industries for releasing too much carbon dioxide.

If some companies have to pay now, will they get a refund when the next ice age comes around?

Posted on 07/31/07 03:30 PM by Alex Adrianson

Happy Birthday, Milton Friedman

Today is Milton Friedman’s 95th Birthday. To celebrate this great champion of freedom, the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation is co-sponsoring 50 events in 47 states and the District of Columbia. Here’s Robert Enlow, executive director of the Friedman Foundation:

And here is a very unique tribute to Dr. Friedman. Kathryn Mach sings “Free Market Woman” at the University of Chicago’s Graduate School of Business Follies 2007.

For Friedman himself, visit The Idea Channel, which is streaming Free to Choose.

Posted on 07/31/07 12:16 PM by Alex Adrianson

Unclassified Review: 98.84 Percent of Gitmo Prisoners a Threat

As critics press for shutting down the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, a report by the Combating Terrorism Center finds that 98.84 percent of prisoners held there pose at least some level of threat to the United States. The CTC finding is based on a review of unclassified files from the Combatant Status Review Tribunal (conducted by the Department of Defense in 2004 and 2005). Of 516 prisoners reviewed, the CTC found that for six prisoners there is no evidence they are a threat as an enemy combatant. The CTC notes, however, that it “does not know whether additional incriminating details on these six detainees are available in their respective classified files.” According to the review, “73% of the unclassified summaries meet the CTC’s highest threshold of a ‘demonstrated threat’ as an enemy combatant.”

Posted on 07/31/07 10:40 AM by Alex Adrianson

2007 World Freedom Summit

The International Society for Individual Liberty is hosting a conference that looks like a lot of fun. ISIL’s 2007 World Freedom Summit will celebrate the founding of Jamestown 400 years ago as well as plot the refounding of America. The summit, to be held in Williamsburg, Va.,  August 11 – 15, will feature actors portraying Thomas Jefferson and John Rolfe, who, in addition to marrying Pocahontas, was credited with bringing tobacco to Virginia. Scheduled speakers include Mark Skousen on Benjamin Franklin; John McClaughry, head of the Ethan Allen Institute; former Mongolian Prime Minister, Elbegdorj Tsakshia; and Franklin Cudjoe, director of the libertarian think tank Imani Ghana.

Posted on 07/30/07 04:44 PM by Alex Adrianson

Read Puzo to Understand Putin

More insight from fiction: For those who want to understand Vladimir Putin, Garry Kasparov recommends Mario Puzo:

The web of betrayals, the secrecy, the blurred lines between what is business, what is government, and what is criminal—it’s all there in Mr. Puzo’s books. A historian looks at the Kremlin today and sees elements of Mussolini’s “corporate state,” Latin American juntas and Mexico’s pseudo-democratic PRI machine. A Puzo fan sees the Putin government more accurately: the strict hierarchy, the extortion, the intimidation, the code of secrecy and, above all, the mandate to keep the revenue flowing. In other words, a mafia.

Update: Ilya Somin:

I don’t fully agree with Kasparov’s assessment. Putin’s regime is not “unique in history.” To the contrary, predatory regimes that combine corruption, repression, and skullduggery are all too common in the developing world. As I have noted in an earlier post, one of the main themes of The Godfather is that all government has a great deal in common with organized crime. Russia’s government is more Mafia-like than those of the West, but not more so than many other regimes elsewhere in the world.

All the more reason to read Puzo.

Posted on 07/30/07 02:38 PM by Alex Adrianson

On Loopholes

Congress is considering a variety of tax increases described by proponents as “fixing loopholes in the tax code.” Suppose for the sake of argument that there are legitimate fairness questions being addressed by these proposals (taxing carried interest as normal income, and subjecting private equity partnerships to corporate income taxes). Why must increasing taxes be the solution to an equity problem? If A and B deserve similar tax treatment, but A pays more than B, then cutting A’s taxes is just as much a solution as increasing B’s.

If inconsistencies in the tax code can be fixed only through increasing taxes, then anytime Congress makes a mistake in tax policy, it would be creating another excuse to raise taxes in the future. Is that the sort of incentive we want to give Congress?

Posted on 07/30/07 02:32 PM by Alex Adrianson

The Coming Week – Monday, July 30, 2007

Monday: Find out what’s next for immigration reform. Heritage hosts Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas).

Tuesday: Examine the role of government in a free society. The Intercollegiate Studies Institute hosts syndicated columnist Walter Williams.

Tuesday: Celebrate the 95th birthday of Milton Friedman by attending one of numerous events held around the country. Groups celebrating Milton Friedman’s life and accomplishments include Buckeye Institute, Commonwealth Foundation and the REACH Foundation, Ethan Allen Institute, Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, The Heritage Foundation, John Locke Foundation, Maine Heritage Policy Center, and Texas Public Policy Foundation.

Tuesday: Learn how the lack of property rights impacts 230 million households living in poverty around the world. The Cato Institute hosts Tim Hanstad of the Rural Development Institute.

Wednesday: Hear about the war against terrorism from a soldier who’s been in the fight. Lt. Col. (Ret.) Steve Russell, hosted by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, speaks at the Oklahoma History Center.

Wednesday: Discover how free markets solve problems that seem insoluble. John Lott discusses his book Freedomnomics: Why the Free Market Works and Other Half-Bake Theories Don’t The Heritage Foundation.

Posted on 07/26/07 01:39 PM by Alex Adrianson

Heritage on Video

Heritage in Focus: Brian Walsh corrects misinformation about Guantanamo Bay … James Sherk warns that the Farm Bill will raise the price ethanol even further … Nile Gardiner reviews the shortcomings of the United Nations …Jennifer Marshall says its time to let the states take the lead on closing the achievement gap in education.

Posted on 07/26/07 01:38 PM by Alex Adrianson

News You Might Have Missed

Dead get farm subsidies. Getting paid by the government for not farming is nothing new. This week though, the Government Accountability Office revealed a twist to that trick. It seems that having a pulse isn’t a prerequisite for getting subsidies, either. The GAO found that the Department of Agriculture had distributed $1.1 billion to the estates of deceased farmers over a seven-year period. The Washington Post reports that the payments do not necessarily represent fraud: “Most estates are allowed to collect farm payments for up to two years after an owner’s death, giving heirs time to restructure their businesses and probate the will.” It all makes sense. If the dead can vote, then politicians need to look out for their interests, too.

