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InsiderOnline Blog: November 2010

Fish Hooks Are Harmful If Swallowed

Ever wonder why so many products carry crazy labels that warn against doing things that no person with common sense would do with the product? The reason is that people actually do those things and then sue the product’s makers. The video below from the Pacific Research Institute explains just how expensive and inefficient tort law has become in the United States:

Posted on 11/30/10 05:14 PM by Alex Adrianson

Arab Leaders Want Iran Stopped, Too

One thing you may not hear about the diplomatic cables released over the weekend by Wikileaks is that they show how much moderate Arab leaders want the United States to do something about Iran. The Jerusalem Post reports:

According to one cable published by WikiLeaks on Sunday, Saudi King Abdullah “frequently exhorted the US to attack Iran to put an end to its nuclear weapons program” and to cut off the head of the snake.

According to another cable, King Hamad of Bahrain, a country with a majority Shi’ite population, urged in a meeting with former CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus that action be taken to terminate Iran’s nuclear program.

“That program must be stopped,” Hamad said, according to the cable. “The danger of letting it go on is greater than the danger of stopping it.”

Jordan, another country that voiced concern, is uncomfortable with the possibility that a nuclear Iran would provide an umbrella for opposition groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt is also challenged by Iran’s continued nuclear development, as shown by the conviction in April of 26 men who were spying for Hizbullah and plotting attacks in Egypt.

Posted on 11/29/10 02:32 PM by Alex Adrianson

A Good Question

A lot of folks are wondering right now if Ben Bernanke knows what he’s doing. But perhaps the issue isn’t the wisdom of the man in Fed chairman’s chair, but the wisdom of the whole Federal Reserve setup. Along come George Selgin, William Lastrapes, and Lawrence White asking: “Has the Fed Been a Failure?” That’s the title of a new working paper they’ve authored for the Cato Institute. Reader beware: It’s not beach reading. But there’s some good information in there, and apparently there have been few if any attempts at a comprehensive literature review on the Fed’s performance on monetary policy since its creation in 1913. Here’s one compelling datum they note about the Fed’s failure to control inflation:

A consumer basket selling for $100 in 1790 cost only slightly more, at $108, than its (admittedly very rough) equivalent in 1913. But thereafter the price soared, reaching $2422 in 2008 … .

There’s a lot more. Their conclusion, in part:

The Federal Reserve System has not lived up to its original promise. Early in its career, it presided over both the most severe inflation and the most severe (demand-induced) deflations in post-Civil War U.S. history. Since then, it has tended to err on the side of inflation, allowing the purchasing power of the U.S. dollar to deteriorate considerably. That deterioration has not been compensated for, to any substantial degree, by enhanced stability of real output. Although some early studies suggested otherwise, recent work suggests that there has been no substantial overall improvement in the volatility of real output since the end of World War II compared to before World War I. A genuine improvement did occur during the sub-period known as the Great Moderation. But that improvement, besides having been temporary, appears to have been due mainly to factors other than improved monetary policy. Finally, the Fed cannot be credited with having reduced the frequency of banking panics or with having wielded its last-resort lending powers responsibly.

Its record strongly suggests that the Federal Reserve’s problems go well beyond those of having lacked good administrators.

Posted on 11/24/10 11:05 AM by Alex Adrianson

Happy Thoughts for Your Holiday Traveling

About those back scatter X-Ray scanners:

Because this device can scan a human in a few seconds, the X-ray beam is very intense. Any glitch in power at any point in the hardware (or more importantly in software) that stops the device could cause an intense radiation dose to a single spot on the skin. Who will oversee problems with overall dose after repair or software problems?

The TSA is already complaining about resolution limitations; who will keep the manufacturers and/or TSA from just raising the dose, an easy way to improve signal-to-noise and get higher resolution?

This missive comes from a letter sent by four scientists from the University of California at San Francisco to John Holdren, President Obamas science adviser, back in April. The letter details a variety of other concerns about the health consequences of deploying the scanners. Grim reading. [Via Mary Theroux at The Beacon.]

