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InsiderOnline Blog: October 2012

To Do: Defend Religious Freedom

• Read the Chicago Declaration on defending religious freedom, and then sign it if you agree.

• Write an essay on Bastiat’s aphorism, “The state is the great fiction by which everyone endeavors to live at the expense of everyone else.” That’s the theme of the Douglas B. Rogers Conditions of a Free Society Essay Contest, which is open to all undergraduate college students in the United States and Canada. The contest, sponsored by the Center for Political and Economic Thought at Saint Vincent College, is intended to honor Douglas B. Rogers, “a young scholar of great promise who died tragically.” Submissions should be sent to marybeth.mcconahey@email.stvincent.edu no later than January 10, 2013.

• Hear J. Harvie Wilkinson and Roger Pilon debate whether libertarian constitutional arguments are just another form of judicial activism. The debate will be moderated by Walter Olson at the Cato Institute beginning at noon on November 1.

• Help spread the word about the importance of free markets with a marketing kit from the Foundation for Economic Education, which you can order online. They’re free, and include a copy of Leonard Reed’s classic, I Pencil.

Posted on 10/31/12 01:47 PM by Alex Adrianson

Voters Know So Many Things that Just Aren’t So

The Just Facts Foundation has conducted a poll to see what voters believe about public policy issues and to find out which voters are most misinformed. Judging from the results, there’s lots of misinformed voters on both ends of the political spectrum. Here’s are a few of the sample results:

• Just 37 percent of voters correctly answered that social programs are a bigger item in the federal budget than national defense—18 percent of Obama supporters, and 57 percent of Romney supporters.

• Only 53 percent of voters correctly said that the earth is warmer today than 30 years ago—82 percent of Obama voters, and 28 percent of Romney voters.

• Only 10 percent of voters knew that disposable plastic grocery bags caused less harm to the environment than disposable paper bags or resusable cloth bags. On this question, the ignorance was bipartisan: only 11 percent of Obama supporters and 10 percent of Romney supporters knew this fact. [Just Facts Daily, October 23]

Check out the results from all 20 questions.

Posted on 10/26/12 04:20 PM by Alex Adrianson

Shut Up, He Averred

Penn State climatologist Michael Mann has gone ahead with his threatened lawsuit against the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Rand Simberg, National Review, and Mark Steyn. The lawsuit says Simberg’s article “The Other Scandal in Unhappy Valley,” published at CEI’s blog OpenMarket.org on July 13, 2012, defamed Mann by accusing him of academic and scientific misconduct and data manipulation in his work on global warming. Steyn subsequently commented on Simberg’s piece at National Review Online.

In a letter responding to Mann’s lawyers, CEI’s lawyer Bruce Brown explained that Simberg’s statements are protected speech because Mann is a public figure involved in a public controversy and because the statements represent a “‘supportable interpretation’ based on truthful disclosed facts.” A snippet of Brown’s missive:

Mr. Simberg simply came to the same conclusion that many others have in the past decade – that Dr. Mann’s research may not be scientifically viable. Moreover, Mr. Simberg went into detail about the investigations pursuant to which Dr. Mann claims to have been exonerated. Mr. Simberg’s effects to include that side of the debate belie any assertion that CEI or Mr. Simberg acted with actual malice. […]

The phrase “academic and scientific misconduct” appears in the last sentence of a 900-word post in which Mr. Simberg sets out the case against Dr. Mann’s research and accuses Penn State of an inadequate investigation of his body of research. The piece also included extensive links that further provide the factual basis for Mr. Simberg’s conclusions. For example, in support of the statements of which Dr. Mann complains, the post stated that the National Academy of Sciences report that “purported” to exonerate Dr. Mann in fact “criticized” him “for his statistical techniques (which was the basis of the criticism that resulted in his unscientific behavior).”

Posted on 10/26/12 04:03 PM by Alex Adrianson

Principals Matter

Some school principals are better than others and it shows in the progress made by the students, says a new study by Gregory F. Branch, Steven G. Rivkin and Eric A. Hanushek:

[E]ven the most conservative of our three methodological approaches suggests substantial variation in principal effectiveness: a principal in the top 16 percent of the quality distribution will produce annual student gains that are 0.05 standard deviations higher than an average principal for all students in their school.

There are many channels through which principals influence school quality, although the precise mechanisms likely vary across districts with the regulatory and institutional structures that define principal authority. Because all principals participate in personnel decisions, we have focused on the composition of teacher turnover. For the best principals, the rate of teacher turnover is highest in grades in which teachers are least effective, supporting the belief that improvement in teacher effectiveness provides an important channel through which principals can raise the quality of education. [Education Next, Winter 2013]

Posted on 10/26/12 02:49 PM by Alex Adrianson

Breaking the Law

The Obama administration may have violated the law when it promised to indemnify defense contractors for not giving employees notice of possible layoffs. The federal WARN Act requires most employers to give employees 60 days notice before plant closings or mass layoffs. Defense contractors would need to send such notices just days before the presidential election in order to avoid liability in the event that cuts to the defense budget force layoffs in the new year.

The Office of Management and Budget has advised defense contractors that it doesn’t believe the possibility of sequestration-related defense cuts trigger the WARN Act’s requirements; but just in case OMB is wrong, the agency has also told defense companies that contracting agencies would cover liabilities arising from a failure to issue the notices.

According to Hans von Spakovsky, that guidance is not only wrong (the law requires employers to make a “commercially reasonable business judgment” that a “similarly situated employer” would make “in predicting the demands of its particular market”) but possibly illegal, too:

The federal Antideficiency Act says that an “officer or employee” of the government may not “make or authorize an expenditure or obligation exceeding an amount available in an appropriation or fund.”

Congress has made no appropriation to reimburse defense contractors for civil liability incurred by them for violating the WARN Act. Appropriations made by Congress for defense contracts to purchase items such as fighter aircraft contain no provision allowing such funds to be used to pay attorneys’ fees and any other costs or liability resulting from a defense contractor’s not complying with a federal law such as the WARN Act.

Government contractors who rely on this “guarantee” from the White House do so at their peril: If this Administration or a new Administration changes its mind and withdraws the guarantee, those contractors will have no cause of action against the government for the cost of WARN Act violations. [The Heritage Foundation, October 24]

Posted on 10/26/12 02:27 PM by Alex Adrianson

Priorities—the State Department Definitely Has Them

Rep. Mike Kelly:

In a May 3, 2012, email, the State Department denied a request by a group of Special Forces assigned to protect the U.S. embassy in Libya to continue their use of a DC- 3 airplane for security operations throughout the country.

The subject line of the email, on which slain Ambassador Chris Stevens was copied, read: “Termination of Tripoli DC-3 Support.”

Four days later, on May 7, the State Department authorized the U.S. embassy in Vienna to purchase a $108,000 electric vehicle charging station for the embassy motor pool’s new Chevrolet Volts. The purchase was a part of the State Department’s “Energy Efficiency Sweep of Europe” initiative, which included hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars on green program expenditures at various U.S. Embassies.