Disney caves to nanny statists. Pity the independent filmmaker, always bucking the corporate media mentality for the sake of art. The latest outrage: Disney has decided that depictions of smoking are now verboten in its films, and the edict, apparently, will extend to the independents under the Disney umbrella, too. Disney chief executive Bob Iger told Financial Times that the company will at least discourage Touchstone and Miramax from including smoking scenes in their films. A question for Iger: Will Touchstone no longer be involved in making movies like The Insider which was highly critical of the tobacco industry? There might have been some smoking depicted there. As the Financial Times reports, Iger says the ban is appropriate for consumers of Disney’s products. And by consumer he means Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Telecommunications and Internet subcommittee, to whom Iger sent a letter announcing Disney’s decision.

Unintended consequences. A team of U.S. investigators studying a deadly outbreak of diarrhea in Botswana says that the United Nations and international development organizations have made a mistake in pushing infant formula as a substitute for breast feeding among HIV infected mothers, reports the Washington Post. The 2006 outbreak claimed the lives of 532 children, 20 times more than normal. The team has concluded that formula lacks the crucial antibodies contained in breast milk and leaves children vulnerable to diarrhea. Breast feeding from HIV-infected mothers does carry a small risk of transmission of HIV, but, say the investigators, that risk is outweighed by the benefits of breast feeding.

Somebody asked the Iranians. Only 29 percent of Iranians say that developing nuclear weapons should be an important priority for their country, according to a poll conducted last month by TerrorFreeTomorrow.org. The poll, based on telephone interviews with 1,000 Iranians distributed across all 30 of Iran’s provinces, produced numerous surprising results. For example, 61 percent of respondents oppose the current Iranian system of government in which a supreme leader rules according to religious principles and cannot be replaced by a vote of the people. Seventy-nine percent favor a more democratic system. The poll also found that while two-thirds favor continued support of Palestinian opposition groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, 55 percent endorse recognizing Israel and Palestine as separate states. Only one-third said that support for Palestinian opposition groups is very important compared to 47 percent who say that improved political and trade relations with the West is important.

Posted on 07/26/07 01:33 PM by Alex Adrianson

A Snapshot of Income Redistribution

If you think you’re middle-class, there’s a good chance Congress thinks you’re wealthy. There’s also a good chance Congress thinks you are poor. It all depends.

The alternative minimum tax was intended to make sure that rich people don’t find clever ways of reducing their tax burdens so that they pay a lower percentage than everyone else. Unless Congress changes the law, it is estimated that 74 percent of those with annual incomes between $75,000 and $100,000 will have AMT liability.

At the same time, Congress is considering expanding eligibility for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. SCHIP is a federal grant program that was supposed to help states provide health insurance for children whose families earn between 100 percent and 200 percent of the poverty level—i.e., those who are poor but not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid. Some states have already made families earning 300 percent of the poverty level eligible. Congress is considering changing the program so that families making up to 400 percent of the poverty level are eligible for SCHIP. Four hundred percent of the poverty level is an annual income of $82,600.

Thus, some folks would be so poor that they are in need of government provided health insurance and simultaneously liable for a tax intended for the rich. According to IRS data, expanding SCHIP eligibility to 400 percent of the federal poverty level would make 70,000 taxpayers both eligible for SCHIP and liable for the AMT .

Posted on 07/25/07 05:55 PM by Alex Adrianson

The FCC Asks for Evidence

Jerry Brito and Jerry Ellig summarize the evidence of a need for net neutrality regulation:

The Federal Communications Commission recently asked for evidence that broadband Internet companies currently engage in data discrimination that would justify regulation of the Internet. …

… the Commission explicitly asked commenters to "provide specific, verifiable examples with supporting documentation, and [to] limit their comments to those practices that are technically feasible today." Close to 10,000 comments were submitted to the FCC, yet all but 143 were what the FCC calls "brief text comments," many of which were form letters generated at the behest of advocacy groups.

Of the 143 more extensive comments, only 66 are longer than two pages, and of these only 20 advocate some form of new regulation. None of these 20 offers any significant empirical evidence to suggest that there currently exists a "market failure" or other systemic problem justifying regulatory intervention in the name of net neutrality.

Posted on 07/24/07 05:03 PM by Alex Adrianson

Russia’s Lawlessness

In recent commentary, Anne Applebaum notes that rampant lawlessness is making life miserable for what she dubs Russia’s “would-be middle class.” Perversely, it’s a problem that Russia’s government appears to have no interest in fixing. Why not? Applebaum suggests two reasons: First, Putin’s government, flush with oil revenue, doesn’t need to make the “would-be middle class” happy. It’s got plenty of money to spread around to the oil magnates and to the state pensioners. Second, lawlessness makes people want the sort of strongman government that Putin leads.

Governments that can win popularity by handing stuff out don’t need to do the things that governments really ought to do—like protect citizens.

Posted on 07/24/07 05:00 PM by Alex Adrianson

Open Access: Bad for Consumers

“Open access” sounds great. Who could be against requiring wireless networks to be open to any device or service? Scott Wallsten of the Progress & Freedom Foundation warns that what such proposals really mean is putting the government in charge of deciding how spectrum shall be used.

… mandatory open access is likely to require complex new regulations that will themselves be subject to endless lobbying and is likely to reduce investment in the relevant spectrum band. It is for that reason financial analysts estimate that taxpayers are likely to receive far less money for spectrum subject to that restriction than unencumbered spectrum.

For example, would the company that wins the spectrum be required to allow any wireless device use the network, regardless of technology? Increasing the number of technologies a network must support will increase the costs of building out the network, increase prices consumers would have to pay to use it, and ultimately reduce demand and investment. Alternatively, would the government mandate which technology the network should use? If so, who will decide what that technology should be?

And what about prices? Would those be regulated? If not, then a provider could simply bypass the open access requirement by charging very high prices for all but a select group of wireless devices. But if prices are regulated, what would those prices be?

It turns out to be a Herculean and highly controversial task to figure out how to regulate prices fairly and efficiently. Any good-faith effort will be constantly challenged, just as previous rate regulation was. It proved to be nearly impossible to come up with defensible regulated rates when the industry evolved more slowly, and would be even more difficult today as technology changes so quickly.

Posted on 07/24/07 05:00 PM by Alex Adrianson

A Fairness Doctrine for Newspapers?

Some in Congress worry that Rupert Murdoch wants to own the Wall Street Journal. They even suggest that Congress might do something about it. Do we want government deciding who can own a newspaper? Edward Glaeser:

The history of newspapers suggests that government control leads toward bias and the suppression of facts, while competition spreads ideas and moderates bias. Rupert Murdoch has always shown himself to be more interested in profits than politics. He will not want to jeopardize the Journal's standing as the nation's premier business paper by turning it into a 21st century version of the Albany Evening Journal.

We are better off with our news press in free hands, however imperfect, than we are when political leaders pick our publishers.