Posted on 11/24/10 10:12 AM by Alex Adrianson

The View from a Small Business

For 16 years, Barb Warner has offered shoppers a unique collection of hard-to-find home and garden accessories. Despite her success at serving her customers, she’s now uncertain whether her business can survive an onslaught of government regulations:

Posted on 11/23/10 04:35 PM by Alex Adrianson

“We Didn’t Decide This.”

Here’s some good perspective on the Transportation Security Administration from Russ Roberts at Cafe Hayek:

I was listening to Tony Kornheiser’s AM radio show this morning and referring to people who are upset about being groped patted down he said something like they were missing the goal of the whole thing which was to keep the plane from being blown up. But we know that’s not the goal. If that were the goal, we would ban air travel. That is the only certain way of achieving the goal. (And it would be very successful if that really were the goal.)

But the other point is that it’s not the right goal. The goal isn’t to stop x y or z regardless of the cost. That’s why the ban on air travel is useful. It helps you see that there are some costs not worth paying. How have we come to a point where we think it’s OK for 99.9% of the population to suffer indignity to protect us from the other .1%? One answer is that there’s no “we.” We didn’t decide this. Somebody decided it for us.

The right goal is that we should offer choices and restrict choices if those moves enhance the human enterprise, giving us more freedom to express ourselves, to create, to enjoy, to love, to be moved, to dance, to sing, to harmonize with others. And yes, to stay safe from evil people so we can do those things. But staying safe isn’t worth it if there is too much indignity or if it empowers people who do not care for me to do things that hurt me or that profit them at my expense.

Posted on 11/23/10 04:12 PM by Alex Adrianson

The Facts on Oil Industry Subsidies

PR-wise, it’s not the best time to be in the crude oil business. But, despite the Obama administration’s efforts to highlight tax breaks for the industry—tax breaks that all businesses receive—it’s just not true that oil industry lobbyists have captured U.S. energy policy. Scott Hodge runs down some facts in a new Tax Foundation report.

He points out, for example, that the United States actually provides far fewer subsidies to energy consumption than many other countries, especially other oil-producing countries. The United States is not among the top 25 subsidizers of energy in total dollars (including tax breaks), according to the International Energy Agency. And while the industry does receive about $2.8 billion annually in tax breaks, the green energy sector receives tax breaks amounting to $11.3 billion per year.

And let’s not forget taxes. Hodge writes:

Between 1981 and 2008, the oil industry paid more than $388 billion to the federal and state governments in corporate income taxes and almost twice that amount, $683 billion, to foreign governments.

Excise tax collections have grown steadily. Between 1981 and 2008, $1.1 trillion was collected in excise and sales taxes on petroleum products. In 1999 governments collected $59 billion, more than twice the industry’s net profits that year. In severance, property and so-called windfall profit taxes, the industry paid more than $472 billion over that 27-year period.

Posted on 11/23/10 03:21 PM by Alex Adrianson

Bowles-Simpson: the Good and the Bad

Greg Mankiw, writing in the New York Times, commends the Bowles-Simpson draft report on deficit reduction for proposing to eliminate a variety of tax credits while dramatically lowering personal income tax rates. The package, says Mankiw, isn’t so much a tradeoff for fiscal conservatives as a two-fer: both tax cuts and spending cuts. That’s because, he explains, a tax credit is functionally indistinguishable from a spending program. Indeed, it hardly matters to a special interest whether its particular economic activity is favored with a spending program or a tax credit.

Mankiw’s piece is a good read and it effectively makes the case for that view of tax credits. But it should be pointed out that the overall package is not a tax cut. Indeed, the co-chair’s draft proposal envisions the overall tax burden reaching 20.5 percent of gross domestic product by 2020. President Obama’s 2012 budget has taxes at 19.8 percent of GDP, and taxes have historically averaged 18 percent of GDP. In addition to eliminating tax credits, the proposal calls for higher rates on capital gains and dividends and the elimination of accelerated depreciation.