In fact, at a May 10 gala held at the U.S. embassy in Vienna, the ambassador showcased his new Volts and other green investments as part of the U.S. government’s commitment to “climate change solutions.” [Washington Times, October 10]

Posted on 10/26/12 12:21 PM by Alex Adrianson

It Was the Best Information (Except for the Other Information That Didn’t Fit Their Narrative)

The White House knew a terrorist group had claimed credit for the 9/11/12 attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi within hours of the attack, according to government e-mails obtained by Reuters. Those e-mails occurred five days before Ambassador Susan Rice made the rounds of the Sunday talk shows to say the best information the administration had indicated the attack was a spontaneous protest inspired by an earlier protest in Cairo against an anti-Mohammed film made in the United States.

The records obtained by Reuters consist of three emails dispatched by the State Department’s Operations Center to multiple government offices, including addresses at the White House, Pentagon, intelligence community and FBI, on the afternoon of September 11. […]

A third email, also marked SBU and sent at 6:07 p.m. Washington time, carried the subject line: “Update 2: Ansar al-Sharia Claims Responsibility for Benghazi Attack.”

The message reported: “Embassy Tripoli reports the group claimed responsibility on Facebook and Twitter and has called for an attack on Embassy Tripoli.”

While some information identifying recipients of this message was redacted from copies of the messages obtained by Reuters, a government source said that one of the addresses to which the message was sent was the White House Situation Room, the president’s secure command post.

Other addressees included intelligence and military units as well as one used by the FBI command center, the source said. [Reuters, October 23]

Posted on 10/26/12 11:38 AM by Alex Adrianson

Outsourcing Makes U.S. Firms More Competitive

 … which helps support jobs in the United States:

Posted on 10/25/12 09:12 PM by Alex Adrianson

Newsweek Has Spotted a Problem

It’s not just conservative critics of the President’s policies who are concerned about a pattern by the administration of pushing the boundary between executive discretion and the making of law. Declining to enforce immigration law against certain categories of illegal immigrants, pursuing regulations of greenhouse gases with via laws never intended for that purpose, and claiming the authority to make a recess appointment while Congress was actually in session are just a few of the administration’s actions that have Newsweek reporters Andrew Romano and Daniel Klaidman very concerned about the condition of America’s democratic institutions:

Unlike most his predecessors—think FDR inventing the modern administrative state during the Great Depression, or Bush pushing the limits of torture and surveillance after Sept. 11—Obama is not expanding executive power to meet the demands of an external crisis. Instead, he is counteracting a new pattern of partisan behavior—nonstop congressional obstruction—with a new, partisan pattern of his own.

The result is an extraconstitutional arms race of sorts: a new normal that habitually circumvents the legislative process envisioned by the Framers. On one side of the aisle, Republicans are providing a blueprint for minority parties to come, demonstrating how it is possible, and politically advantageous, to use procedural tricks to incapacitate a president they oppose. On the other side of the aisle, Obama is drafting a playbook for future presidents to deploy in response: How to Get What You Want Even If Congress Won’t Give It to You. “Obama is the first president to use his unilateral powers so routinely, especially in the domestic sphere,” says University of Virginia presidential scholar Sidney Milkis, a self-described moderate Democrat. “And in some ways, that may be more insidious than what came before.”

And so the question now is not whether the presidency has changed Obama. It’s whether Obama is changing the presidency. [The Daily Beast, October 22]

Posted on 10/25/12 08:51 PM by Alex Adrianson

Government Unions v. Taxpayers

Government unions exist to lobby for more government spending, and the stronger the union, the tighter its grip on the taxpayer’s wallet. As the chart below shows, eight of the ten states with the highest rates of government worker unionization are also among the ten states with the highest income tax burdens.

[Chart by Public Sector Inc., October 23, based on Elizabeth Malm and Gerald Prante, “Annual State-Local Tax Burden Ranking,” Tax Foundation, October 2012]

Posted on 10/24/12 05:13 PM by Alex Adrianson

The Military Has Changed, but Maybe Not as Much as the President Thinks

“We also have fewer horses and bayonets because the nature of our military’s changed,” said Barrack Obama Monday night. He was responding to Mitt Romney’s point that the U.S. Navy now has fewer ships than it did in 1916.

Way back in 2004 Mark Steyn reported:

In the southern Iraqi town of Amara, 20 men from Scotland’s Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders came under attack from 100 or so of Muqtada al-Sadr’s ‘‘insurgents.’’ So they fixed bayonets and charged.

It was the first British bayonet charge since the Falklands War 20 years ago. And at the end of it some 35 of the enemy were dead in return for three minor wounds on the Argylls’ side.

If you’re used to smart bombs, unmanned drones and doing it all by computer back at HQ, you’re probably wondering why a modern Western army is still running around with bayonets at the end of their rifles. The answer is that it’s a very basic form of psychological warfare. [Jewish World Review, May 24, 2004]

Since bayonets are still part of a U.S. Marine’s basic equipment, it’s not clear that the military actually has fewer of them than in 1916. And while horses are not the centerpiece of the nation’s force structure, they did make a key contribution to the U.S. effort in Afghanistan. Eleven years ago this month, the U.S. Army Special Operations Horse Soldiers parachuted into the Afghan mountains to join up with the Northern Alliance to begin its campaign against the Taliban. That unit was the subject of the recent film, Horse Soldiers of 9/11. Last month, The Heritage Foundation hosted a discussion on that unit’s experience:

 

Posted on 10/23/12 05:40 PM by Alex Adrianson

George McGovern, Libertarian

George McGovern, who died at 90 on Sunday, wasn’t just the arch-liberal who lost to Richard Nixon in the 1972 presidential campaign. In later life, he championed libertarian themes like economic freedom, personal responsibility [New York Times, August 14, 1997], skepticism toward government regulation [Wall Street Journal, March 7, 2008], and the rights of individual workers to be free of union intimidation [Wall Street Journal, August 8, 2008]. In 1992, after a hotel he bought went bankrupt, McGovern wrote in the Wall Street Journal that he wished that he “had had this firsthand experience about the difficulties business people face every day” when he was in office. “That knowledge would have made me a better U.S. senator and a more understanding presidential contender.” He explained:

My own business perspective has been limited to that small hotel and restaurant in Stratford, Conn., with an especially difficult lease and a severe recession. But my business associates and I also lived with federal, state and local rules that were all passed with the objective of helping employees, protecting the environment, raising tax dollars for schools, protecting our customers from fire hazards, etc. While I never have doubted the worthiness of any of these goals, the concept that most often eludes legislators is: “Can we make consumers pay the higher prices for the increased operating costs that accompany public regulation and government reporting requirements with reams of red tape.” It is a simple concern that is nonetheless often ignored by legislators. [Wall Street Journal, October 21, 2012 (reprint)]

Posted on 10/22/12 07:08 PM by Alex Adrianson

To Do: Learn from Bell, California

Find out how corruption and bankruptcy became an opportunity for a city to revive civic engagement. The Hudson institute hosts a panel discussing what happened in Bell, Calif., following the scandal that left it without any working government two years ago. The discussion will be held at noon on October 26 at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C.