Posted on 07/24/07 04:59 PM by Alex Adrianson

Gangsta Rap and the Black Underclass

Myron Magnet:

Undoubtedly, rap reflects violent resentment churning in the ghetto ... . But it is also a kind of propaganda that molds and amplifies, as well as reflects, attitudes—and molds them with harmony and rhythm’s special power to penetrate into the mind, as Plato understood. Rap stokes ghetto kids’ anger, while justifying and legitimating it. It even clothes kids in a special uniform (sold by rap moguls Russell Simmons and Sean “Diddy” Coombs, among others), designed to make its wearers look like dangerous “gangstas”—hooded sweatshirt, baggy jeans worn low to display the boxer shorts beneath, big sneakers, do-rag or baseball cap worn gangbanger-style, backward, sideways, or any way but straight. It provides as well a facial expression and a way of carrying yourself, learned from rap videos as well as from the streets: the contemptuous stare, the menacing swagger, the gang-like hand gestures, the aggressive loud voice, all proclaiming, Don’t mess with me, muthafucka. And there’s the hip-hop lingo, purposely hard for outsiders to penetrate, like Victorian thieves’ cant or Cockney rhyming slang. (I’m grateful to raptranslations.com for a clue through the labyrinth.)

Does all this matter? Well, we all see the world through the spectacles of our culture and subgroup; we depend on belief and prejudice to understand our experience; we slip into the manners and rituals of our culture as a way of knowing who we are and how we should behave. Imagine yourself one of the vulnerable kids that rap sings about, born in a project to an uneducated, teen single mother, possibly put into foster care, surrounded by gangs and gangstas, attending an unruly school that teaches—if it teaches anything—that you are a victimized minority in an unjust country that doesn’t want you to rise, and that you should nevertheless have high self-esteem because you are fine just as you are. No one gives you a book that opens up the world of possibility beyond your cramped existence. Meanwhile, through the headphones that you always wear pulses the beat of rap, driving out thought and underscoring the message of anger, hatred of the oppressor policeman, and resentful entitlement that the lyrics convey. You go home and watch rap videos on BET. You dress like a gangsta, talk like a gangsta, behave like a gangsta.

Posted on 07/23/07 05:53 PM by Alex Adrianson

Waiting Times: U.S. v. Britain, Canada

Filmmaker Michael Moore and Paul Krugman, using Commonwealth Fund data, have claimed that Canada’s government-run health care system has no more serious of a waiting problem than does the United States health care system. John Goodman disagrees, pointing out that while it is easier to see a doctor in Canada and Britain, the real test is what the system does for sick people. The Commonwealth Fund data show that:

… once at the doctor’s office, Americans with real problems get more services and get more attention (almost one in three spend more than 20 minutes with the physician in the United States compared with one in five in Canada and one in 20 in Britain).

And:

For more serious care, only 8 percent of patients wait more than four months for surgery in the United States, compared with more than one in three patients in Canada and 41 percent in Britain.

Goodman also offers a lesson in social science that’s worth repeating:

Since our friends at Commonwealth are serious researchers, it must not be pleasant for them to see their work used as cannon fodder by people who are basically in the business of character assassination. But in a way, they have brought this on themselves. Commonwealth has no economic theory of waiting. They also have no political theory of waiting. The term economists use for testing without theory is “junk in, junk out.” At Commonwealth, they don’t test theories. They collect data. But data collection without a theory is almost as bad.

Posted on 07/23/07 05:51 PM by Alex Adrianson

The Coming Week – Monday, July 23, 2007

Tuesday: Hear how Bob Novak earned the moniker “Prince of Darkness” and other stories from the reporter and syndicated columnist’s 50 years covering Washington politics. The John Locke Institute hosts Novak in Raleigh, N.C. for a discussion of his new autobiography, The Prince of Darkness.

Wednesday: Learn about the politics of economic reform in India. The Heritage Foundation hosts Barun Mitra, Founder and Director of the Liberty Institute in India.

Wednesday: Discover how consumer choice and competition are impacting health care services. The American Enterprise Institute hosts a panel examining the rise of a retail health care market.

Wednesday: Exchange ideas with fellow conservatives at the American Legislative Exchange Council’s 34th Annual Meeting in Philadelphia. Fred Thompson, Neil Cavuto, Mike Huckabee, Dick Armey, Newt Gingrich, John Fund, and Miss America will be on hand to share their ideas.

Wednesday: Find out how U.S. restrictions on Internet gambling threaten the international trading system. The Cato Institute hosts a panel assessing the U.S. refusal to lift its restrictions in defiance of rulings by the World Trade Organization.

Thursday: Assess the future of health care in California with the Mercatus Institute in Sacramento.

Posted on 07/19/07 08:23 AM by Alex Adrianson

Heritage on Video

Heritage in Focus: James Phillips warns that a stabilized Iraq needs to precede a withdrawal of U.S. troops … Nina Owcharenko says Congress’s plans to expand SCHIP could make 71 percent of U.S. children eligible for government-run health care … Brian Walsh describes how too many laws have given the United States an overcriminalization problem.

At Heritage: David Aikman on Christianity in China … Jed Babbin’s In the Words of Our Enemies Turkish-U.S. relationsIslam v. Islamists.

Posted on 07/19/07 08:22 AM by Alex Adrianson

News You Might Have Missed

Nailing cigar smokers to help kids. Congress is considering a really whopping tax increase on big cigars as a way of financing expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. The current federal tax is 4.8 cents per cigar. One proposal would impose a rate of 53 percent, with maximum of $10 per cigar. For those cigars facing the maximum tax, that increase from a nickel to $10 is a tax increase of 20,000 percent. Wow. Maybe better decisions were made in the days of smoke-filled rooms. (Reported by ConsumerAffairs.com.)

Not their finest hour. A new curriculum for Britain’s secondary schools drops Winston Churchill from a list of historical figures who must be taught to students. Churchill, along with Hitler and Gandhi, had to be dropped in order to make more room for lessons on the environment, managing money, and healthy eating. (Reported by The Evening Standard.)

Visa not accepted. While the costs of illegal immigration have been much debated lately, there’s probably one aspect that hasn’t received too much attention. Americans generally have been moving toward non-cash forms of payments, but illegal immigrants still like cash. You can imagine all the reasons why. Indeed, rising illegal immigration since the mid-1990s is largely responsible for reversing a three-decade long decline in the domestic demand for U.S. currency. Why is that a cost? Economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago explain: “Cash is expensive—tens of billions of dollars drain from the economy each year merely to pay for the printing, trucking, safekeeping, vending, collecting, counting, armored-guarding and general care and feeding of our currency.” And those costs are not borne proportionally by those using cash. They are borne by the economy as a whole. (From commentary by Alfred Tella, Washington Times.)

