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R Street welcomes Texas bills to modernize liquor laws

Out of the Storm News - February 19, 2015, 9:43 AM

AUSTIN, Texas (Feb.18, 2015) – The R Street Institute welcomed bills introduced in both houses of the Texas Legislature that would modernize alcohol regulation by removing anticompetitive provisions in current state law.

S.B. 609 and H.B. 1225 will repeal the prohibition against publicly traded companies selling distilled spirits. Currently, only privately held companies are allowed by law to sell distilled spirits. Supermarkets, big box stores and convenience stores that currently sell beer and wine already have strong consumer protections in place to prevent minors from accessing alcohol, and often outperform traditional liquor stores in theft prevention and age screening.

“The prohibition in Texas serves no other purpose than to limit competition, and Texas is the only state in the nation that distinguishes retailers by their corporate status for the purposes of selling spirits,” said Josiah Neeley, R Street’s Texas state director.

Current law also limits the number of stores where a company may sell spirits, but includes so many loopholes and exemptions as to undermine any legitimate purpose behind the law. The bills would also provide clarification by repealing the limit on the number of permits a single entity can own.

R Street is pleased to join Texans for Consumer Freedom, a coalition supporting these alcohol reform efforts.

“When the only rationale for a rule is that it limits competition, then that rule needs to go,” said Neeley. “Government shouldn’t be sticking its thumb on the scale to favor one type of business over another.”

Guide to policy events at SXSW 2015

Out of the Storm News - February 18, 2015, 5:15 PM

Every year, tens of thousands of people swarm to Austin, Texas for SXSW Interactive – one of the biggest annual gatherings of technologists, activists, and entrepreneurs in the country.

Here at R Street, we think this is a great opportunity to promote free-market ideas and interact with the broader policy community and its stakeholders. But the landscape of events can be hard to navigate, especially with so many sessions of dubious interest to the policy wonk (e.g. “Better Living Through Minecraft,” “Speed Date Your Way to Massive Social Impact“).

To help remedy this problem, I’ve combed through the schedule for the best policy-focused events so you don’t have to. Check out my full guide below. Think I’m missing something? Let me know.

The “(★)” indicates a member of Congress will be participating. The “(R)” designates an R Street-sponsored event.

 

FRIDAY, MARCH 13

12:30-1:30pm: Your Laws, Your Data: Making Government More Open (R) • Convention Center, Room 10AB

3:30-4:30pm: Commercial Threats to Freedom of Speech Online • Convention Center, Room 10AB

5:00-6:00pm: Streams, Shuffles and Statutes: Congress and Music (★) • Convention Center, Room 18ABCD

 

SATURDAY, MARCH 14

9:30-10:30am: Politics of Innovation: DC, Tech Working Together (★) • Omni, Capital Ballroom

11:00-12:00pm: Can Washington Protect the Net Economy? (★) • Omni, Capital Ballroom

12:30-1:30pm: Net Infrastructure: The Economy’s Hidden Backbone (★) • Omni, Capital Ballroom

2:00-3:00pm: The Cake is Not a Lie: Gamers and the US Workforce (★) • Omni, Capital Ballroom

3:30-4:30pm: Making Sense of the Competitive Comms Landscape (★) • Omni, Capital Ballroom

5:00-6:00pm: The Future of Privacy (★) • JW Marriott, Salon 8

5:00-6:00pm: Re-imagining Privacy for Consumers and Developers (★) • Omni, Capital Ballroom

5:00-7:00pm: CDT & R Street Policy Happy Hour (R) • 238 W 2nd St

 

SUNDAY, MARCH 15

9:30-10:30am: How Big Data Can Transform Poverty Policy (★) (R) • Convention Center, Room 10AB

9:30-10:30am: Privacy Matters: Baking Privacy into Your Apps • JW Marriott, Salon 7

9:30-10:30am: Friend or Foe? How Government Impacts Startups • Hilton Austin Downtown, Salon E

11:00-12:00pm: Give Me Your Data, but Stay Away From Mine! • JW Marriott, Room 404

11:00-12:00pm: How Public Policy Protects Patents and Startups • Convention Center, Room 10AB

12:30-12:50pm: IoT Decoded: Sensors, Small Data and Social Change • Convention Center, Ballroom G

1:15-1:30pm: The Bitcoin Opportunity • Convention Center, Ballroom C

3:30-4:30pm: Legal Hackers: A Global Movement to Reform the Law • Convention Center, Room 10AB

5:00-6:00pm: When Should Privacy Trump Free Speech? (R) • JW Marriott, Salon 8

5:00-6:00pm: Millennials: The Unstoppable Force (★) • Convention Center, Room 10AB

 

MONDAY, MARCH 16

9:30-10:30am: What’s Next? Surveillance Reform Post-Snowden • JW Marriott, Salon 4

11:00-12:00pm: Operation Choke Point and Alternative Currencies • Convention Center, Room 10AB

11:00-12:00pm: The Changing Privacy Landscape • JW Marriott, Salon 4

12:30-1:30pm: Disruptive Innovators Under Attack • Hilton, Salon E

 

TUESDAY, MARCH 17

9:00am-4:30pm: Innovation Policy Day • 301 East 6th St

9:30-10:30am: The Future of the Internet – How Open is Open? • IPD

11:00-12:00pm: Our Bytes, Our Digital Selves: What Privacy Means Now • IPD

11:00-12:00pm: Putting Policymakers to Work For You • Convention Center, Room 10AB

12:30-1:30pm: Battles at Home: Protecting the Sharing Economy • IPD

2:00-3:00pm: Patent Reform: It is Time to Finish the Job • IPD

3:30-4:30pm: Skilled Labor, Green Cards, and H-1B Visas, Oh My • IPD

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Heartland Daily Podcast – Tarren Bragdon: Medicaid Expansion

Somewhat Reasonable - February 18, 2015, 5:07 PM

Tarren Bragdon, President and CEO of the Foundation for Government Accountability, discusses Medicaid expansion and why so many states have declined to add to the rolls of the program.