According to Mankiw, the Bowles-Simpson plan is “far better than the status quo.” Indeed, it cuts spending from 32.9 percent of GDP to 20.5 percent by 2040. But an even better plan would recognize that further deficit reduction can be achieved without raising the tax burden at all. A good place to start would be repeal of Obamacare, which raises federal spending by $2.5 trillion over its first full decade of implementation.

For more on the Bowles-Simpson plan, see also Alison Acosta Fraser’s Heritage Foundation paper, “Bowles–Simpson Commission Co-Chair Report: A Good and Welcome First Step.”

Posted on 11/22/10 01:28 PM by Alex Adrianson

Step One: Drop the Orwellian Language

What should the new Congress focus on next year? Preventing a massive tax hike? Cutting spending? Reforming entitlements? Defanging Obamacare? According to Heritage fellow J. D. Foster, the debate on all of those issues can be improved if Congress would first reform the way its support agencies produce their analyses. In short, says Foster, the Congressional Budget Office, the Congressional Research Service, and the Joint Committee on Taxation too often produce analyses with inaccurate assumptions that reflect a leftward tilt.

Foster points out, for example, that the Congressional Research Service says fixing the Alternative Minimum Tax would cost the government $658.8 billion from 2009 to 2020. But that makes sense only if you assume that people’s money belongs to the government first. “[P]olitically neutral language,” says Foster, “might say that a permanent fix to the AMT would have a significant revenue impact and that failure to index the AMT for inflation would impose a $658.8 billion tax hike.”

The Joint Committee on Taxation, meanwhile, continues to assume that changes in tax rates have no impact on incentives to work, save, and invest. In theory that means raising the top marginal tax rate to 100 percent could raise a lot of money, but common sense tells us that such policy would destroy economic activity and actually reduce government revenues. And as for the Congressional Budget Office, its analyses of budget baseline still assume that expiring spending programs will be reauthorized while expiring tax cuts will not be. This makes it seem as if maintaining the same tax rates amounts to a tax cut that has to be “paid for.”

For more on these problems, see Foster’s paper “Eliminating Partisan Analysis from Congress’s Support Agencies,” The Heritage Foundation, November 15, 2010.

Posted on 11/19/10 02:17 PM by Alex Adrianson

Get Supporters: A To-Do List

There’s lot of things you can do to get supporters for your organization. In fact, there’s at least “125 Ways to Identify and Cultivate Supporters for Your Cause.” That’s the title of a new booklet just published by A.C. Fitzgerald & Associates. Here’s a sampling of a few ideas you may have overlooked:

4. Read what your donors read. You will learn more about their interests and how they think.

5. Consider your most generous and most loyal donors and develop the profile of an “ideal” donor. Then identify the places where you might encounter such people.

9. Read letters to the editor in newspapers. Research any person who writes about an issue pertinent to your nonprofit. Follow up with a letter of introduction or a phone call.

27. Put a “forward email” option on all email communications.

38. Hold an online essay contest.

54. Contact lapsed donors at least once per year. Give them a compelling reason to get back on board.

105. Offer tours of your offices.

115. Feature a donor on your website.

125. Respect the donor’s intent at all times.

Posted on 11/19/10 12:06 PM by Alex Adrianson

More Something for Nothing

There’s a federal grant program that gives local governments money for the cost of jailing illegal aliens, and some of that money is given to jurisdictions that deliberately avoid prosecuting illegal aliens. The Center for Immigration Studies notes:

In 2010, the grant program, known as the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP), doled out a total of roughly $400 million to about 850 cities, counties, and states. Among them were 27 jurisdictions widely considered to be sanctuary jurisdictions, which together received more than $62.6 million, or 15.6 percent of the total … . For example, the 2010 SCAAP grantees include some jurisdictions — such as San Francisco, Chicago, Santa Clara County, Calif., and Arlington, Va. — that are trying to opt-out of Secure Communities, the program that automatically flags criminal aliens for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) attention at the time they are booked into jail. [Internal citations omitted.]