Hear the Cato Institute’s new President John Allison talk about his new book, The Financial Crisis and the Free-Market Cure: Why Pure Capitalism Is the World Economy’s Only Hope. Allison’s talk begins 6 p.m. at the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C.

Learn how to tell your organization’s success stories. Erin Brett of the Fund for American Studies and John Kramer of the Institute for Justice will offer their insights on produce high-quality donor communications.

• Are you a college student who wants to be a Heritage Foundation intern? Know of a college student who does? Get the applications in soon. The deadline for applying for the Spring semester is November 1.

Posted on 10/19/12 03:58 PM by Alex Adrianson

Remember When Government Was Worried About Private Companies Blocking Information on the Internet?

Minnesota wins this week’s grand prize for “most creative use of government to stifle innovation” reports Will Oremus:

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that the state has decided to crack down on free education, notifying California-based startup Coursera that it is not allowed to offer its online courses to the state’s residents. Coursera, founded by Stanford computer science professors Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng, partners with top-tier universities around the world to offer certain classes online for free to anyone who wants to take them. You know, unless they happen to be from Minnesota.

A policy analyst for the state’s Office of Higher Education told The Chronicle that Minnesota is simply enforcing a longstanding state law requiring colleges to get the government’s permission to offer instruction within its borders. She couldn’t say whether other online education startups like edX and Udacity were also told to stay out.

As the Chronicle notes, with admirable restraint, “It’s unclear how the law could be enforced when the content is freely available on the Web.” And keep in mind, Coursera isn’t offering degrees—just free classes. [Slate, October 18]

Posted on 10/19/12 02:22 PM by Alex Adrianson

Welfare Spending Is Reaching New Highs Under Obama

… finds a new analysis from the Congressional Research Service, report Robert Rector and Amy Payne:

Roughly 100 million people—one-third of the U.S. population—receive aid from at least one means-tested welfare program each month. Average benefits come to around $9,000 per recipient. If converted to cash, means-tested welfare spending is more than five times the amount needed to eliminate all poverty in the United States.

Despite the fact that welfare spending was already at record levels when he took office, President Obama has increased federal means-tested welfare spending by more than a third.

And the increase in welfare spending is not caused just by a down economy (also probably related to policy choices, by the way):

At the beginning of this year, only four of the 80-plus federal welfare programs had work requirements; the Obama Administration has now suspended the work requirements in two of these. After the Obama Administration suspended the work requirement from the food stamp program in 2009, the number of people on food stamps doubled. […]

According to the President’s budget plans for fiscal year 2013, means-tested welfare will not decline as the recession ends, but will continue to grow rapidly for the next decade. Overall, President Obama plans to spend $12.7 trillion on means-tested welfare over the next decade. [The Foundry, October 18]

Posted on 10/19/12 01:55 PM by Alex Adrianson

The Pay Gap Is a Myth

But one that didn’t get corrected by either candidate Tuesday night when Katherine Fenton asked the candidates: “In what new ways to you intend to rectify the inequalities in the workplace, specifically regarding females making only 72 percent of what their male counterparts earn?”

The problem with that statistic, as Diana Furchtgott-Roth, explains is that it “comes from comparing the earnings of all full-time male employees with all full-time female employees,” a calculation that “averages together women who work as social workers with men who work as investment bankers; female English-literature majors with male engineers; and male loggers with female administrative assistants.” Furchtgott-Roth continues:  

Part of the gap is differences in hours worked, because full-time means any number of hours above 35 hours, and full-time women work fewer hours than men, on average. When comparisons are made between men and women who work 40 hours per week, women make 87 percent of men’s earnings. […]

When economists compare men and women in the same job with the same experience, they earn about the same. Studies by former Congressional Budget Office director June O’Neill, University of Chicago economics professor Marianne Bertrand, and the research firm Consad all found that women are paid practically the same as men. […]

President Obama says he’s in favor of equal pay, but women staffers in his White House are paid 90 cents on a man’s dollar — if one calculates the figure, incorrectly, based on simple averages.

Women have unparalleled freedom to choose their fields of study and careers. But many prefer to work part-time in order to combine work and family. Family-friendly jobs with flexible hours pay less than jobs with longer, inflexible hours. [National Review Online, October 17]

Posted on 10/19/12 01:40 PM by Alex Adrianson

The Lobbyists Never Went Away; and Why Would They?

Reporter Anna Palmer tells Politico readers that the denizens of K Street are salivating over the possibility of a Mitt Romney presidency because they expect Romney to lift Barack Obama’s bar on lobbyists in the White House. About that bar, she claims: “President Barack Obama’s gone further than any president to keep lobbyists out of the White House — even signing executive orders to do it.” [Politico, October 15]

Timothy Carney, a far less credulous reporter, explains that those orders were a complete sham that didn’t prevent the administration from hiring any ex-lobbyist it wanted—55 by Carney’s count. He then names all 55 of them, revealing Palmer’s reporting to be the journalistic equivalent of a face plant. [The Examiner, October 16]

But the problem isn’t lobbyists; the problem is the incentives for lobbying created by the size and scope of government. Two graphs from a new Mercatus Center report:

[John Garen, “Government Cronyism and The Erosion of the Public’s Trust: An Exploratory and Cautionary Essay,” Mercatus Center, October 11, 2012]

A big, active government isn’t just wasteful and inefficient in the things that it does; as the graphs above show, it destroys social capital. The more powerful government is, the more people have to gain from controlling government or to lose from not controlling it. As government does more, people mistrust it more and compete even harder to influence it. The way to fix that problem is not to restrict lobbying, but to restrict government.

Posted on 10/18/12 11:11 PM by Alex Adrianson

Obama’s Protectionism Hits Consumers Hard

President Obama, Tuesday night:

When I said that we had to make sure that China was not flooding our domestic market with cheap tires, Governor Romney said I was being protectionist; that it wouldn’t be helpful to American workers. Well, in fact we saved 1,000 jobs. And that’s the kind of tough trade actions that are required.

Economist Gary Clyde Hufbauer:  

[T]he total cost to American consumers from higher prices resulting from safeguard tariffs on Chinese tires was around $1.1 billion in 2011. The cost per job saved (a maximum of 1,200 jobs by our calculations) was at least $900,000 in that year. Only a very small fraction of this bloated figure reached the pockets of tire workers. Instead, most of the money landed in the coffers of tire companies, mainly abroad but also at home. [Peterson Institute for International Economics, April 2012] [H/t: Patrick Brennan, National Review Online, October 17]

Posted on 10/18/12 09:02 PM by Alex Adrianson

Tax Foundation: Romney’s Tax Cut Numbers Are About Right

How can Mitt Romney cut tax rates across the board, keep his plan revenue neutral, and avoid raising other taxes that increase the tax burden on the middle class? It’s not that hard at all, according to the Tax Foundation, which has modeled the economic effects of the Romney plan.