He also explains how the perverse funding structure of the expansion prioritizes able-bodied and childless men over the traditional Medicaid population of poor single-mothers and their children, as well as the poor elderly.

He goes on to explain how the federal government is likely to renege on its funding commitment for the expansion. Governors who have attempted to get reforms of Medicaid in exchange for expanding the program have largely wound up with few of the changes they sought.

Categories: On the Blog

What’s Next for the Keystone Pipeline?

Somewhat Reasonable - February 18, 2015, 4:39 PM

After six years of dithering, the Keystone pipeline project has finally cleared both the Senate and the House with strong bipartisan support—mere percentage points away from a veto-proof majority. Now it goes to the White House where President Obama has vowed to veto it.

We won’t have to wait long. He has ten days to make a decision on the Keystone XL Pipeline Approval Act.

The Keystone pipeline should have never been an issue in Congress. Because it crosses an international border, the pipeline requires State Department approval.

With millions of miles of pipeline already traversing the country and dozens already crossing the U.S.-Canada border—not to mention the “almost universal” support of the American public, the Keystone pipeline should never have made news, except that Obama’s environmental base (made up, according to Pew Research, of “solid liberals”) has made it the literal line in the sand, by which he can burnish his environmental legacy.

Within the President’s base, only two groups feel strongly about the Keystone pipeline—the unions want it, the environmentalists don’t. Each has pressured him to take its side.

I’ve likened the conflict to the classic cartoon image of a devil on one shoulder prodding an activity saying, “Oh it will be fun, everyone is doing it,” vs. the angel on the other warning, “be careful, you’ll get into trouble.” Only in the battle of the pipeline, the opposing sides have been in his pockets—environmental groups threatened to pull support from Obama’s 2012 re-election bid if he had approved Keystone. (Remember, billionaire activist Tom Steyer promised $100 million to candidates in the 2014 midterms who opposed Keystone.)

Trying to appease both sides, the president resisted taking a stand. Instead of a firm answer, he’s avoided a decision that would ultimately anger one side or the other. First, the problem arose of the pipeline crossing over the aquifer—so it was re-routed. Next, it was held up in the Nebraska Supreme Court—but, that received a favorable resolution. Waiting for the State Department’s fifth Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) provided another delay. When the EIS finally came out, it declared the project would have minimal environmental impact and that it would produce the least amount of greenhouse gasses of any other alternative transportation method. (Note: Canadian oil sand’s crude is already pouring into America via train and truck—both methods which produce more CO2 and pose higher risk of environmental degradation due to accidents than a state-of-the-art pipeline.) Now Obama says Congress needs to let the State Department’s approval process play out—though no one knows when that might occur.

The labor unions, which want some of the 42,000 jobs the State Department projects grow increasingly impatient.

In 2012, the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) broke ranks from a long-standing relationship with green groups over the Keystone pipeline and pulled out of the BlueGreen Alliance. LIUNA President Terry O’Sullivan said of his fellow union leadership: “We’re repulsed by some of our supposed brothers and sisters lining up with job killers like the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council to destroy the lives of working men and women.”

Having its epiphany later, after the 2014 midterms, the AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, according to the Washington Examiner, cited economic benefits and “urged the new Republican-controlled Congress and the White House to get together and approve the controversial, long-delayed Keystone XL pipeline project.”

Finally, last month, James P. Hoffa, president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, penned an op-ed pushing the president to approve the pipeline. In it, he calls the administration’s Keystone pipeline veto threat “passing on an opportunity to create jobs.”

Representative Donald Norcross (D-NJ), citing “the economic woes he heard about from voters while campaigning,” voted with the Republicans for the third time in the February 11 House vote. In a column for The Record, Herb Jackson explained: “One reason some Democrats broke with environmentalists on the project is its support from organized labor.” Prior to running for Congress, Norcross was assistant business manager of Local 351 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Jackson reports: “Building trades unions were the most generous group contributing to his [Norcross] campaign.”

Norcoss’ crossing over exhibits the divide in the Democrat Party: unions vs. environmentalists. When it comes to lawmakers for whom the union vote is important, Keystone wins.

Once the bill is vetoed, it goes back to Congress where it must be “reconsidered”—which means it can be voted on again or can go back to committee where some adjustments may be made that will make it more attractive to members, who didn’t vote on it the first time around.

Because the Senate and the House have both voted, which Democrats voted against the bill is also well known—many of those Democrats represent heavily unionized districts.

To override the presidential veto, 5 more votes are needed in the Senate (Marco Rubio wasn’t present during the January 29 vote and would be assumed to be a “yes” vote, meaning only 4 Democrats need to be swayed.), in the House, about 12.