Whatever you’re position on immigration—pro-, anti-, or somewhere in between—it doesn’t make sense for the federal government to hand local governments money for doing something that they do not in fact do.

Posted on 11/18/10 05:02 PM by Alex Adrianson

You Might be a Lobbyist or a Government Worker If …

… you live in a county listed among the richest in America. Seven of the top ten ring the beltway, according to a recent report in Newsweek (based on Census data).

Posted on 11/18/10 04:02 PM by Alex Adrianson

Thanks, Pete!

Massachusetts and the world lost a real pioneer in public policy last week. We refer to Lovett C. Peters, founder of the Pioneer Institute. Peters passed away on Veterans Day after a fall. He was 97.

After a long and successful career in business, Peters founded the Pioneer Institute in 1988 to promote free market solutions to Massachusetts’s public policy problems. Peters was especially interested in finding ways to improve education opportunities for Massachusetts’s children. Peters and the Pioneer Institute played important roles in the development of charter schools in Massachusetts, which are credited with helping the commonwealth turns its test scores around. By the turn of the millennium, Massachusetts’s test scores were among the highest in the country.

Jim Stergios, Executive Director of the Pioneer Institute, remembers Peters this way:

Pete always saw opportunity, and he was uniquely suited to succeed in a land noted for its freedoms. He was extremely goal-oriented — and once his initial goals were achieved, he always looked for newer and farther reaching ones. Certainly, this aided him in his trajectory from humble origins to economic success. But the values he learned from parents who were educators — and his ability to keep true to those values — marked him for success in private life and friendships as well.

At the age of 75 he dedicated himself to improving his community and his state. Naturally, given his view of opportunity and given the opportunities private scholarships afforded him, Pete understood the important implications of improving our schools.

And as one learned to expect from Pete, he brought a laser-like focus to the cause.

There’s more remembrances of Peters at the Pioneer Institute’s blog.

Posted on 11/18/10 02:45 PM by Alex Adrianson

Back Off, TSA

The threat of underwear bombs “does not justify the indiscriminate use of body scanners for primary screening,” explains Heritage fellow James Carafano:

Eliminating the threat of serious liquid bombs by restricting carry-on liquids took that immediate danger of the table. Small bombs strapped to bodies or air mailed are far from guaranteed to bring down a plane. Sure any bomb on a plane might do some damage–but let’s face it you could also just stab people in the neck with sharpened pencils to kill a couple of passengers on a plane. And if you wanted to kill a handful of people with a bomb, you could just blow yourself up at the ticket counter before you got near security.

That is not to say that sensible primary screening, or more thorough and rare secondary screening, should end. But we should be spending our security buck where it gives us the biggest bang.

The best security is intelligence and law enforcement that finds and stops the bad people before they get near the plane. Let’s continue to do common sense screening at the airport, but lets stop pretending that is the best line of defense.

TSA should back off requiring the body scanners for primary screening.

Posted on 11/17/10 05:44 PM by Alex Adrianson

The Ruling Class Doesn’t Like Paying Taxes, Either

Government employees owe $3.3 billion in back taxes, reports CNBC.

According to Heritage Foundation fellow James Sherk, the typical federal worker “receives 22 percent more in wages than an equally skilled private sector worker … .” And, says Sherk, when both wages and benefits are toted up, federal workers are overpayed by $40 billion to $50 billion per year.

You’d think they would be able to pay their taxes.

Posted on 11/16/10 12:45 PM by Alex Adrianson

Regulations Protect—Except When They Don’t

Many of the regulations contained in the Obamacare law were supposed to protect consumers from insurers offering health plans that are less comprehensive than what the government thinks consumers should buy. But lately, the Department of Health and Human Services has been pretty busy protecting consumers from these very regulations. Since September, according to a report in the New York Times, HHS has issued 111 waivers to the law’s regulations on insurance plans. Those waivers affect insurance plans that collectively cover 1.2 million people.