Stephin Entin and William McBride calculate that the government will get back 60 percent of the value of the tax cut in higher collections from the economic growth that the tax cut will generate. [Tax Foundation, October 3] Meanwhile, Romney’s latest suggestion to cap deductions at $17,000 would nearly account for the other 40 percent, says Entin. Entin cautions, though, that a deductions cap “is a bit of a blunt instrument which does not address the merits or demerits of the different types of deductions.” Entin calculates that Romney’s plan without a deductions cap would yield GDP growth of 7.4 percent, while the Romney with the cap would yield growth of 6.9 percent. But the proposal, he says, “illustrates that the tax package can indeed be made to work without raising taxes on middle income families (except in rare cases).” [Tax Foundation, October 11]

Posted on 10/18/12 05:36 PM by Alex Adrianson

What If There Was No Capitalism?

In short, life would be nasty, brutish, and short; and we’d all probably be hungrier than even Michelle Obama wants us to be.

Posted on 10/17/12 05:11 PM by Alex Adrianson

Comes the Handicapper General

Last week, French President François Hollande proposed banning homework because it gives some kids an unfair advantage:

“Education is priority,” Hollande said at Paris’s Sorbonne University on Wednesday. “An education programme is, by definition, a societal programme. Work should be done at school, rather than at home,” in order to foster educational equality for those students who do not have support at home., he added. [sic] [France 24, October 10]

Later, in the year 2081:

“All of a sudden you look so tired,” said Hazel. “Why don’t you stretch out on the sofa, so’s you can rest your handicap bag on the pillows, honeybunch.” She was referring to the forty-seven pounds of birdshot in a canvas bag which was padlocked around George’s neck. “Go on and rest the bag for a little while,” she said. “I don’t care if you’re not equal to me for a while.”

George weighed the bag with his hands. “I don’t mind it,” he said. “I don’t notice it anymore. It’s just a part of me.”

“You been so tired lately—kind of wore out,” said Hazel. “If there was just some way we could make a little hole in the bottom of the bag, and just take out a few of them lead balls. Just a few.”

“Two years in prison and two thousand dollars fine for every ball I took out,” said George. “I don’t call that a bargain.”

“If you could just take a few out when you came home from work,” said Hazel. “I mean—you don’t compete with anybody around here. You just set around.”

“If I tried to get away with it,” said George, “then other people’d get away with it—and pretty soon we’d be right back to the Dark Ages again, with everybody competing against everybody else. You wouldn’t like that, would you?” [Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., “Harrison Bergeron,” 1961]

Posted on 10/16/12 12:17 PM by Alex Adrianson

Biofuel Costs Developing Countries Billions in Higher Food Prices

The Environmental Protection Agency is making food more expensive—especially for those in developing countries. Requiring motor fuel to blended with a minimum of biofuel content means less grain is available for food and feed. Researchers Timothy Wise and Marie Brill find:

Biofuels expansion, with its direct diversion of food and feed crops and its indirect impact through competition for land and other food-producing resources, has contributed significantly to the rise in food prices over the last six years. The expansion of US corn ethanol has had particularly strong effects, contributing to food insecurity in import-dependent developing countries. In an earlier report, we estimated the six-and-a-half year cost to Mexico of US ethanol expansion at $1.5 billion, a heavy cost for a country in which corn is a staple food crop and tortilla prices have risen 69% since 2005.

Here that methodology is extended to all net corn importing countries, estimating the costs of US ethanol expansion to developing countries at $6.6 billion over six years. The particularly vulnerable group of NFIDCs suffered ethanol-related costs of $2.1 billion. For all net corn-importing countries, the costs were $11.6 billion.

While one might assume that Mexico, a large corn importer, would suffer high losses, when scaled to population the impacts were on the same order of magnitude or greater in 13 additional countries. Impacts were strong in Central America, and among those Latin American countries that have trade agreements with the United States. A number of the Arab and North African countries that have experienced social unrest in recent years – Egypt, Syria, Tunisia, Libya – also experienced high ethanol-related costs, perhaps an indicator of the contribution of rising food prices to political instability. [“Fueling the Food Crisis: The Cost to Developing Countries of U.S. Corn Ethanol Expansion,” ActionAid International USA, October 2012]

Posted on 10/15/12 05:34 PM by Alex Adrianson

Possibly the Most Pointless Subsidy Ever

Nashville—AKA, the Music Capital of the World—has a housing subsidy program just for artists, reports Christopher Butler. Really, non-artists need not apply. [Tennessee Watchdog, October 15]

Posted on 10/15/12 04:06 PM by Alex Adrianson

The Policy of Not Supporting the Bad Guys Would Work Great … If the Bad Guys Stopped Messing It Up

Vice President Joe Biden during last week’s vice-presidential debate:

We are working hand and glove with the Turks, with the Jordanians, with the Saudis, and with all the people in the region attempting to identify the people who deserve the help so that when Assad goes — and he will go — there will be a legitimate government that follows on, not an al-Qaeda-sponsored government that follows on. [Quoted by Marc Thiessen, Washington Post, October 15]

The New York Times, October 14:

Most of the arms shipped at the behest of Saudi Arabia and Qatar to supply Syrian rebel groups fighting the government of Bashar al-Assad are going to hard-line Islamic jihadists, and not the more secular opposition groups that the West wants to bolster, according to American officials and Middle Eastern diplomats. […]

 “The opposition groups that are receiving the most of the lethal aid are exactly the ones we don’t want to have it,” said one American official familiar with the outlines of those findings, commenting on an operation that in American eyes has increasingly gone awry.

The United States is not sending arms directly to the Syrian opposition. Instead, it is providing intelligence and other support for shipments of secondhand light weapons like rifles and grenades into Syria, mainly orchestrated from Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The reports indicate that the shipments organized from Qatar, in particular, are largely going to hard-line Islamists.

Posted on 10/15/12 03:38 PM by Alex Adrianson

Toolkit: Use Crowdfunding to Finance Your Projects

Crowdfunding is financing your project idea by posting a clear description of it online and spreading the word through social media to drive people to a website where they can give small donations toward the project. The explosion of social networking in the past decade enables people with creative project ideas to let them go viral to collect hundreds or thousands of small gifts to completely fund a project. Whether you’re making a movie, printing a book, or purchasing a historic property to save it, any good idea can raise capital through this unique technique.  It doesn’t cost you a thing if you don’t succeed. What kind of money can you raise? Movie producers Ann McElhinney and Phelim McAleer raised $212,265 to produce the film FrackNation on the crowdfunding site Kickstarter, which sees 44 percent of projects achieve their fundraising goals. It’s no wonder crowdfunding will be four times larger in 2013 than it was in 2009. Read the how-to guide written by a community of professionals called G+ to help you navigate which websites to use and what steps to follow to fund your project. The guide also warns of the pitfall of having too many investors for a privately traded company, which draws the ire of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

—by Ryan Nichols

Posted on 10/12/12 05:15 PM by Alex Adrianson

To Do: See Hating Breitbart

• See Hating Breitbart to learn more about the man who showed us how to take down the institutions of the Left by turning on the microphone and letting them talk. The movie will be in select theaters starting October 19.