With some arm twisting from the unions, those additional votes shouldn’t be all that difficult to come by and the Keystone XL pipeline can finally move forward—providing Americans with thousands of good-paying jobs and increased energy security. Meanwhile, President Obama will have made his position perfectly clear.

 

 

Categories: On the Blog

Bill to repeal state alcohol/grocery separation law passes Florida House committee

Out of the Storm News - February 18, 2015, 4:38 PM

From St. Petersblog:

Christian Camara, Florida Director of the libertarian think tank R Street Institute, said that although it is government’s responsibility to provide public safety, businesses that already sell alcoholic beverages should not have to incur the “enormous expense of essentially erecting a standalone store” to sell other spirits.

 

Texas homeowners might get break on insurance premiums

Out of the Storm News - February 18, 2015, 4:08 PM

From the San Antonio Express-News:

But homeowners insurance companies are suffering further losses from high numbers of lawsuits for hail claims, according to R Street, a public policy research organization based in Washington with an Austin office.

Normally, only about 2 percent of claims wind up in the courts, according to R Street. But in certain places in the Texas, disputed claims have been bundled into what the industry considers “nuisance” lawsuits…

…R Street urges the Texas Legislature in its current session to reform state law.

One proposal would reduce legal compensation. If a $8,000 payment is made by an insurance company, and the homeowner believes it should be $10,000, the legal fee currently is based on the $10,000 amount, according to R Street. Instead, R Street recommends basing it on the $2,000 difference. That’s one change.

The 18 percent late payment penalty also is too high, given today’s interest rate climate, a R Street report states. R Street also recommends that the state should require homeowners to communicate with insurers before filing lawsuits as a step toward reducing the amount of litigation.

As of this week, no legislative proposals for these reforms had been filed in the current session of the Texas Legislature, said Josiah Neeley, Texas R Street director. Neeley said he expected bills to be filed soon.

Is America Still On F.A. Hayek’s “Road to Serfdom”?

Somewhat Reasonable - February 18, 2015, 4:03 PM

A little more than seventy years ago, on March 10, 1944, there appeared in Great Britain one of the most amazing and influential political books of the twentieth century, The Road to Serfdom by Friedrich A. Hayek, which forewarned of socialist trends in Britain and America that ran the danger of leading to tyranny if taken to their logical conclusions.

Written during the Second World War, Hayek’s main and crucial thesis was that many of the ideological and economic trends that had culminated in the triumph and tragedy of German Nazism could be seen developing and taking hold in Great Britain, where Hayek was then living, and also in the United States.

Hayek did not argue that either Great Britain or America were inevitably and irretrievably heading for a totalitarian state exactly like the National Socialist regime then existing in Hitler’s Germany, and against which the combined economic and military strength of Great Britain and the United States were at that moment in mortal combat.

But as I shall try to explain, the threat against which Hayek was warning was that there were certain underlying political philosophical and economic policy currents at work in these two bulwarks of Western civilization that if continued ran the risk of moving these countries further away from being societies of freedom.

Great Britain and the United States, Hayek argued, were increasingly becoming politically controlled and managed states in which the individual human being faced the danger of being reduced to a cog in the machine of governmental planning. Individual liberty would be lost in societies of socialist paternalism and centralized economic direction of human affairs.

The Life and Contributions of F. A. Hayek

Friedrich August von Hayek was born on May 8, 1899 in Vienna, in the now long gone Hapsburg Empire of Austria-Hungary. While still a teenager he served in the Austro-Hungarian Army during the First World War, seeing military action on the Italian front. When released from military service shortly after the end of the war in November 1918, he entered the University of Vienna in an accelerated program that enabled him to earn a doctorial degree in jurisprudence in 1921. Two years later in 1923, he earned a second doctoral degree in political economy from the University of Vienna.

Hayek’s first international reputation was as one of the most highly regarded economists of the 1920s and 1930s, the years between the two World Wars. With the assistance and support of his mentor and friend, the well-known Austrian economist, Ludwig von Mises, Hayek became the founding director of the Austrian Institute for Business Cycle Research in1927, a position that he held until the summer of 1931.

Hayek was invited to deliver a series of lectures at the London School of Economics in January1931 on what has become known as the Austrian theory of money and the business cycle, which resulted in his being offered a professorship at the London School, a position that he accepted and took up in the autumn of 1931.

His lectures were published shortly after under the title, Prices and Production. Along with his other writings during this period of the 1930s, he was soon recognized as one of the foremost monetary and business cycle theorists in the English-speaking world, and as a leading critic of the emerging new Macroeconomics of the Cambridge University economist, John Maynard Keynes.

Also in the 1930s and 1940s, Hayek was an outspoken critic of socialism and government central planning, editing and contributing to a collection of essays on Collectivist Economic Planning (1935); his two most famous writings on this theme during this period were his book, The Road to Serfdom (1944) and an article on “The Use of Knowledge in Society” (1945).

At the beginning of the 1950s, Hayek moved to the University of Chicago here in the United States. But his attention had turned from economic theory and policy in the narrow sense to the broader problems of social and political philosophy and the nature of societal order and the competitive market system. These interests culminated in two major works, The Constitution of Liberty (1960) and Law, Legislation, and Liberty that appeared in 3-volumes between 1976 and 1979,

In recognition for his work on monetary and business cycle theory and his analysis of social evolution and the institutional structures of human society, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1974. Friedrich Hayek died on March 23, 1992, at the age of 92.