Without the waivers, companies like McDonalds would not be able to continue offering the limited but affordable plans that its workers could afford. So what’s the problem with passing regulations and then letting bureaucrats decide on a case-by-case basis when those regulations should be waived? That set-up makes the government the arbiter of what’s in the consumer’s interest, rather than the consumer spending his own money.

Posted on 11/15/10 02:18 PM by Alex Adrianson

A Free Speech Win in Colorado

On Monday, the Institute for Justice won another victory for free speech in the case Sampson v. Buescher. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Colorado’s registration and disclosure requirements for grassroots activists.

Karen Sampson and her neighbors in Parker North, Colorado, had organized to oppose the annexation of their neighborhood, and for that they got sued. That’s because whenever two or more citizens organize and spend more than $200 to speak about a ballot issue, the Colorado requires them to register as an “issue committee” and track their political expenditures. The requirements can rival the tax code in complexity. Because Sampson and her neighbors had failed to register, they were sued by groups that supported the ballot initiative. But the court on Monday struck the regulations down as an infringement on Coloradans free speech rights.

So, Coloradans, you can now talk about ballot issues without fear of getting thrown into jail.

Posted on 11/12/10 02:11 PM by Alex Adrianson

Letting People Keep Their Own Money Is Not Giving Them Something

… and other corrections to the White House’s pro-tax increase video, courtesy of Dan Mitchell:

Posted on 11/12/10 01:13 PM by Alex Adrianson

Regulatory Report Card Database

How thorough is the regulatory analysis that goes into the making of economically significant regulations? You can find out by checking the Mercatus Center’s new Regulatory Report Card. It’s a database of report cards that grade the use of regulatory analysis for economically significant regulations. Soon, Mercatus scholars will score proposed regulations in real time so that interested citizens can use the scores to write informed comments during the public comment period for proposed regulations.

Posted on 11/12/10 01:03 PM by Alex Adrianson

Gov. Rick Perry on Federalism

Texas Governor Rick Perry has been one of the leading voices for checking federal power and over state policy and for a more robust interpretation of the 10th Amendment to the Constitution, which states: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

He came to the Heritage Foundation this week to talk about his new book, Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America from Washington:

Posted on 11/12/10 12:45 PM by Alex Adrianson

Semper Fi!

Today is the 235th birthday of the Marine Corps. The Corps’ history, writes Frank Hoffman “reveals a track record of rigorous self-evaluation and steady adaptation.” As Hoffman notes, the Marines wrote the manual on irregular warfare in the 1920s, developed the amphibious techniques employed on D-Day, demonstrated the value of “vertical envelopment” in the Pusan Perimeter during the Korean War, and created the mobile-warfare doctrines that helped defeat Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf War. As befitting its motto, “First to Fight,” the Marines also established the first conventional U.S. military foothold in Afghanistan following 9/11.

See “The Marines: 235 Years of Individual Valor and Institutional Adaptation,” Foreign Policy Research Institute.

Posted on 11/10/10 04:46 PM by Alex Adrianson

Somebody Remembered the Compact Clause

Can state governments in collusion with big business and without any act of Congress impose national taxes and regulations that restrict competition in an industry? So far, the answer is yes, because that’s exactly what the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement between the tobacco companies and 46 states did. Under the MSA, participating states receive billions every year in payments from tobacco companies while the participating tobacco makers maintain their profits through state regulations that prevent non-participating tobacco companies from undercutting their prices.

The Competitive Enterprise Institute, however, has been trying to get the courts to take seriously a provision of the Constitution called the “Compact Clause,” which says: “No State shall, without the Consent of Congress …enter into any Agreement or Compact with another State, or with a foreign Power … .” Now CEI has taken its argument to the Supreme Court, asking that the MSA be thrown out. CEI’s petition, filed Monday, explains:

The MSA is as undemocratic as it is anticompetitive. Congress and the state legislatures have ample authority to tax and regulate tobacco. But this should be done the old-fashioned way: by passing taxes and restrictions subject to the democratic scrutiny of the people – not by enforcing sweetheart deals drafted by industry, imposed on the entire nation without congressional involvement, and carefully insulated against repeal or democratic review.