What cameras can’t catch. In France, speeders caught by camera can avoid accumulating dreaded points by claiming someone else did it. Seems there’s a market in that now. Via the Internet, good drivers sell the points they don’t need in order to help other drivers avoid going over their limits and having their licenses revoked. The Times reports that police are powerless to prevent the scam, which is also popular in Spain and other European countries. Isn’t it great when people cooperate for mutual benefit? (Via Cato-at-Liberty.)

Posted on 07/19/07 08:19 AM by Alex Adrianson

Congress Recognizes a Hero: Norman Borlaug

Yesterday, Congress gave Norman Borlaug the Congressional Gold Medal. Borlaug, 93, is a scientist who has spent six decades fighting hunger and starvation by bringing high-yield agriculture to developing countries. Borlaug’s efforts are credited with saving the lives of a billion people—an incredibly dramatic illustration of economist Julian Simon’s teaching that the greatest natural resource is the human mind.

Here are some facts about the Green Revolution that Borlaug's work launched:

 “From 1960 to 2000, world population doubled from 3 billion to over 6 billion people while food supply increased 2.7 times leading to a roughly 35 percent increase in per capita food supply.” (From Thomas DiGrigori’s tribute to Norman Borlaug on Borlaug’s 90th Birthday.)

• Increasing crop yields actually decreases population growth. Greg Easterbrook explained this well in a 1997 article for The Atlantic: “… statistics suggest that high-yield agriculture brakes population growth rather than accelerating it, by starting the progression from the high-birth-rate, high-death-rate societies of feudal cultures toward the low-birth-rate, low-death-rate societies of Western nations. As the former Indian diplomat Karan Singh is reported to have said, "Development is the best contraceptive." In subsistence agriculture children are viewed as manual labor, and thus large numbers are desired. In technical agriculture knowledge becomes more important, and parents thus have fewer children in order to devote resources to their education.

• "Since the Green Revolution … Third World births per woman have dropped three-fourths of the way to stability—from about 6.2 births per woman to less than 2.8. Population stability is 2.1.” (From Denis Avery’s 2006 article, Norman Borlaug is the Greatest Living American.)

• Without the improvements in crop yields since the 1960s, an additional 16 million square miles of wildlife habitat would have to have been plowed for planting. (From Avery.)

Thank you, Norman Borlaug. And keep up the good work!

Posted on 07/18/07 06:03 PM by Alex Adrianson

This Week on the Hill, July 17, 2007

Top issues this week include Iraq in the Senate and the Farm Bill in the House.

Iraq. Proposed amendments to the defense authorization bill would undermine the President’s authority as Commander in Chief to set military strategy. That’s not just a problem for Iraq, it’s a bad precedent for any future military conflict. Military strategy should be responsive to the situation on the ground in the theater of operations. Fighting a war requires flexibility, not schedules.

The Senate will consider an amendment requiring the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq within 120 days of passage; an amendment forcing the President to write a contingency plan for defeat in Iraq; and an amendment requiring implementation of the Iraq Study Group recommendations. As James Phillips notes, the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group are a mish-mash of ideas. Some of those ideas were never good. Further, the ISG’s proposal for a withdrawal by March 2008 now represents such a short timeline that it conflicts with other of the ISG recommendations, such as securing Iraq’s borders and helping the Iraqi government reach key political, military, and economic milestones. Phillips asks: “How do the supporters of this bill propose to help Iraqis attain these milestones in the midst of growing insecurity caused by the withdrawal of U.S. troops?” 

Farm Bill. The House takes up the Farm Bill this week. Federal farm programs include $25 billion per year spent subsidizing various agricultural products, as well as trade barriers that protect farmers from foreign competition. The farm subsidies, as Brian Riedl points out in a recent paper, serve no legitimate public purpose. Farmers as a group are not poor, and most of the subsidies go to large commercial farms, not struggling family farmers. Farm subsidies are corporate welfare. Riedl’s paper offers a broad overview of how farm subsidies work, including the myths used to justify them, the illogic of the program design, and the perverse economic incentives created.

See also Riedl and Daniella Markheim’s paper on how agricultural tariffs and subsidies interfere with America’s agenda of promoting free trade with developing countries.

And Ron Utt has a paper pointing out that members of Congress themselves often benefit directly from farm subsidies. If we can’t get rid of farm subsidies, says Utt, let’s at least fix the conflict-of-interest problem by “requiring that Mem­bers of Congress who benefit from [the farm program] financially either recuse themselves from voting on any farm legislation or forgo any farm subsidies for which they and their families and relatives would be eligible.”

Posted on 07/17/07 12:00 PM by Alex Adrianson

Who’s Thinking of the Kids?

In today’s New York Times, Elizabeth Marquardt reviews the legal development of group parenthood. In April, for example, a court in Pennsylvania ruled that a child can have three legal parents—in that case two lesbians, and a friend who was the sperm donor. That ruling is believed to be the first in the United States to recognize a third parent, but it follows on similar developments in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Britain.

Marquardt says that giving a third (or a fourth or a fifth) person legal status as a child’s parent threatens to put the child into a situation similar to that of a “good divorce” (one where the parents remain involved in the kids’ lives and control their own conflict). Her research shows that even in a “good divorce,”

children must grow up traveling between two worlds, having to make sense on their own of the different values, beliefs and ways of living they find in each home. They have to grow up too soon.

Posted on 07/16/07 12:42 PM by Alex Adrianson

To Reduce Emissions, Take the Easy Steps First

If we want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, why not grab the low-hanging fruit first? In today’s New York Sun, Diana Furchtgott-Roth points out that coal mine fires in China and India are a significant source of carbon dioxide emissions. In China, coal mine fires produce between 560 and 1,120 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. That equals 50 percent to 100 percent of the U.S. output from gasoline.

Seems like helping China put out those mine fires would be a cheaper plan that imposing carbon taxes or expensive efficiency mandates on automobiles and appliances. But, as Furchtgott-Roth reports, nobody in Congress has proposed funding for research on the problem, in spite of promising developments in the field.

Posted on 07/13/07 01:35 PM by Alex Adrianson

John D. MacDonald, Mystery Writer and Keen Observer of American Society

I have friends who tell me they never read fiction. They’re too busy learning facts, they say. Some even repeat that trope about truth being stranger than fiction to explain their preference. But the point of fiction isn’t strangeness. The point is more nearly the opposite. Good fiction finds familiarity in unexpected places.