Growing Collectivism in Great Britain and America

As I pointed out, when The Road to Serfdom was published Great Britain and the United States were engulfed in a global war, with Nazi Germany as the primary enemy and Soviet Russia as their primary ally. In 1944 the British had a wartime coalition government of both Conservative and Labor Party members, with Winston Churchill as its head. During these war years plans were being designed within the government for a postwar socialist Britain, including nationalized health care, nationalized industries, and detailed economic planning of both industry and agriculture.

For the eight years before America’s entry into the war Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal had transformed the United States through levels of government spending, taxing, regulation, and redistribution the likes of which had never before been experienced in the nation’s history. Many of the early New Deal programs had even imposed a network of fascist-style economic controls on private industry and agriculture; the only thing that prevented them from being permanently in place were a series of decisions by the Supreme Court that declared most of these controls unconstitutional in 1935.

At the same time, the Soviet Union was frequently portrayed as a model – however one rather rough around the edges – of an ideal socialist society, freeing “the masses” from poverty and exploitation. The Nazi regime, on the other hand, was usually depicted as a brutal dictatorship designed to maintain the power and control of aristocratic and capitalist elites that surrounded Hitler.

Nazism an Outcome of Bismarck’s Welfare State

Hayek’s challenge in The Road to Serfdom was to argue that German Nazism was not an aberrant “right-wing” perversion growing out of the “contradictions” of capitalism, as Marxists and many other socialists insisted.

Instead, Hayek documented, the Nazi movement had developed out of the “enlightened” and “progressive” socialist and collectivist ideas of the pre-World War I era in Imperial Germany, ideas that many intellectuals in England and the United States had praised and propagandized for in their own countries in the years before the beginning of the First World War in 1914.

Large numbers of American graduate students went off to study at German universities in the 1880s, the 1890s, and the first decade of the 20th century.

They returned to the United States and spoke and wrote about a new and higher freedom observed in Germany, a “positive” freedom provided through government welfare state paternalism rather than the mere “negative” freedom of individual liberty in the form of absence of coercion in human relationships as practiced in America.

It was in Bismarck’s Germany during the last decades of the 19th century, after all, that there had been born the modern welfare state – national health insurance, government pension plans, regulations of industry and the workplace – and a philosophy that the national good took precedence over the interests of the “mere” individual. In this political environment Germans came to take it for granted that the paternalistic state was meant to care for them from “cradle to grave,” a phrase that was coined in Imperial Germany.

Two generations of Germans accepted that they needed to be disciplined by and obedient to the enlightened political “leadership” that guided the affairs of state for their presumed benefit. Beliefs in the right to private property and freedom of exchange were undermined as the regulatory and redistributive state increasingly managed the economic activities of the society for the greater “national interest” of the German fatherland.

The German government restricted competition and fostered the creation of monopolies and business cartels under the rationale of directing private enterprise into those avenues serving the higher interests of the German nation as a whole.

Germany’s trade with the rest of the world was hampered by taxes and tariffs designed to shift German industry and agriculture into those forms the government considered most useful to prepare the nation for greater self-sufficiency during the war that was expected to come, and which finally broke out in 1914.

By 1933, Hayek argued, fifteen years after Germany’s defeat in the First World War, when Adolf Hitler came to power during the Great Depression, the German people not only accepted the idea of the “führer principle,” – the belief that people should follow and obey the commands of the political leaders of the nation – but many in German society now wanted it and believed they needed it. Notions about individual freedom and personal responsibility had been destroyed by the philosophy of collectivism and the ideologies of nationalism and socialism.

But Hayek’s main point was that this tragic history was not unique or special to the German people. The institutional changes that accompanied the implementation of socialist and interventionist welfare-state policies potentially carried within them the seeds of political tyranny and economic servitude in any country that might follow a similar path.

 

Government Planning Means Control over People

The more government takes over responsibility for and control over the economic activities of a society, the more it diminishes the autonomy and independence of the individual. Government planning, by necessity, makes the political authority the ultimate monopoly, with the power to determine what is produced and how the resulting output shall be distributed among all the members of the society.

Belief in and expectation of government paternal care from the everyday vicissitudes of life, employment, and enterprise, Hayek insisted, weakens the spirit of self-reliance and independence. It makes for a more passive people who lose any sense of a loss of personal freedom and autonomy, as they increasingly cannot imagine a world in which government does not guaranteed many if not most of the necessities and amenities of human existence.

But it is not only economic independence that is lost as the government extends the safety nets of welfare statism and expands regulatory and planning control over society.

What personal and intellectual freedom is left to people, Hayek asked, when the government ownership of industry or heavy-handed regulation of business has the ability to determine or influence what books will be printed or movies will be shown or plays will be performed? What escape does the individual have from the power of the state when the government controls everyone’s education, employment, and consumption?

He also warned that the more that government plans production and consumption, the more the diverse values and preferences of the citizenry must be homogenized and made to conform to an overarching “social” scale of values that mirrors that hierarchy of ends captured in the central plan.

Each Free Man an End in Himself and a Means to Others’ Ends

One of the hallmarks of a free society in which people associate and cooperate through the networks and institutions of the market economy is that each individual is at liberty to peacefully pursue those interests, inclinations, and desires that suggest themselves as a source of personal meaning and happiness for him.

The more developed and complex the market society becomes with a growing population, the more there will emerge and develop diverse conceptions of the good life among people.