• Watch the submissions to the American Enterprise Institute’s video contest. Here’s the third place winner, which shows how you can both tell a story and make a point effectively in less than two minutes:

• Read about the winners of the Walter Duranty Prize for Journalistic Mendacity. Named after the New York Times Moscow correspondent who downplayed Stalin’s crimes during the 1930s, these prizes are given annual by Pajamas Media to recognize journalistic dishonesty. First prize was given to writer Joan Juliet Buck and editor Anna Wintour for Vogue magazine’s 2011 gushing profile of Asma al-Assad, first lady of Syria. Andrew Sullivan of the Daily Beast, and Bob Simon of 60 Minutes won runner up awards.  

• Browse the offerings at HarveyMansfield.org a new website featuring the writings of the one of the nation’s most important conservative thinkers.

Posted on 10/12/12 05:07 PM by Alex Adrianson

The Main Effect of the Stimulus Seems to Have Been to Make Government Bigger

Reports David Hogberg:

More than three-quarters of the jobs created or saved by President Obama’s economic stimulus in the first year were in government, according to a new study.

In early 2009, Obama economic adviser Jared Bernstein and the Council of Economic Advisers Chairwoman Christina Romer stated, “More than 90% of the jobs created are likely to be in the private sector.”

That hasn’t borne out, according to an analysis by Ohio State University economics professor Bill Dupor.

Under the $821 billion stimulus any entity, public and private, receiving grants, loans or contracts from the stimulus had to report back to the federal government the number of full-time equivalent jobs that were created or saved.

The data were all posted at Recovery.gov. Dupor found that of the roughly 682,000 jobs saved or created in the first year of the program, only 166,000, or 24%, were in the private sector. [Investor’s Business Daily, October 9]

Posted on 10/12/12 03:39 PM by Alex Adrianson

Where to Do Business?

Taxwise, the five best states for business are Wyoming, South Dakota, Nevada, Alaska, and Florida; and the five worst are Rhode Island, Vermont, California, New Jersey, and New York says the Tax Foundation in its just released 2013 State Business Tax Climate Index. The Index is a measure of the competiveness of each state’s tax system.

Posted on 10/12/12 03:07 PM by Alex Adrianson

Ending Corruption Is Hard Work

An innovative effort to import institutions of the rule of law into Honduras has run into an obstacle, and that obstacle, of all things, is the Honduran Supreme Court. A five-judge panel of the court ruled that the plan to create a charter city with its own government, laws, and police forces, amounts to transferring national territory, which is forbidden by the constitution. The case now goes to the full 15-member Supreme Court. [CBS News, October 4]

The idea of charter cities has been developed by economist Paul Romer as a way of getting around the endemic political corruption that deters investment and economic growth in many underdeveloped countries. Short version: Transplant Hong Kong’s success to poor countries.

In a related report, the New York Times identifies the difficulty here: “To set up a new city with clear new rules, you must first deal with governments that are trapped in the old ones.” [New York Times, September 30]

Sidebar: Every single article about this project that we’ve read from a mainstream news source uses the adjective “privately run” to describe these planned cities while also reporting that the cities would have their own system of government. That’s a contradiction in terms. A museum can be privately run; an ice-skating rink can be privately run; a trash-collection service can be privately run; but a jurisdiction that has a government is by definition not privately run. It’s as if the media can’t conceive of political authority and accountability existing outside of a centralized national government. Nah, they couldn’t think that, could they?

Posted on 10/12/12 02:56 PM by Alex Adrianson

J. Rufus Fears, R.I.P.

The country lost a great teacher on liberty and history last weekend. J. Rufus Fears, three-time professor of the year at the University of Oklahoma, died of a stroke on Saturday. Fears was also a fellow at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, a free market think tank. The Oklahoma Daily, a student newspaper at the University of Oklahoma, reports some of the student response:

He would carry around a broomstick, and it would become a spear, pointer or javelin, whatever he needed. […] He would use the broomstick and act out different parts of the battles. He would roam the lecture hall of 200 plus students ... you were rife with attention. […] He had a special charisma and was a unique performer […] . He had a profound understanding of history ... the combination of these traits made him absolutely unique. [The Oklahoma Daily, October 7]

John Hood, president of the John Locke Foundation, recommends Fears as a source of continuing learning for everybody:  

Dr. Fears was a distinguished scholar of the classics and edited the three-volume collection of the writings of Lord Acton, whom Fears greatly admired as a tireless defender of liberty and prescient critic of statism in Europe.

Rufus Fears is perhaps best known outside of Oklahoma, however, for his fantastic series of lectures published by the Teaching Company. These works represent nearly 150 hours of entertaining and insightful presentations on subjects ranging from mythology, classical literature, and the Great Books to the political, religious, and intellectual history of Europe, the Americas, and beyond. As it happens, I was just listening to his fascinating 36-lecture series on the history of freedom when I learned of Professor Fears’s untimely death. [National Review Online, October 8]

For a shorter sample of Fears’s teaching, give his December 2005 Heritage Foundation lecture a read: “The Lessons of the Roman Empire for America Today.”

Posted on 10/12/12 01:11 PM by Alex Adrianson

As Usual, the People Who Pay Are Forgotten

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has awarded its 2012 Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union for six decades of building peace in Europe. This committee is the same one that gave Barack Obama the award in 2009 for promoting a new climate in international relations. That new climate, by the way, killed an American ambassador last month. Aspirations, it seems, matter more than accomplishments to the Nobel Committee. Telegraph columnist Iain Martin:  

Giving the EU a peace prize is at best premature, like knighting Sir Fred Goodwin in the middle of the mad boom. We have no idea how the experiment to create an anti-democratic federation will end. Hopefully the answer is very peacefully, but when Greek protesters are wearing Nazi uniforms, and Spanish youth unemployment is running at 50 per cent, a look at history suggests there is always the possibility of a bumpy landing.

Daftest of all is the notion that the EU itself has kept the peace. It was the Allies led by the Americans, the Russians and the British who defeated and disarmed the Germans in 1945. The German people then underwent the most extraordinary reckoning, transforming their country into an essentially pacifist society. The EU had very little to do with it. Throughout that period it was Nato, led by the Americans and British, which kept the peace in Western Europe. The American taxpayer picked up most of the resulting tab, and the British paid a significant part of the bill too. [The Telegraph, October 12]

In pursuit of European unity, Germany has now given Greece hundreds of billions of Euros for a bailout, but that isn’t enough for the Greeks, who rioted this week when the German chancellor visited Greece. Doesn’t seem like Angela Merkel is enjoying the peace.

Meanwhile, most of the rest of the world this week is celebrating the work of 14-year-old Malala Yousufzai, nominated for the 2011 International Children’s Peace Prize for her efforts to promote the education of women in her country, Pakistan. Her work was so important that the Taliban tried to kill her by shooting her in the head and neck. She remains unconscious.

Posted on 10/12/12 12:14 PM by Alex Adrianson

Not Listening

The State Department ignored warnings that there was a security problem leading up to the September 11 attacks in Benghazi. So we learn this week from the testimony of two security officials who had been stationed in Libya. From Jake Tapper’s pre-hearing report:

[Regional Security Officer Eric] Nordstrom twice wrote to the State Department – in March and July 2012 – to beef up the presence of American security officers in Benghazi, but neither time was there a response. At no point from December 2011 through July 2012, when he left Libya, were more than three Diplomatic Security Service agents permanently and simultaneously stationed at the Benghazi post.