I’m nothing like an expert on the mystery writer John D. MacDonald. I’m just getting into his work in fact, but already I can tell he’s a writer who had some things to say. Last night I came across a passage from MacDonald’s A Purple Place for Dying that seemed an eerily apt description of what’s wrong with higher education today. Here’s MacDonald, speaking in the voice of Travis McGee, observing the kids in college:

They all seemed to have an urgency about them, that strained harried trimester look. It would cram them through sooner, and feed them out into the corporations and the tract houses, breeding and hurrying, organized for all the time and money budgets, binary systems, recreation funds, taxi transports, group adjustments, tenure, constructive hobbies. They were being structured to life on the run, and by the time they would become what is now known as senior citizens, they could fit nicely into planned communities where recreation is scheduled on such a tight and competitive basis that they could continue to run, plan, organize, until, falling at last into silence, the grief-therapist would gather them in, rosy their cheeks, close the box and lower them to the only rest they had ever known.

It is all functional, of course. But it is like what we have done to chickens. Forced growth under optimum conditions, so that in eight weeks they are ready for the mechanical picker. The most forlorn and comical statements are the ones made by the grateful young who say Now I can be ready in two years and nine months to go out and earn a living rather than wasting four years in college.

Education is something which should be apart from the necessities of earning a living, not a tool therefor. It needs contemplation, fallow periods, the measured and guided study of the history of man’s reiteration of the most agonizing question of all: Why? Today the good ones, the ones who want to ask why, find no one around with any interest in answering the question, so they drop out, because theirs is the type of mind which becomes monstrously bored at the trade-school concept.

That last bit sounds almost like something Larry Arnn could have written yesterday. Read for instance Arnn’s essay The Crisis and Politics of Higher Education, in which he argues that the idea of higher education as a truth-seeking enterprise has fallen by the wayside. Others, such as George Leef, echo MacDonald in arguing that higher education has been transformed into a credentialing industry.

But MacDonald’s Travis McGee made his observations 43 years ago—one year before the Higher Education Act of 1965. Forty-three years ago! The things you can learn from fiction!

Posted on 07/12/07 05:33 PM by Alex Adrianson

The Coming Week – Monday, July 16, 2007

Monday: Survey the college dating scene. The Independent Women’s Forum hosts Dr. Drew Pinsky of the radio show “Loveline.”

Tuesday: Examine how the Law of the Sea Treaty will impact U.S. national interests. A panel discusses at the American Enterprise Institute.

Wednesday: Learn about the economics of Internet advertising. The AEI-Brookings Joint Center hosts a panel examining the implications of the Google-DoubleClick merger for continued Web innovation.

Wednesday: See the The Call of the Entrepreneur. The Heritage Foundation hosts a screening of the Acton Institute’s new documentary about risk-taking and economic progress.

Thursday: Find out if the price mechanism can help manage water demand. The Pioneer Institute and the Environmental Business Council host environmental economists Robert Stavins and Sheila Olmstead.

Thursday: Hear Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinney of the Moving Pictures Institute discuss the making of their film Mine Your Own Business. The Center for Environmental Policy at the Washington Policy Center hosts the two pro-freedom filmmakers for its Fifth Annual Luncheon in Seattle.

Thursday: Find out if grantmaking holds only disappointment for those who pursue it as a profession. The Hudson Institute hosts a panel looking at why many philanthropy professionals report feeling little sense of achievement.

Friday: Figure out how big government really ought to be. The National Tax Limitation Committee and the National Center for Policy Analysis host an all-day roundtable asking: What is the optimal size of government—i.e. what level of government spending maximizes economic growth? Those interested should RSVP to ntlc@surewest.net.

Sunday: Matriculate at Cato U. This year’s event, in sunny San Diego, offers attendees high-quality time with some of the best teachers of liberty from around the country.

Posted on 07/12/07 02:06 AM by Alex Adrianson

Heritage on Video

Heritage in Focus: Daniella Markheim urges Congress to be true to its word and approve free trade agreements with Korea, Colombia, Peru, and Panama … Ben Lieberman warns consumers that the House energy bill is bad news … James Sherk says that the states not the federal government should decide on collective bargaining rights for public safety workers … Ed Meese invites you to listen to a live Webcast of a talk on immigration reform that he will deliver on Thursday, July 12 … James Carafano explains why closing Guantanamo Bay detention facilities is a bad idea … Christine Kim reviews the factors that promote health development in children.

At Heritage: Ilan Berman on confronting Iran … Roy Blunt on the next conservative revolution … Scholars & Scribes on the Supreme Court’s 2006 term.

Posted on 07/12/07 02:05 AM by Alex Adrianson

News You Might Have Missed

And you thought taxes were all you had to pay. This year’s Cost of Government Day arrived on July 11, two days later than last year, says Americans for Tax Reform. The Cost of Government Day represents the day in the calendar year on which Americans have worked enough to pay for the total annual cost of government—both taxes and the cost of complying with government regulations. That means the average American spends 192 out of 365 days (52.6 percent) working for the government.  

Our melting pot. As Americans continue to debate how to solve the problem of illegal immigration, it’s worth noting some positive indicators on assimilation. According to data from Michael J. Rosenfeld’s book The Age of Independence: Interracial Unions, Same-Sex Unions, and the Changing American Family, excerpted in the Washington Post, interracial marriages are far more common today than they were in 1970. Rosenfeld’s data show that in 2005, 27.4 percent of married Hispanic men were married to a white person, and 28.3 percent of married Hispanic women were married to a white person. In 1970, the corresponding figures were 8.4 percent for men and 8.9 percent for women. Asian-white marriages have also become more common. In 2005, 25.8 percent of married Asian men were married to a white person, compared to only 14.5 percent in 1970. Of married Asian women, on the other hand, 33.7 percent are wedded to a white person in 2005, compared to just 15.9 percent in 1970.

Religious freedom measured. Of all the countries in the world, the four whose citizens enjoy the greatest degree of religious freedom are Estonia, Hungary, Ireland, and the United States. Those four countries all receive the top ranking in the Hudson Institute’s forthcoming survey, Religious Freedom in World. Countries receiving the lowest ranking are Burma, China?Tibet, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Maldives, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

Forget carbon neutral; try for taxpayer neutral. Al Gore’s “Live Earth” concert made a big statement about the need for action on global warming—government action, that is, the sort that will cost jobs and economic growth in the future. That call may or may not amount to much action (we’ll see), but taxpayers are already being dinged for a bit of cost. That’s because, as ShopFloor reports, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian chipped in as a sponsor of the event. Why is a publicly-funded museum spending money on political advocacy? Says NMAI: “Climate change presents an important challenge to the global community to incorporate into its practices and policies the wisdom and knowledge of the interrelatedness of elements and life on Earth that are inherent in many American Indian cultures …” Hey, who isn’t down with the unity of nature? But perhaps a public museum should consider itself accountable to something called the American taxpayer.