In the competitive market order there is no need or necessity for society-wide agreement about desired ends and goals among its members. In the division of labor of the market order, individuals earn the living that enables them to have the financial wherewithal to pursue the self-interested purposes that give value and meaning to their own lives by specializing in the production and sale of goods and services that serve as the means to the desired ends of others.

Thus, in the liberal, free market society, every man is an end in himself with his own chosen scale of values reflecting what he considers important and worthwhile. And each can try to attain those values by producing and supplying others in trade with the goods and services that serve as the means for trying to achieve their respectively chosen ends.

Fulfilling the Government Plan Requires Obedience by All

One of Hayek’s central points was the fact that a comprehensive system of socialist central planning would require the construction and imposition of a detailed system of relative values to which and within which all in the society would have to conform, if “the plan” imposed by the government was to succeed.

This was the origin of Hayek’s warning that government central planning ran the danger of becoming tyranny and a new form of “serfdom,” since any meaningful dissent in word or deed could not be permitted without threatening the fulfillment of the goals of the government’s plan. All would have to be assigned to their work, and be tied to it to assure that “the plan” met its targets.

Even dissent, Hayek warned, becomes a threat to the achievement of the plan and its related redistributive policies. How can the plan be achieved if critics attempt to undermine people’s dedication to its triumph? Politically incorrect thoughts and actions must be repressed and supplanted with propaganda and “progressive” education for all.

Thus unrestricted freedom of speech and the press, or opposition politicking, or even observed lack of enthusiasm for the purposes of the state becomes viewed as unpatriotic and potentially subversive.

 

Rule of Law or Unequal Treatment for Equal Outcomes

In addition, the classical liberal conception of an impartial rule of law, under which individuals possess equal rights to life, liberty, and the peaceful acquisition and use of private property, would have to be replaced by unequal treatment of individuals imposed by the political authorities to assure an ideologically preferred redistributive outcome.

In the free society, equality of individual rights under rule of law inevitably means an inequality of economic outcomes. Men widely differ in how they use and take advantage of their equal rights to life, liberty and property. We all know that people are far from being the same in terms of inherited traits and potentials, as well as attitudes and inclinations concerning acquiring an education, working hard, and being willing to make personal sacrifices in the present for some hoped for and possible greater benefits in the future.

In addition, our fellow men value more highly some things than others and are willing to pay more to get them. This means that some of us, as a result of intelligent forethought in deciding what occupations and trades to undertake, the education and skilled talents to acquire, as well as general circumstances and even a bit of luck, will earn higher salaries than those who market less valued goods and services in the eyes of the buying public.

To make people more “equal” in terms of the economic outcomes that emerge in the marketplace requires people to be treated very differently by the political authority responsible for that equalization.

In the foot race of life, it is inevitable that some will speed ahead of others in terms of financial and other forms of social success. But if the government is assigned the task to reduce these disparities, then it must place weights on the ankles of some in the form of taxes and regulations to slow down their outdistancing the others, while those others must be allowed to cut across the field in the form of wealth transfers, subsidies or other special treats provided by the government so they can catch up with or get ahead of those in front of them on the racecourse of society.

But, asked Hayek, by what benchmark, other than prejudice, caprice, or the influence of interest groups, would or could the planners make their decisions concerning who would be treated better and who worse in the form of government interventions, regulations, redistributions and controls? How will it be found out who is more deserving or meritorious for government differential benefits at the expense of others?

Who is more deserving? The man to whom things such as learning and luck often seem to come easily but who has eight children, a sick wife and an elderly mother to care for? Or a man to whom luck never comes, has to work hard for everything he finally gets but has only himself and a one high school honors student daughter to take care of?

And if it is replied that the answer to that requires detailed gradations of evaluation and judgment, then in whose evaluating and judging eyes and on what standard or benchmark of relative merit, deservedness and neediness shall the decisions be made by those in government?

The means available are always insufficient to attain all our desired ends, and some in the society will invariably consider any politically decided trade-offs in these matters to be unfair, unjust, and uncaring.

Whether a dictatorial minority or a democratic majority makes such decisions, there is no escape from the imposition of advantages and disadvantages given to or imposed on different members of the society by those in political authority, and upon whom the individual becomes dependent and subservient for the social and material fortunes and misfortunes of much if not all of his life.

Why the Worst Get on Top

Finally, in one of the most insightful chapters in the book, Hayek explained why, in the politicized society, there is a tendency for “the worst to get on top.” Fulfillment of the government’s plans and policies requires the leaders to have the power to use any means necessary to get the job done.

Thus those with the least conscience or fewest moral scruples are likely to rise highest in the hierarchy of control. The bureaucracies of the planned and regulated society attract those who are most likely to enjoy the use and abuse of power over others.

One form of this in Hitler’s Nazi Germany was known as what was called “working towards the Fuhrer.” In 1934, a senior Nazi government official told his subordinates, “It is the duty of every single person to attempt, in the spirit of the Fuhrer, to work towards him.” And, “the one who works correctly towards the Fuhrer along his lines and toward his aim will in future as previously have the finest reward . . . “

As historian Ian Kershaw explained in his biography, Hitler, 1889-1936 – Hubris (1998), “The way to power and advancement [in the Nazi regime] was through anticipating the ‘Fuhrer’s will’, and, without waiting for directives, taking initiatives to promote what were presumed to be Hitler’s aims and wishes.”