Nordstrom wanted at least five personnel to be stationed at Benghazi, but the State Department would not allow it. There were American security officers, however, at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, including three Mobile Security Detachments, which were part of the DSS, and a 16-member Security Support Team detailed from Special Operations Command AFRICOM, commanded by Wood. But the State Department would not give him permission to deploy them to be stationed at Benghazi. Deputy Assistant Secretary for international programs Charlene Lamb, in Nordstrom’s view, wanted to keep the number of U.S. security personnel in Benghazi “artificially low,” according to a memo for Democrats on the House Oversight Committee.

[Lt. Col. Andrew] Wood, a former Green Beret, told ABC News that he and other members of the Security Support Team wanted to remain in Libya past their deployment was scheduled to end in August, and that Ambassador Stevens wanted them to remain as well. Nordstrom has said that Lamb told him not to request for the Security Support Team to be extended again. (Its deployment had been previously extended in February 2012.) […]

“I do recall one conversation with her where she (Lamb) said that since we now had a residential safe haven in Benghazi that she didn’t seem to have a problem with having no agents on the compound because if something happened then personnel could simply go to that residential safe haven,” Nordstrom told investigators.

That safe haven proved a deathtrap. [ABC News, October 10]

Posted on 10/12/12 11:18 AM by Alex Adrianson

How Much Do Some Public School Officials Hate Competition?

So much that they do something quite irrational with the public property placed in their trust: They refuse to sell unused school buildings to charter schools. Nelson Smith’s article on the problem provides a few examples:

• In late 2010, the Journal Sentinel reported that Milwaukee Public Schools spent more than $1 million a year to maintain 27 surplus school buildings. Yet the district refused sales to charter schools—on the grounds that they would compete with the district for students. In May 2011, the state legislature finally approved a measure allowing the City of Milwaukee to sell the buildings, despite the district’s objections.

• In December 2007, the Special Administrative Board of the St. Louis Public Schools approved terms on the sale of the old Hodgen Elementary School building that included a 100-year deed restriction prohibiting leasing of the building to medical clinics, taverns, adult entertainment facilities, and…charter schools. The restriction was removed by the board in 2009 after the measure was held up to well-deserved ridicule.

• In rural Pennsylvania, the Penns Valley Area School Board is leasing property for construction of a privately funded, $5 million community center that will house a YMCA, the county office for the aging, and other agencies. However, included in the 30-year lease is the following clause: “No groups in direct competition with the District are authorized to use the facility. Those groups in competition are defined as entities that serve the same purpose of the District at the same age level, i.e., charter schools.”

This kind of behavior will continue to be a problem, says Smith, until reforms give municipalities, rather than school districts, control of surplus school buildings. [Education Next, Fall 2012]

Posted on 10/11/12 06:16 PM by Alex Adrianson

The Libya Story so Far

Checking in on the narrative:

Posted on 10/10/12 06:29 PM by Alex Adrianson

Could the 9/11/12 Libya Attack Have Been Anticipated?

There were 12 security incidents in Libya between April 6, 2012 and September 10, 2012 that either targeted U.S. personnel or facilities or otherwise demonstrated that Western diplomats were in harm’s way, according to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Helle Dale provides the rundown:

April 6: IED thrown over the fence of the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi.
April 11: Gun battle erupts between armed groups two-and-a-half miles from the U.S. Consulate, including rocket-propelled grenades.
April 27: Two South African contractors are kidnapped by armed men, released unharmed.
May 1: Deputy Commander of U.S. Embassy Tripoli’s Local Guard Force is carjacked, beaten, and detained by armed youth.
May 1: British Embassy in Tripoli is attacked by a violent mob and set on fire. Other NATO embassies attacked as well.
May 3: The State Department declines a request from personnel concerned about security at the U.S. Embassy in Libya for a DC-3 plane to take them around the country.
May 22: Two rocket-propelled grenades are fired at the Benghazi office of the International Committee of the Red Cross, less than 1 mile from the U.S. Consulate.
June 6: A large IED destroys part of the security perimeter of the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi. Creates hole “big enough for 40 men to go through.”
June 10: A car carrying the British ambassador is attacked in Tripoli. Two bodyguards injured.
Late June: The building of the International Red Cross attacked again and closed down, leaving the U.S. flag as the only international one still flying in Benghazi, an obvious target.
August 6: Armed assailants carjack a vehicle with diplomatic plates operated by U.S. personnel.
September 8: A local security officer in Benghazi warns American officials about deteriorating security. [The Foundry, October 8]

Posted on 10/10/12 06:21 PM by Alex Adrianson

State Department: Don’t Blame Us for Wrong Benghazi Assessment

Something definitely went wrong with the administration’s initial assessment that the 9/11/12 attack in Libya was not a planned al-Qaeda attack, but rather grew out of a spontaneous protest against an anti-Muhammad film. That bad assessment, however, didn’t come from the State Department, says the State Deparment. In fact, reports Josh Rogin, the State Department says it was never on board with that view:

In a conference call with reporters Tuesday, two senior State Department officials gave a detailed accounting of the events that lead to the death of Amb. Chris Stevens and three other Americans. The officials said that prior to the massive attack on the Benghazi compound by dozens of militants carrying heavy weaponry, there was no unrest outside the walls of the compound and no protest that anyone inside the compound was aware of.

In fact, Stevens hosted a series of meetings on the compound throughout the day, ending with a meeting with a Turkish diplomat that began at 7:30 in the evening, and all was quiet in the area.

“The ambassador walked guests out at 8:30 or so; there was nobody on the street. Then at 9:40 they saw on the security cameras that there were armed men invading the compound,” a senior State Department official said. “Everything is calm at 8:30 pm, there is nothing unusual. There had been nothing unusual during the day outside.”

The official was asked about why senior officials said in the immediate aftermath of the attack that it was related to the anti-Islam video and the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo earlier in the day. […]

“That was not our conclusion,” the State Department official said. “We don’t necessarily have a conclusion [about that].” [Foreign Policy, October 10]

Posted on 10/10/12 06:00 PM by Alex Adrianson

Hiring More Teachers Won’t Fix Education

writes Jay Greene:

For decades we have tried to boost academic outcomes by hiring more teachers, and we have essentially nothing to show for it. In 1970, public schools employed 2.06 million teachers, or one for every 22.3 students, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s Digest of Education Statistics. In 2012, we have 3.27 million teachers, one for every 15.2 students.