Uncle Sam wants you (and 22,399,999 others) to start smoking (so that he can buy more health insurance). Congress is considering using new tobacco taxes to fund an expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. The proposal calls for $35 billion in new spending over five years, and an increase in the federal cigarette tax of 61 cents per pack. The Heritage’s Foundation’s Bill Beach and Michelle Bucci calculate that by the year 2017 an additional 22.4 million people will have to start smoking and paying cigarette taxes in order to cover the new outlays.

Firefighters charged with global warming duties, too. Various efforts by local governments to fight global warming now include banning public expenditures on bottled water. Producing and shipping bottled water, as with the producing and shipping of anything, results in greenhouse gas emissions. In San Francisco, Santa Barbara, and Salt Lake City, city agencies have been directed not to spend money on bottled water, and to substitute tap water when water is needed for city functions. Salt Lake’s mayor won’t even make an exception for the fire department. As a result, Salt Lake’s fire department with have to hire extra personnel to be charged with refilling water bottles at fire scenes. (Via OpenMarket.)

Posted on 07/12/07 02:03 AM by Alex Adrianson

Taxing the Poor to Fund Health Insurance

Is Congress going to sock it to the poor in order to expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP)? One proposal in the Senate would increase SCHIP funding by $35 billion over five years and pay for it with a 61-cent per pack increase in the federal tax on cigarettes. Cigarettes are already taxed by the feds at a rate of 39 cents per pack.

But cigarette taxes, like most excise and sales taxes, are highly regressive. The poor pay a larger percentage of their incomes for things like cigarettes, gasoline, and groceries. The National Center for Policy Analysis has a recent report looking at how sales and excise taxes have a disproportionate impact on the poor. The report found, for example, that high school dropouts who smoke spend 4.47 percent of their incomes on tobacco. By contrast, professionals who smoke spend only 1.27 percent of their incomes on tobacco products.

Overall, taxes in the United States are highly progressive. Still, it’s worth asking whether new programs should be funded on the backs of the poor. And it’s even more questionable in the case of SCHIP, because that program covers more than just low-income children. Some states have expanded their programs so that all children from families below 350 percent of the federal poverty level are covered. Should the poor have to buy health insurance for middle class families?

Posted on 07/11/07 03:37 PM by Alex Adrianson

Insurance Does Not Equal Free Markets

Paul Howard of the Manhattan Institute, in a review of Jerome Groopman’s new book How Doctors Think, provides an interesting example of how letting market forces work in health care can solve problems that on the surface seem to arise from too much pursuit of profit. Howard credits Groopman for identifying an important source of physician error:

Groopman’s criticism zeroes in on paint-by-numbers medicine: algorithms developed by insurers and statisticians that create “decision trees” for how doctors dispense care. This “insert-tab-A-into-slot-B” strategy, he warns, promotes efficiency and cost control over creativity and independent thinking. The best doctors rebel against rote decision-making and give personal attention to each patient, even if it’s for only 15 or 20 minutes during a routine office visit.

But Howard disagrees with Groopman on the underlying cause of the problem:

Groopman blames this state of affairs on market forces, but he overlooks the fact that health care is heavily regulated and hasn’t evolved to reflect market realities. Injecting more competition into the system would drive routine health care into lower-cost environments. This would “slow the blur” for doctors, and offer patients an alternative way to access care.

Clayton Christensen, a professor at Harvard Business School, calls such market-driven evolution “disruptive innovation,” by which he means “technology that brings a much more affordable product or service that is much simpler to use into a market.” Today, companies like RediClinic and MinuteClinic exemplify disruptive innovation. Both companies run “convenient care” clinics staffed by nurse-practitioners that offer affordable, routine treatments for strep throat or ear infections. Recently, Wal-Mart announced that it would add hundreds more of these clinics to its stores across the country. More disruptive innovations will emerge in years to come, if regulators don’t stand in the way.

Posted on 07/10/07 04:06 PM by Alex Adrianson

Get Ready for Another Expansion of Government Health Care

Congress is getting ready to renew a program originally intended to assist low-income families obtain health insurance for children. Unfortunately, in some states that program, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), has been evolving into a middle-class entitlement. Some in Congress want to expand it even further. Should taxpayers be required to fund health insurance for families who can afford to buy it for themselves?

For an overview of how SCHIP works and why expanding the government’s role in health care is not a good idea, see Connie Marshner’s The State Children’s Health Insurance Program: High Stakes for American Families. As Marshner notes, the program contains perverse incentives that have driven states to expand the program beyond its original intent of covering low-income children.

J. D. Foster and Nicola Moore also provide a good overview of the program as well as of the fiscal context in which its expansion is being considered. In SCHIP Reauthorization: Congress Should Beware of Creating a New Entitlement, they point out that middle-class entitlements are already a significant part of the government’s looming unfunded obligations. Do we need to make SCHIP into a middle-class entitlement, too?

Another point to consider is that when a government program provides a good or service, some of that public provision merely replaces private provision that would have occurred anyway. So the total provision of the good or service does not expand by as much as the government expands its expenditures on the good or service. Part of what taxpayers end up paying for is increased dependence on government programs. Andrew Grossman and Greg D’Angelo elaborate this point in their paper SCHIP and “Crowd-Out”: How Public Program Expansion Reduces Private Coverage.

Of course, expanding health care coverage for children is a worthy goal, even if expanding SCHIP is a bad idea. For a big-picture look at alternatives to SCHIP, see Nina’s Owcharenko’s Fixing SCHIP and Expanding Children’s Health Care Coverage.

Posted on 07/10/07 12:47 PM by Alex Adrianson

A Deeply Odd Argument Against the Market Order

Forget about Second Life. Let’s talk about the virtual reality in the head of Michael Gerson, former speech writer for George W. Bush. In Friday’s Washington Post, Gerson has an extremely silly column in which he argues that Second Life is “a large-scale experiment in libertarianism.” Based on what he observes while playing the popular online role-playing game, Gerson pronounces judgment against a world of thoroughgoing unplanned spontaneity. Here’s Gerson’s charge against the world of Second Life:

[T]he main result is the breakdown of inhibition. Second Life, as you’d expect, is highly sexualized in ways that have little to do with respect or romance. There are frequent outbreaks of terrorism, committed by online anarchists who interrupt events, assassinate speakers (who quickly reboot from the dead) and vandalize buildings. There are strip malls everywhere, pushing a relentless consumerism. And there seems to be an inordinate number of vampires, generally not a sign of community health.