Unfortunately, the MSA has escaped judicial as well as democratic scrutiny, by virtue of strained interpretations of antitrust immunity and Compact Clause limitations that ignore the important limits this Court has placed on those doctrines. The sheer magnitude of the private and governmental interests backing the MSA – contrasted with the relative powerlessness of the consumers and small companies injured by it – has seemingly discouraged the serious and searching judicial scrutiny one would expect of an agreement of such economic and political importance. Forty-six of the States reap billions of dollars every year as a result of the MSA, and the tobacco industry giants reap billions more. It seems too good to be true – unless you are a consumer or a small company trying to compete with the Majors and other participating manufacturers. … [T]he courts have given a perfunctory back of the hand to challenges to the MSA. Without careful analysis or explanation, immunities have been stretched far beyond their proper scope and the Compact Clause has been rendered a redundancy.

A few years back, Christopher DeMuth summed up the interstate compact issue thus:

The requirement of Congressional approval is unqualified and it is fundamental. For a gang of states to go off on their own and set up independent governing regimes is, politically, a form of partial secession. [“Unlimited Government: Doing Too Much Badly,” The Insider, Summer 2006.]

Posted on 11/09/10 12:03 PM by Alex Adrianson

Is Politics a Coordination Problem?

Sometimes it’s tempting to say liberals just don’t get it on spending. But maybe they do get it. At the Enterprise Blog, James DeLong offers an alternative explanation for states like California:

[I]t looks like everyone in California is playing a multiplayer version of chicken, sometimes characterized as “someone around here better be reasonable, and it is certainly not going to be me.”

All the parties must recognize that the state has severe problems, but no one seems to be taking any responsibility for addressing them. Thus the Silicon Valley barons protected their investments in “green” technology by spending millions to defeat the effort to suspend the job-killing CO2 caps, the public employee unions refused to budge an inch on anything, and the state re-elected a senator who supports turning the Central Valley into a desert for the sake of the Delta Smelt. …

As oft-noted, the way to win a two-car game of chicken is to take off your steering wheel and throw it out the window, thus showing the other player that you are committed to win or die. In California, it looks like many cars are racing toward each other, and all have thrown their steering wheels out the window, which should produce a result entertaining only to owners of scrap yards.

Of course, all of California’s interests may be conspiring to play the “someone around here better be reasonable, and it is certainly not going to be us” game against the rest of the nation, counting on the federal government to be too responsible to allow economic disaster to engulf the state. So one of the early acts of the new Congress should be to throw the federal steering wheel out the window, ensuring that there will be no bailout of California.

Posted on 11/08/10 05:24 PM by Alex Adrianson

Who Are the Best Citizen Activists?

Get your nominations in for the Sammies. That’s the Sam Adams Alliance’s annual awards recognizing the best citizen activists for liberty. Five awards will be given: The Modern Day Sam Adams award for the best overall agent of change, the Messenger award for excellence in communicating the cause of liberty, the Reformer award for making government more responsible and responsive, the Watchdog award for blowing the whistle on misfeasance, and the Rookie award for the newcomer who has had the biggest impact. The deadline for nominations is January 28, 2011.

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

They’ve Changed the Menus!

Well, you were getting tired of meatloaf anyway.

It’s not just the U.S. Congress that looks different today. On Tuesday, voters in all 50 states cast ballots for state legislators, too. And in all of those states there’s a free market think tank ready with reform ideas. Here’s a sampler of what they’re talking about:

In Michigan, the Mackinac Center says it’s not just higher taxes that make Michigan a poor business climate compared to neighboring states like Indiana, but excessive regulations, too. For example, Michigan does its own wetlands permitting, and its standards are more rigorous than those of the federal wetlands program. Returning program control to the Army Corps of Engineers would not only be cheaper for the state, but would also make the state more attractive to businesses.