As Kershaw continues, “Through ‘working towards the Fuhrer’, initiatives were taken, pressures created, legislation instigated — all in ways which fell in line with what were taken to be Hitler’s aims and without the dictator necessarily having to dictate.”

In this instance, the government bureaucrat was stimulated by his superiors to anticipate Hitler’s will in instituting policies and actions in the hope for material gain and promotion within the Nazi hierarchy, and to do so with often brutal ruthlessness to the misfortune of many helpless victims.

Those who pursue such careers and who are willing to introduce and implement whatever policies necessary in the name of explicit or implicit government goals will be those who often care little about the unethical and immoral conduct that holding such political positions will require of them.

But there are others who may be led to do things in their government role and position that as a private individual in their personal life they would consider immoral or unethical behavior. This often is due to a person’s confidence of patriotic purpose and belief in his superior understanding of what must be done regardless of the violation of other people’s rights or the sacrifices imposed on other members of society to attain the greater “national” or “social” good.

With the realization that it is a controversial subject, let me suggest that a type of person who searches out employment and specialized surveillance work in the National Security Agency because he truly believes that there are potential “enemies” everywhere threatening harm to the “homeland” is highly likely to be a person who gives few second thoughts about whether intruding into the privacy of ordinary people’s emails, phone conversations, text messages, and private computer documents is unethical, illegal or even simply “bad manners.”

Indeed, the more zealous among such types of individuals will at the end of their workday not lose sleep due to a guilty conscience that a human being’s privacy rights have been violated. He is more likely to be thinking of tomorrow’s day of work and how he can find ways to do it even more effectively, regardless of high much more other people’s rights and privacy might have to be abridged in the attempt to attain the highly allusive goal of “national security.”

Indeed, way back in 1776, the famous Scottish economist, Adam Smith, warned about such people in government, when he said that nowhere would such political power “be so dangerous as in the hands of a man who had folly and presumption enough to fancy himself fit to exercise it.”

Men are easily subject to arrogance and hubris, and never is that human weakness so to be feared as when government has the power that allows such individuals to practice their pretensions of superior knowledge and wisdom over their fellow human beings.

The Continuing Relevance of The Road to Serfdom

It may be asked how relevant remains Hayek’s arguments and warnings more than seventy years after the appearance of The Road to Serfdom? After all, Nazi- and Soviet-style totalitarian socialism, with their attempts to comprehensively control and plan every facet of human life, and with a ruthlessness and violence unsurpassed in any period of modern history, are now things of past. They are closed chapters in the history of the 20th century.

First, as I said earlier, Hayek never claimed and went out of his way to insist that he was not forecasting that Western nations like Great Britain or the United States would become carbon copies of either Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union.

What he did say was that the more governments extended their power and control over the personal, social and especially economic affairs of the private individuals of society, the less freedom of choice and decision-making would the individual continue to retain in his own hands.

The less flexible and dynamic would become the society, with the greater the direction of production, investment and employment under the influencing hand of government agencies, bureaus and departments.

The wider the net of welfare state dependency and guarantees for the circumstances of everyday life, the weaker would become the sense of initiative, self-reliance, and risk-taking to improve one’s own life.

The type of serfdom that has increasingly enveloped parts of human life in the Western world was, in fact, anticipated with concern and fear by the 19th century French social philosopher, Alexis de Tocqueville, in his study of Democracy in Americapublished in the 1830s:

“After having thus taken each individual one by one into its powerful hands, and having molded him as it pleases, the sovereign power extends its arms over the entire society; it covers the surface of society with a network of small, complicated, minute, and uniform rules, which the most original minds and the most vigorous souls cannot break through to go beyond the crowd; it does not break wills, but it softens them, bends them and directs them; it rarely forces action, but it constantly opposes your acting; it does not destroy, it prevents birth; it does not tyrannize, it hinders, it represses, it enervates, it extinguishes, it stupefies, and finally it reduces each nation to being nothing more than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.

“I have always believed that this sort of servitude, regulated, mild and peaceful, of which I have just done the portrait, could be combined better than we imagine with some of the external forms of liberty, and that it would not be impossible for it to be established in the very shadow of the sovereignty of the people.”

The Freedom We have Lost

Ask yourself, what corners of your daily life, in its most mundane and important aspects, are not controlled, regulated, planned, and overseen by the guiding hand of government?

Americans are free to say whatever they want – as long as it does not offend any ethnic, gender or racial group. They can pursue any career they choose – as long as they have been certified or licensed and have successfully passed inspection by an army of state regulators.

Americans may come and go as they please – as long as they have been approved for a government-issued international passport, declared whether they are carrying more than $10,000 in currency, reported all taxable or forbidden items they wish to bring into the country, and have not attempted to visit any foreign lands declared off-limits by the state.

They may buy whatever satisfies their fancy – as long as it has been manufactured, packaged, and priced according to government standards of safety, quality, and fairness, and as long as it has not been produced by a foreign supplier who exceeds his import quota or who offers to sell it below the state-mandated “fair market price.”

Americans may go about their own affairs – as long as they send their children to government schools or private schools approved by the state; as long as they do not attempt to employ too many of a particular ethic, gender, or racial group; as long as they do not attempt to plan fully for their own old age rather than pay into a mandatory government social security system.