Libertarians hold to a theory of “spontaneous order”—that society should be the product of uncoordinated human choices instead of human design. Well, Second Life has plenty of spontaneity, and not much genuine order. This experiment suggests that a world that is only a market is not a utopia. It more closely resembles a seedy, derelict carnival—the triumph of amusement and distraction over meaning and purpose.

Let’s break that indictment down.

1. Gerson says Second Life is “highly sexualized in ways that have little to do with respect or romance.” Unfortunately, the real world has that, too—even not counting video games. We have that in the United States in spite of laws against prostitution, FCC regulation of indecency in broadcast media, and “community standards” regulation of adult entertainment. Other countries try to control the carnal instincts by strictly regulating personal morality. Does Gerson think the United States should become more like Saudi Arabia? He doesn’t say.

2. Gerson says in Second Life there are “frequent outbreaks of terrorism,” but doesn’t explain how that is a charge against unfettered free markets. Since the real world has frequent outbreaks of terrorism, too, we might suppose that to be a charge against the mostly non-libertarian real world. Gerson, presumably, is in favor of the government actively fighting terrorists—as are most people, including classical market liberals. Terrorism, like war, is inconsistent with free markets. Countries that want to trade with each other don’t go to war. Individuals who want to engage in commerce don’t blow up market places.

3. But Gerson doesn’t seem to be in favor of market places. He laments that in Second Life he sees “strip malls everywhere” and “relentless consumerism.” From Second Life, then we might conclude that commerce is resilient in spite of terrorism. That sounds like good news. So far, Second Life seems a lot like the real world.

4. Gerson objects there are an “inordinate number of vampires” in Second Life. Now that, indeed, is something that the real world doesn’t offer. Is this a difference attributable to a better set of laws than a libertarian society would make? Does Gerson believe that real societies do not have vampires because they have effective laws against vampirism? A libertarian might argue that he, too, is against vampirism and in favor of laws against such, on the same grounds that a libertarian favors the government’s role as a night watchman. A better argument, though, is that real societies need not concern themselves with things that are not in fact real.

The presence of vampires, however, should signal us as to what is wrong with Second Life as a social experiment. If you can be anything and do anything, then it’s a game without much in the way of consequences. The real world, in case Gerson didn’t notice, has consequences. Without consequences from which to learn, the participants in Second Life have little need to worry about how they behave. And without consequences, societies have little need for things like rights, order, rules, and institutions—all necessary elements for a true market order. What Second Life offers, in other words, is not an experiment in libertarianism. It’s not even an experiment in anarchy (because market orders can evolve out of anarchy). (Is it even a game?)

American Conservatism as defined by Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan is a philosophy of robust individualism and limited government. If some conservatives want to embrace instead the idea of an activist government that seeks to improve individuals, they should find better arguments than those derived from Second Life.

Posted on 07/09/07 04:42 PM by Alex Adrianson

The Success in Africa That You Don’t Hear About

In Friday’s Los Angeles Times, William Easterly takes Africa’s vital signs and concludes that the four horsemen of the apocalypse aren’t such frequent visitors there as Western stereotypes suggest. Why the gap between image and reality? Part of the reason, says Easterly, is that the international development establishment has rigged the game.

It announces, for instance, that Africa is the only region that is failing to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs in aid-speak) set out by the United Nations. Well, it takes extraordinary growth to cut extreme poverty rates in half by 2015 (the first goal) when a near-majority of the population is poor, as is the case in Africa. (Latin America, by contrast, requires only modest growth to halve its extreme poverty rate from 10% to 5%.)

This is how Blair’s panel managed to call Africa’s recent growth successes a failure. But the reality is that virtually all other countries that have escaped extreme poverty did so through the kind of respectable growth that Africa is enjoying—not the kind of extraordinary growth that would have been required to meet the arbitrary Millennium Development Goals.

Africa will also fail to meet the second goal of universal primary education by 2015. But this goal is also rigged against Africa, because Africa started with an unusually low percentage of children enrolled in elementary school. As economist Michael Clemens points out, most African countries have actually expanded enrollments far more rapidly over the last five decades than Western countries did during their development, but Africans still won’t reach the arbitrary aid target of universal enrollment by 2015. For example, the World Bank condemned Burkina Faso in 2003 as “seriously off track” to meet the second MDG, yet the country has expanded elementary education at more than twice the rate of Western historical experience, and it is even far above the faster educational expansions of all other developing countries in recent decades.

As Easterly notes, arbitrarily defining success as failure helps aid advocates make the case for more aid.

Posted on 07/09/07 12:35 PM by Alex Adrianson

Happy Birthday America!

Isn’t it great to live in a free country? Isn’t it great to live in a country where you don’t need the government’s permission for every little thing you want to do, like open your mouth and express an opinion? As much as we all think things could be better, let’s take a moment today and remind ourselves that we’ve got it pretty darn good here in America. And if we want to make it better tomorrow, let’s remember that individual freedom is what makes it good today.

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

The Coming Week – Monday, July 9

Monday: Find out if Chavismo is contagious in Latin America. The Center for Latin American Studies and the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis host a breakfast discussion at The Hudson Institute.

Tuesday: Get some concrete and innovative solutions to the emerging Iranian global threat with Ilan Berman at The Heritage Foundation.

Wednesday: Assess the Roberts Court. Scholars and scribes review the Supreme Court’s 2006 term at The Heritage Foundation.

Wednesday: Hear Michael Miller discuss the nexus between truth and freedom at the Acton Institute.

Wednesday: Learn who killed health care. The Maine Heritage Policy Center hosts author Regina Herzlinger.  

Thursday: Discover the real Barry Goldwater. The Cato Institute previews clips from a new HBO film produced by Barry Goldwater’s granddaughter, C.C. Goldwater. Lee Edwards of The Heritage Foundation, Franklin Foer of The New Republic, and Cato’s Ed Crane will join Goldwater in discussing her grandfather’s legacy.

Posted on 07/03/07 02:09 PM by Alex Adrianson

Heritage on Video

Heritage in Focus: Matthew Spalding reminds us that the Fourth is a day to celebrate America’s founding principles … Jennifer Marshall notes the cultural shifts that have made single life more complicated today … Peter Brookes warns that Congress wants to limit missile defense development at a time of growing threats.

At Heritage: Bryan Caplan on voter irrationality and free trade.

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

News You Might Have Missed

Are public schools reluctant to celebrate people? Fewer and fewer public schools are being named after Presidents or other noteworthy individuals, according to a study of school naming trends by the Manhattan Institute. The institute found, for example, that in Florida twice as many public schools are named after manatees than after George Washington. Also, schools built in Arizona in the last two decades are almost fifty times more likely to be named after such things as a mesa or a cactus than after a President; in Minnesota, 14 percent of schools built before 1956 were names after Presidents, compared to only 3 percent of schools built in the last decade. The institute found similar results in all seven states it surveyed.