Also, notes the Center, the culture of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment is not oriented toward prompt issuance of environmental permits. Removing that function to a separate agency that would serve as a one-stop shop for all business permits would reduce the amount of time it takes to start a new business in Michigan. For more regulatory reform ideas from the Mackinac Center see: “Environmental Regulation in Michigan: A Blueprint for Reform,” by Russ Harding.

In Massachusetts, the Pioneer Institute wants to help legislators “Hit the Ground Running” in the next legislative session and has offered a wide-ranging set of proposals that include paring the state’s workforce back to its 2004 level, eliminating legal obstacles to outsourcing and privatization, reducing costly state mandates on local governments, regaining control of education standards in the state’s schools, and making the state’s government more transparent to citizens.

In California, the state government is nearly twice as large (22.3 percent of gross state product) as what research shows is the growth-maximizing level (11.4 percent). The Pacific Research Institute’s “No Bang for the Taxpayer’s Buck: Why California Must Reform Spending and Trim Government,” provides a thorough literature review of why and how to reduce state spending. Among the budget-cutting ideas presented are public-private partnerships in managing prisons, biennial budgeting, and switching state pensions from a defined-benefit to a defined-contribution system. See also: “Lessons from California’s Laboratory,” by William Voegeli, published by the Claremont Institute.

In Oregon, the Cascade Policy Institute says “Reality Based Budgeting” can help trim the size of state government, reduce its projected biennial budget deficit of $2 billion, and kick start Oregon’s economy. Among the priorities identified by Cascade are bringing public employee pay into line with private-sector pay (with could save $298 million per biennium), privatizing liquor distribution and sales, eliminating tax subsidies for businesses to invest in renewable energy, and leasing or selling state forests (which would quadruple the return on those assets for the state’s schools). For more ideas from Cascade, see “Facing Reality: Ideas to Reset Oregon’s Budget and Recharge Its Economy.”

More state-level reform ideas can be found in The Texas Public Policy Foundation’s “Legislators’ Guide to the Issues 2011-2012,” and the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute’s Refocus Wisconsin Web site.

Posted on 11/05/10 12:01 PM by Alex Adrianson

Ideas Matter

An election result by itself isn’t a victory, as Carl Graham of the Montana Policy Institute explains

Politics is about power, and this year’s results determined where the power will be for at least the next couple of years. But power without principle is at best ineffective and at worst dangerous. We need to make sure that those in power reflect the principles of the people who put them there. 

Power is also fleeting, while principles and the ideas they foster are lasting. Unfortunately, some of the election results seem to indicate that many Montanans are investing more in people whose names they recognize or who they think will fix their problems than in the ideas that will eliminate the sources of those problems. Overspending, over regulation, shifting everyday decisions from people to bureaucracies, pandering to special interests or the policy fad of the day; these are all things that shift the power of people to govern themselves to someone or something else. They take away responsibility for our own actions, and by extension the ability and freedom to decide how to live our lives. 

I don’t think most Montanans get the relationship between freedom and responsibility yet. We need to get that word out or the shift we saw in this election could turn out to be just a footnote in the history books. The grass roots movement that drove this wave has passion, but even the hottest fire fades without adequate fuel. We need to inform and impress upon our fellow citizens the importance of ideas over people. We need to remember that politicians don’t typically lead the culture, they follow it.

Posted on 11/04/10 01:34 PM by Alex Adrianson

Mission Creep Alert: FCC Wants a Say in High School Curriculum

The Federal Communications Commission is now in charge of fighting cyber-bullying. PCMag.com reports that the agency, which was originally set up to regulate use of the radio spectrum and telecommunications, will soon issue rules requiring schools receiving federal subsidies for Internet access—and that’s most schools—to implement anti-cyber bullying instruction.

But we’ve always thought cyber bullying was a federal matter. As Heritage Foundation fellow James Gattuso points out:

For the past 75 years, [the agency] has bullied its own way around the communications marketplace. Just ask anyone who had been harassed under the Fairness Doctrine, broadcasters fined under vague indecency standards, cable providers facing an FCC “war on cable,” or—currently—Internet service providers being threatened with regulation under improvised “Title II” standards.