They may enter into market relations with others – as long as they do not pay an employee less than the government-imposed minimum wage; as long as they do not attempt to construct on their own property a home or a business in violation of zoning and building ordinances; that is, as long as they do not try to live their lives outside the permissible edicts of the state.

And Americans freely take responsibility for their own actions and pay their own way – except whey they want the state to guarantee them a job or a “living wage”; except when they want to state to protect their industry or profession from competition either at home or from abroad; except when they want the state to subsidize their children’s education or their favorite art or the preservation of some wildlife area, or the medical research into the cure of some hated disease or illness; or except when they want the state to ban some books, movies, or peaceful acts between consenting adults rather than trying to change the behavior of their fellow men through peaceful persuasion or by personal example.

That many who read such a list of lost freedoms in the United States will be shocked that anyone should suggest that the state should not be concerned with many or all of these matters shows, I would suggest, just how far we have come and are continuing to go down a road to serfdom.

Restoring a Philosophy of Individual Rights

Yet, a hundred years ago before the First World War, when the citizens of the United States still lived under the influence of 19th century classical liberalism with its emphasis on individual liberty, free enterprise, limited government and voluntary association to service and solve many of the “social problems” of modern society, most people would have strongly opposed anyone who suggested that the government should envelope society with such a vast spider’s web of paternalistic plans, regulations, controls and redistributions.

It would have been considered “socialistic” and “un-American,” and not only by some supposed “right-wing fringe group” but by a wide consensus of the American people as a whole.

If we are to find a way to get off this road to paternalistic serfdom that has been weakening an understanding and draining existence out of the free society, the first task is to appreciate how this came about and what its implications can be.

Most importantly, the immorality of collectivism, with its insistence that the individual must live and sacrifice his life for “the tribe, “the nation,” “the society” must be wholeheartedly challenged and rejected. And in its place we must recover a sound and rational philosophy of individual rights that defends and respects the right of every human being to live his own life for himself as the core ethical concept in all human relationships.

As part of undertaking this task, Friedrich Hayek’s Road to Serfdom still serves an invaluable role in explaining how this road was first entered upon, what it led to in the middle decades of the 20th century century and why government planning and regulation carries within it a loss of personal freedom and choice, and undermines the human spirit of creative thought and self-responsibility from which have come all the great accomplishments of mankind.

This is why The Road to Serfdom remains a classic of political and economic ideas that still speaks to us in our own time, and why anyone who values liberty and fears for its diminishment and loss can do no better than to open its pages and absorb its lessons.

(The text is based on a talk delivered at the College of Coastal Georgia, St. Simon Island, Georgia, February 12, 2015)

[Originally published at Epic Times]

 

Categories: On the Blog

R Street welcomes bill to liberalize Florida liquor laws

Out of the Storm News - February 18, 2015, 2:32 PM
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (Feb. 18, 2015) – The R Street Institute welcomed today’s vote by the Florida House Business and Professions Subcommittee passing H.B. 107, also known as the “Growler Bill.” Among other provisions, the bill repeals state law requiring spirits be sold only in liquor stores, paving the way for retailers that already sell beer and wine to enter the market for hard liquor. Supermarkets, convenience stores and big box stores already have strong consumer protections in place to prevent minors from accessing alcohol, and often outperforming traditional liquor stores in theft prevention and age screening.

“By removing outdated and onerous regulations, this bill promotes greater competition and consumer choice,” said R Street Florida Director Christian Camara. “There is no reason why stores that already safely and legally sell beer and wine should be forced essentially to build another store to sell other types of alcohol.”

The bill also allows liquor stores to sell other goods, which is a boon to small businesses that would like to expand their offerings.

“These market-freeing reforms are long overdue, and we urge the Florida House to act decisively to pass the bill,” said Camara.

NIH Funding Stifles Tobacco Harm Reduction Research and Support in Academia

Somewhat Reasonable - February 18, 2015, 1:31 PM

As a pathologist working at two large medical centers, I have studied the effects of smoking on health for over 20 years. I’ve published scores of papers on the impressive benefits of switching from cigarettes to safer, non-combustible forms of tobacco (such as Swedish snus).  This strategy – called tobacco harm reduction – has vast potential for improving public health.

In countless discussions about smoking’s devastation, people ask me: “If tobacco harm reduction is a viable quit-smoking option with huge public health benefits, why don’t U.S. medical schools advocate this concept?  Why are you almost alone among American university professors in  openly endorsing tobacco harm reduction?”

The answer resides within a powerful government agency, the National Institutes of Health.

The NIH is the pre-eminent source of research funding for virtually all universities and medical centers; it is the cudgel in the government’s campaign to create “a world free of tobacco use.” (here).  The NIH “invests nearly $30.1 billion annually in medical research for the American people,” according to its website (here).  “More than 80% of the NIH’s funding is awarded through almost 50,000 competitive grants to more than 300,000 researchers at more than 2,500 universities, medical schools, and other research institutions in every state and around the world.”

The NIH hostility to tobacco harm reduction was demonstrated in 1994, when the National Cancer Institute attacked me and my university because I published an article in a scientific journal (here).  Nothing has changed in 20 years.  For example, a recent NIH announcement to fund research on smokeless tobacco, which is 98% safer than cigarettes, called for investigators “to develop an evidence base to inform smokeless tobacco control efforts, and to develop effective ways to limit the spread and promote cessation of smokeless tobacco use.”  This prohibitionist mindset produces NIH-funded researchers who are hostile to tobacco harm reduction; the rest are cowed into silence.