Yet math and reading scores for 17-year-olds have remained virtually unchanged since 1970, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Assessment of Educational Progress. The federal estimate of high-school graduation rates also shows no progress (with about 75% of students completing high school then and now). Unless the next teacher-hiring binge produces something that the last several couldn’t, there is no reason to expect it to contribute to student outcomes. […]

Parents like the idea of smaller class sizes in the same way that people like the idea of having a personal chef. Parents imagine that their kids will have one of the Iron Chefs. But when you have to hire almost 3.3 million chefs, you’re liable to end up with something closer to the fry-guy from the local burger joint. [Wall Street Journal, October 8]

Posted on 10/09/12 06:22 PM by Alex Adrianson

To Do: Sit Back and Learn Some Economics

• Take an economics course from two of the best teachers in the profession—all without getting out of your pajamas. Tyler Cowen and Alexander Tabarrok, creators of the Marginal Revolution blog, have now launched Marginal Revolution University, a new online platform for learning about economics online. The first course is on Development Economics, in which you’ll learn why some countries are rich and others are poor.

• Check out izzit.org’s new channel on SchoolTube, a video sharing service for teachers. Izzit.org is one of the premier providers of videos and other content that introduces students to economic ideas and shows those ideas in action.

• Are you a current or recent grad student interested in a career in public policy at a free market think tank? Then get your application in for the Ruth and Lovett Peters Fellowship at the Pioneer Institute in Massachusetts. The deadline for the applying is November 30,

• Did you miss The Kingdom when it first came out in 2007? We thought it was a very good action movie, but for some reason it didn’t sit well with the critics. It’s a fictional account a deadly attack on a U.S. facility in Saudi Arabia, and what the U.S. government does in order to bring the culprits to justice. In the movie the good guys win; is that outcome too much to hope for in the case of the real-life killing of the American ambassador and three other Americans in Libya? Go see the movie and then decide for yourself.

Posted on 10/05/12 01:23 PM by Alex Adrianson

Everybody Gains from Rate Cuts

The Tax Policy Center is wrong, say Stephen Entin and William McBride: Mitt Romney’s plan for a 20 percent across-the-board cut in income tax rates will not require new taxes on the poor and the middle-class in order to be revenue neutral. The Tax Policy Center’s main error, explain Entin and McBride in a new Tax Foundation report, is assuming that tax rates have no impact on economic growth:

Certainly, economists disagree about the degree to which taxes affect behavior, but they will all admit that zero effect is not realistic. So, in an effort to produce a more realistic assessment of Romney’s tax plan, we have simulated the effects using a model built on a standard neo-classical growth model found in virtually all textbook treatments.

The results are considerably different from TPC’s. We find that fully 60 percent of the static revenue loss from Romney’s plan is recovered when the dynamic effects of economic growth are taken into account. We find that while the cuts in the individual income tax rates do not “pay for themselves,” they do grow the economy 1.8 percent over the long run. The biggest boost to the economy comes from the 10 point cut in the corporate rate, which grows GDP by 2.3 percent, the capital stock by 6.3 percent, and the wage rate by 1.9 percent. The corporate rate cut is so economically beneficial that it does pay for itself, when all federal revenue effects are considered. So does the elimination of taxes on capital gains and dividends for middle-income earners and the estate tax.

These benefits are widely shared. Every income group experiences at least a 7 percent increase in after-tax income. [“Simulating the Economic Effects of Romney’s Tax Plan,” by Stephen Entin and William McBride, Tax Foundation, October 3]

Posted on 10/05/12 12:36 PM by Alex Adrianson

Job Growth Still Slow

On Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the unemployment rate fell from 8.1 percent to 7.8, which sounds like moderately good news, except that this result doesn’t track with the fact that the economy added only 114,000 jobs in September. James Pethokoukis points to some broader metrics indicating what’s really going on here:

Yes, the U-3 unemployment rate fell to 7.8%, the first time it has been below 8% since January 2009. But that’s only due to a flood of 582,000 part-time jobs. […] The broader U-6 rate — which takes into account part-time workers who want full-time work and lots of discouraged workers who’ve given up looking — stayed unchanged at 14.7%. That’s a better gauge of the true unemployment rate and state of the American labor market. […] The shrunken workforce remains shrunken. If the labor force participation rate was the same as when President Obama took office, the unemployment rate would be 10.7%. If the participation rate had just stayed steady since the start of the year, the unemployment rate would be 8.4% vs. 8.3%. […] [E]ven the artificially depressed 7.8% unemployment rate is way above the 5.6% unemployment rate the White House predicted for September 2012 if Congress passed the $800 billion stimulus package back in 2009. […] The 114,000 jobs created would have been a good number … but for 1962, not 2012. The U.S. economy needs 2-3 times that number every month to close the jobs gap (which is the number of jobs that the U.S. economy needs to create in order to return to pre-recession employment levels while also absorbing the people who enter the labor force each month.) At 114,000 jobs a month, the jobs gap would not close until after 2025, according to the Hamilton Project. [AEIdeas, October 5]

Posted on 10/05/12 12:15 PM by Alex Adrianson

Some Historians Never Learn from History

Eric Hobsbawn, dead this week at 95, might be “the most celebrated British historian of the 20th century,” but he was also an apologist for Stalin to the very end, as British historian Michael Burleigh reminds us:

Asked by the Canadian academic and politician Michael Ignatieff on television whether the deaths of 20 million people in the USSR – not to mention the 55 to 65 million victims of Mao’s Great Leap Forward – might have been justified if this Red utopia had been realised, Hobsbawm muttered in the affirmative.

Everything Hobsbawm wrote deceitfully downplayed the grim role of the Communists in Spain in the Thirties or the forcible nature of the coups the Soviets carried out in Eastern Europe after 1945. Such a cosmopolitan thinker had ironically become imprisoned within a deeply provincial ideological ghetto, knowing or caring nothing for the brave Czechs or Poles who resisted Stalin’s stooges, while being manifestly nonplussed by the democratic transformations of Central Europe since 1989-90. That the secret police – the Sword and Shield of the Revolution – would end up running Vladimir Putin’s FSB-mafia state was literally inexplicable to him.

Hobsbawm’s implacable refusal to recant his views when faced with their grotesque consequences tells us something about the belligerent mindset of the wider British Left. But the eminence that he and his fellow travellers have enjoyed also speaks to the bovine complacency with which, since Mrs Thatcher, the Conservatives have allowed such dubious figures licence to dominate the soft culture of the BBC and our universities. [The Telegraph, October 1]

Posted on 10/05/12 11:23 AM by Alex Adrianson

It’s Not Just Politicians Who Never Leave Washington

Most of the journalists who go to work in Washington, D.C., stay there for life, according to a groundbreaking 34-year study by Brookings Institution scholar Stephen Hess. Paul Bedard reports:

Called “lifers” in the new book “Whatever Happened to the Washington Reporters, 1978-2012,” 69 percent of the reporters surveyed for the original book, “Washington Reporters,” are still in journalism, according to author Stephen Hess.

Hess, a long-time Brookings Institution scholar on politics and journalism, said that of those his team was able to track down, 11 percent left the business before reaching 15 years, 20 percent stayed in 15-29 years, and 69 percent remained in journalism, most in Washington, 30 to over 50 years. He was unable to locate about 10 percent of the original 450, and 87 had died. [Washington Examiner, October 3]

That might explain some things.