Posted on 11/03/10 05:57 PM by Alex Adrianson

NPR Could Survive Two Years on Its Current Endowment

National Public Radio’s endowment topped $250 million last year. According to NewsMax correspondent Ron Kessler, that’s equal to about two years of revenue for NPR. Why again does NPR need the support of the taxpayer?

Posted on 11/03/10 05:20 PM by Alex Adrianson

Was the Failed Bomb Plot a Setback for the Terrorists?

The uncovering of a plot last week to send explosive-laden packages from Yemen to Jewish places of worship in Chicago was at least the 32d time since 9/11 that a terrorist attack has been thwarted. But does the failure of the plot actually amount to a set-back for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the group suspected of organizing it? Charlie Szrom of the American Enterprise Institute writes:

[Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] executed a terrorist attack that created worry around the world and consumed the resources and attention of authorities on three continents. The plot also opens the door for an attack type that is much more difficult to prevent: bombs that can avoid discovery by sniffer dogs or X-ray machines. If no major AQAP leaders face arrest, AQAP will have accomplished all of this without any real damage to its organization. Yemeni officials have thus far arrested only two individuals connected to the package plot – a mother and her daughter – and do not have a good record when it comes to detaining significant AQAP leaders …

Coordinating the packages through multiple flight routes to arrive at similar times in the U.S. and employing sophisticated bomb design required extensive planning. AQAP’s hold on territory in Yemen allows the group to conduct such operational coordination with lessened interference from law enforcement authorities. The group likely sees creating widespread fear and forcing authorities to expend resources as beneficial to its interests (namely, expanding its fundraising and recruiting base while maintaining its hold on power in Yemen).

If our enemies have a strategy to attack Americans and weaken our power structure, why do we not have a strategy to attack and destroy the al-Qaeda-led network? The president again today [Monday] recognized that al-Qaeda and its affiliated parts are the enemy. However, he did not state how he expects to destroy the enemy network’s safe havens. What is the plan for reducing al-Qaeda’s power in Yemen? Has the administration seen any measurable successes in Yemen against AQAP since the Christmas Day attack? Are we today in a significantly different position than we were in December 2009, when we were attacked by a group with a stronghold in Yemen, and when we lacked a strategy to deal with AQAP, despite some U.S. policy attention to Yemen over the preceding year? What is the strategy to deal with al-Qaeda-linked groups outside of Yemen?

Posted on 11/02/10 04:07 PM by Alex Adrianson

Journalists: Check Out the Novak Fellowships

Are you a journalist? Do you care about advancing America’s constitutional principles, a democratic society, and a vibrant free enterprise system? If so, you should consider applying for a Robert Novak Journalism Fellowship. The Phillips Foundation has begun accepting applications for the fellowships. Novak fellows receive either $50,000 (for a full-time fellowship) or $25,000 (for a part-time fellowship) to develop and write a magazine-length article on a topic for their choosing.

Previous Novak fellows have gone on to work for publications such as American Spectator, National Review, Reason, Washington Examiner, Washington Times, and Weekly Standard. Last year’s fellows worked on projects such as “Misguided Benevolence: Three Case Studies in American Aid,” “Fraud by Any Other Name: Public Pension Neglect and the Coming Panic,” and “Markets in Medicine: The Virtues of Free Enterprise in Medical Practice.” The application deadline is February 22, 2011. Fellowship winners will be announced in May.

Posted on 11/02/10 12:09 PM by Alex Adrianson

Keynes and Hayek Return to Rapping in Rumpus on Recovery

EconStories.tv offered a preview of the sequel to its Keynes v. Hayek rap video, “Fear the Boom and Bust” at the Buttonwood Gathering, hosted by The Economist last week. Take a look:

Posted on 11/01/10 02:19 PM by Alex Adrianson

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