At least it’s not a tax increase! As the nation gets ready to celebrate its independence from tyrannical rule, the state of Virginia plans to nail drivers who commit moving violations with new fines amounting to thousands of dollars for a single offense. Is this a needed safety initiative? Nope. Virginians want new funding for roads, and, as Mencken might say, the state has decided to give it to them good and hard. In order to increase spending on roads by 41 percent without raising taxes, the Virginia legislature created a new system of “abuse” fines that went into effect on July 1. Now, a Virginian who fails to signal a turn can be charged with reckless driving and assessed a $1,050 fine on top of the normal $100 ticket. But fear not, tourists to the Capital area: Out-of-state drivers are exempted from the new “abuse” fines; only the “normal” fines apply to out-of-staters. Seems that the state wants to victimize only its own citizens—those who’ve invested in a house, put down roots in a community, i.e., those who might be more reluctant to leave and never come back. (Via Out of Control.)

Can patriotism be bought for $7 billion? The European Union spends $7 billion annually promoting the concept of the European Union—which raises the question: How great can the European Union be if they have to spend $7 billion to promote it? (Via Cato@Liberty.)

Tufts and Johns Hopkins get top honors—in suppressing student speech. Tufts University and Johns Hopkins University have been named the top transgressors of student free speech by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, reports the Boston Herald. Tufts earned its place at the top of FIRE’s first ever “Red Alert” list by ruling that two articles published by the student magazine Primary Source constituted harassment. One of the articles was a satirical Christmas carol about affirmative action entitled “Come All Ye Black Folk,” and the other article was a fact sheet on Islamic fundamentalism published during Islamic awareness week. Similarly, Johns Hopkins shares the top honor for its ruling against a student for a Facebook advertisement of a “Halloween in the Hood” party. FIRE President Greg Lukianoff: “You don’t have a right not to be offended,” he said. “Just feeling harassed doesn’t mean you are harassed. Harassment is a particular pattern of behavior directed at a person.”

Posted on 07/03/07 02:04 PM by Alex Adrianson

A Loss of Nerve in the Defense of Freedom

Paul Marshall of the Hudson Institute comments on the West’s reaction to the Muslim reaction to Salman Rushdie’s knighthood:

The reaction to the protests over the knighthood reveals an erosion of confidence in the West. Back in 1989, when Iran’s supreme leader, the Ayatollah Khomeini, issued his fatwa declaring that all Muslims had a duty to kill Rushdie, the writer was defended and feted. Politicians vied to appear with him and shake his hand. When I passed through Amsterdam airport, the bookstores had every possible display space filled with copies of Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. Free people declared that freedom of speech would not be surrendered in the face of threat and violence.

This time around, there were sporadic articles in Rushdie’s defense, but no governments or politicians rushed to his side offering outspoken support. Many more now seem to regard him as a bit of an embarrassment, someone who makes unnecessary trouble, just like the writer Ayaan Hirsi Ali, those Danish cartoonists, and maybe the pope. Why do these people persist in provoking Muslims? There is a palpable loss of nerve in the defense of freedom.

Posted on 07/03/07 10:39 AM by Alex Adrianson

Moore is Less

Kurt Loder—you know, the MTV news guy—has a review of SiCKO that points out some things Michael Moore forgets to tell you concerning the allegedly superior health systems in Canada and Britain—for instance that health care is hard to come by in Canada and Britain. Loder also notes something amiss with Moore’s praise for the French health care system:

It is here that Moore shoots himself in the foot. He introduces us to a young man who's reached the end of three months of paid sick leave and is asked by his doctor if he's finally ready to return to work. No, not yet, he says. So the doctor gives him another three months of paid leave—and the young man immediately decamps for the South of France, where we see him lounging on the sunny Riviera, chatting up babes and generally enjoying what would be for most people a very expensive vacation. Moore apparently expects us to witness this dumbfounding spectacle and ask why we can't have such a great health care system, too. I think a more common response would be, how can any country afford such economic insanity?

The whole review is worth a read.

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

Freda Utley Prize for Advancing Liberty

The Atlas Foundation is accepting applications for the 2007 Freda Utley Prize for Advancing Liberty. The prize recognizes “the efforts of think tanks in difficult parts of the world that are most effective in disseminating the ideas of freedom.”

Ideal applicants are

organizations in countries where the ideas of liberty are not clearly understood or applied (i.e., countries which the various economic freedom indices term as 'unfree'). Preference is given to organizations that are headquartered in such countries. However, organizations that are based in freer parts of the world, but developing and contributing to the creation of organizations in the target countries (i.e. serving as a catalyst), are also eligible to apply.

The winner receives a $10,000 award. The application deadline is August 31, 2007.

Application.

Posted on 07/02/07 01:49 PM by Alex Adrianson

A Good Idea!

In a recent case that ended up before the Supreme Court, a maker of luxury handbags was accused of violating anti-trust laws by forbidding retailers from selling its products at a discount. The Court came down on the side of the handbag maker, ruling that pricing agreements are not necessarily anti-trust violations.

The editors of the Los Angeles Times agree with the Court’s decision, writing today:

One of the principal laws of economics is that all value is relative. A business deal that looks kooky to an outsider may make perfect sense to the two parties involved in the deal. To the greatest extent possible, the law should avoid interfering in consensual agreements.

Congress and state legislatures should take the Timess advice and do the following: eliminate minimum-wage laws, drop fuel-economy requirements for cars and energy-efficiency requirements for appliances, forget about “net neutrality,” let people sell their spare kidneys, stop forcing workers to pay union dues, and abandon minimum markup laws on gasoline retailers. Those are just some starters.

Posted on 07/02/07 12:42 PM by Alex Adrianson

First They Came for Private Equity …

Proposals in Congress to increase taxes on private equity firms that go public are being sold as merely “closing loopholes” in the tax code. Kevin Hassett of the American Enterprise Institute has an article in Bloomberg today explaining that what the proposals really amount to is changing the rules in the middle of the game. Investors made decisions based on a set of rules in the tax code, and now that profits are being reaped Congress wants to grab the winnings.

Citing the work of Nobel-prize winning economists Finn Kydland and Edward Prescott, Hassett says: “The problem with such policies is that companies begin to expect inconsistency from government, and that can have a chilling effect on investment and risk taking, and not just in the industries Congress is attacking today. … betrayal in the past signals betrayal in the future.”

By raising taxes on private equity today, Congress creates expectations among investors that other industries achieving success will be taxed at a higher rate in the future. Who wants to invest in such an economy?

Posted on 07/02/07 11:39 AM by Alex Adrianson

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