Posted on 10/05/12 10:34 AM by Alex Adrianson

Botching the First Amendment, Continued

On Tuesday, United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson seemed to agree with President Barack Obama’s less than full-throated defense of free speech at the United Nations the week before. Responding to a question about the President’s comments, Eliasson said:

[W]e should recognize that you have this gift given to us by the [Universal] Declaration of Human Rights, but it also implies some type of responsibility to use that in such a way that you don’t cause situations; […] . So you have to have to keep in mind, yes, this is the basis for, I hope, most of the countries in the world — the freedom of speech, the freedom of expression, since this is in the Universal Declaration — but that this also is a privilege that we have, which in my view involves also the need for respect, the need to avoid provocations, in a world where we have enough of contradictions and hatred; but that when you respond to the provocations, and actually those who wanted to provoke had succeeded with the violence and the results of the violence.

Shorter version: He believes in free speech as long that speech that doesn’t offend certain groups. That’s not merely a different version of free speech; it is the opposite of free speech; it is a heckler’s veto. Free speech means you don’t have to ask other people’s permission to say what you want.

As Brett Schaeffer and Steven Groves point out, Eliasson’s troubling answer shows that President’s Obama’s own comments (i.e., “The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam.”) have damaged the cause of free speech at the United Nations and around the world. They have only encouraged UN bureaucrats who seem to believe that the rights of American citizens are granted only conditionally by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights rather than protected unconditionally by the U.S. Constitution. [The Foundry, October 4]

Posted on 10/04/12 06:41 PM by Alex Adrianson

Obama Invents a New Tax Credit to Oppose

So the federal government gives companies a tax credit for outsourcing? During Wednesday night’s debate, President Obama said he supports repealing that tax credit and criticized Republicans for defending it. Only thing is, there is no such tax credit. According to Kevin Williamson, the President was most likely referring to a bill introduced by Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) that sought to disallow expensing for costs related to outsourcing. That bill doesn’t end a special credit for outsourcing; rather, it creates a new special penalty in the tax code. As Williamson explains, under that provision, for example,

if you send a letter to your lawyer, the postage is a deductible expense. If you send a letter to your offshoring consultant, the postage is not a deductible expense.

So the special outsourcing tax credit isn’t really there — it’s just regular-ol’ deductible business expenses. Rather than repealing an instance of tax favoritism, Democrats (and some Republican miscreants) propose to use the tax code to inflict punitive measures on businesses that make business decisions at odds with Washington’s political preferences. [National Review Online, October 4]

Posted on 10/04/12 05:10 PM by Alex Adrianson

The Canadian View of American Health Care

Michel Kelly-Gagnon, of the Montreal Economic Institute:

The fact that the American system is […] more expensive than the Canadian system—to that I answer: A Mercedes is indeed more expensive than a Toyota Corolla. There are certain types of health treatments that are only available to the richest people, but because they are available and because you have people who are willing to pay for those treatments, then eventually they’ll become more economical and the whole world will benefit from it. So I say: Thank god that the U.S. has a more expensive system, because it’s the whole world who will benefit from it eventually. [Reason, October 4]

Posted on 10/04/12 12:33 PM by Alex Adrianson

Say That Again, Joe

On Tuesday in Charlotte, N.C., Vice President Joe Biden criticized GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s tax cut plans, saying:

How they can justify, how they can justify raising taxes on the middle class that has been buried the last four years? How in Lord’s name can they justify raising their taxes with these tax cuts?

There are probably lots of taxpayers who wish the Obama administration had tried raising their taxes with tax cuts, instead of raising their taxes with tax increases. According to Americans for Tax Reform, President Obama has signed 21 tax increases into law. Those increases include a 156 percent increase in the federal excise tax on tobacco, and the lack-of-federally-approved-health-insurance excise tax, which used to be called the ObamaCare individual mandate. [Americans for Tax Reform, September 27]

Like all excise taxes, the tobacco tax, hits lower-income taxpayers disproportionately. The lack-of-health-insurance tax is expected to hit 6 million Americans. Many of those will be younger—and therefore typically lower-income—Americans who decide that pricey health insurance doesn’t make sense for them given their good health.

But Biden was right that the last four years haven’t been good for the middle class. Indeed, inequality has grown under Obama, notes John Merline:

Since 2009, the middle 20% of American households saw their average incomes drop 4%. In 2011 alone, they fell 1.7%. The poorest 20% have fared even worse under Obama, Census data show. Their incomes have dropped more than 7% since 2009, and are now lower than they’ve been at any time since 1985, after adjusting for inflation.

Meanwhile, the wealthiest have managed to eke out gains in two of the past three years. In 2011, the top 20% saw their average income climb almost 2%, the Census data show. [Investor’s Business Daily, October 2]

Posted on 10/03/12 06:10 PM by Alex Adrianson

Will Competition in Medicare Hurt Seniors?

No, contrary to the claims of the Obama camp—repeated by the President in Wednesday night’s debate—Mitt Romney’s plan to make Medicare into a premium support program will not cost seniors an extra $6,400 per year. A premium support plan would give each senior a defined-contribution toward purchasing a health insurance plan of his choice. Romney says the contribution levels will be designed to ensure seniors have at least the same level of coverage they currently enjoy.

The claim that Romney’s plan would cost seniors more is based on a Congressional Budget Office estimate of a 2011 premium support plan put forward by Romney’s running mate Paul Ryan. That plan hasn’t been Ryan’s plan since earlier this year, and it was never Romney’s plan.

Further, as Rea Hedermann explains, CBO’s own scoring rules prevent the agency from producing reliable estimates of the effects of competition on program costs. In scoring the original Ryan proposal, for example, CBO assumed that traditional Medicare will always be less expensive than private plans in low-cost areas. But that assumption doesn’t jive with recent research, notes Hedermann: University of Minnesota economists have found that premium support with competitive bidding could save 9.5 percent annually. A more recent study found that premium support could reduce Medicare spending by 9 percent annually.” [Internal citations omitted.] [The Heritage Foundation, September 28]

Posted on 10/02/12 05:46 PM by Alex Adrianson

Not Transparent

The Obama administration is not fulfilling the President’s instructions to “usher in a new era of open government,” according to a Bloomberg analysis of federal agencies’ responses to Freedom of Information Act requests for the cost of travel by top officials:

Nineteen of 20 cabinet-level agencies disobeyed the law requiring the disclosure of public information: The cost of travel by top officials. In all, just eight of the 57 federal agencies met Bloomberg’s request for those documents within the 20-day window required by the Act. […]

Bloomberg reporters in June filed FOIA requests for fiscal year 2011 taxpayer-supported travel for Cabinet secretaries and top officials of major departments. Justice Department official Melanie Ann Pustay said in an interview that disclosure of those records is in the public interest.

Even agency heads who publicly announce their events – including Holder, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius – didn’t provide the costs of their out-of-town trips more than three months after the initial request. […]

The travel costs generated by some other Obama officials—Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson, and Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano – also remain undisclosed.

A request made in June for the travel records of Susan Rice, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, will remain unfulfilled for more than a year, according to a federal official involved in the case. [Bloomberg, September 28]

Posted on 10/01/12 06:13 PM by Alex Adrianson

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