It is hard to overestimate the influence of NIH funding.  Universities aggressively pursue grants, and retaining NIH support is obligatory for faculty survival at most universities – influence and prestige are directly proportional to the size of one’s grants.  Due to its magnitude, NIH funding is hugely influential in determining “legitimate” areas of research conducted by hundreds of thousands of university faculty throughout the U.S.  The agency’s influence is compounded by the NIH peer review system, in which groups of 20 colleagues pass judgment on grant proposals, and from which emerges a nationwide network of researchers who are intolerant of politically incorrect topics like tobacco harm reduction.

NIH dollars are vitally important to faculty and to institutions.  Agency grants cover direct research costs, which typically pass through the university as faculty, staff and graduate student salaries, equipment and other project-specific charges.  More importantly, the NIH also covers indirect costs, which are not specific to the project but involve administration and facility support. These are negotiated by each university, and they range from 25% to 100+% of direct costs.  If a principal investigator (or PI – the faculty member leading the project) gets a $1 million grant at a university with a 50% indirect cost rate, the university pockets $500,000.

How much money does the NIH spend on tobacco research?  I conducted a search of the NIH Research Portfolio Online Reporting Tools (here) for the word “tobacco”.  In 2014, the NIH (mainly the National Cancer, Heart Blood Lung, Drug Abuse and Mental Health Institutes) dispensed $623 million (total costs) in 1,300 grants to over 1,000 PIs at almost 300 universities, medical centers and other institutions.  That works out to about $600,000 for each investigator.  Few researchers will jeopardize grants of that size by doing or saying anything that conflicts with NIH dogma.

To explore the influence of NIH funding, start with members of the FDA Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee.  TPSAC advises the FDA about regulatory actions, including “any application submitted by a manufacturer for a modified risk tobacco product,” which is a vital part of tobacco harm reduction.

A federal judge ruled last year that members of TPSAC, including current chairman Jonathan Samet, had significant conflicts of interest in the form of funding from (1) pharmaceutical manufacturers who compete with tobacco companies for the nicotine market, and (2) lucrative contracts to testify in lawsuits against the very industry they judge.  He called TPSAC’s findings and recommendations “at a minimum, suspect, and, at worst, untrustworthy.” (here)

TPSAC members also have a conflict of interest with respect to NIH funding: In 2014, six of the nine current TPSAC members had grants totaling $28 million (Table 1).  Such outsized funding must be assumed to color decision-making, particularly on regulations as NIH-toxic as tobacco harm reduction.

 

Table 1. NIH Support in Fiscal Year 2014 for Tobacco Projects to Members of the FDA Tobacco Scientific Advisory Committee TPSAC Member University/Institution Total Support (million $) Jonathan Samet Southern California 8.00 Warren Bickel Virginia Tech 0.39 Thomas Eissenberg Virginia Commonwealth 3.91 Suchitra Krishnan-Sarin Yale 5.79 Richard O’Connor Roswell Park 0.47 Kurt Ribisl North Carolina 9.21 Total 27.77

 

Followers of this blog know that major health organizations aggressively oppose tobacco harm reduction; they also receive considerable NIH funds to pursue tobacco-related projects.  In 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics received $406,000 in support of Adolescent Smoking Cessation in Pediatric Primary Care.  The American Cancer Society was awarded $343,000 for Building Research and Capacity on the Economic Policy-Tobacco Control Nexus (the title was truncated in the database).  The American Heart Association scored $7.5 million for its Tobacco Regulation and Addiction Center and other projects.

Another big grantee last year was the American Legacy Foundation, recipient of $2.1 million for eight projects.  One of its employees, David Levy, obtained $703,000 via Georgetown University for Modeling the Policy Impact of Cigarette and Smokeless Tobacco Use on U.S. Mortality.  (I will be eager to see Dr. Levy’s mortality estimate from smokeless tobacco use, as my research indicates that it is close to zero.)

Individuals at the University of California San Francisco have engaged in an aggressive campaign against e-cigarettes (examples hereand here).  Table 2 shows that they were awarded $12.5 million in 2014, with over half going to PI Stanton Glantz.

 

Table 2. NIH Support in Fiscal Year 2014 for Tobacco Projects to Faculty at the University of California San Francisco Faculty Member Total Support (million $) Stanton Glantz 6.61 Pamela Ling 1.49 Ruth Malone 1.34 Lyudmilla Popova 1.09 Judith Prochaska* 1.05 Neal Benowitz 0.95 Margaret Walsh 0.53 Total 13.03

*Also affiliated with Stanford University

I have discussed in this blog distorted research results concerning smokeless tobacco and harm reduction from several investigators, including Gregory Connolly (here and here), Christopher Haddock (here), Stephen Hecht (here and here, Irina Stepanov (here) and Robert Klesges (here and here).  Together, they received $8.5 million for tobacco projects in 2014 (Table 3).  Haddock and Klesges continued work on tobacco use in the military: Haddock studied Barriers to Effective Tobacco Control Policy Implementation in the U.S. Military, while Klesges was PI on a project with a particularly intimidating title: Preventing Relapse Following InvoluntarySmoking Abstinence (my emphasis).

 

Table 3. NIH Support in Fiscal Year 2014 for Tobacco Projects to Individuals Aggressively Campaigning Against Smokeless Tobacco Faculty Member University/Institution Total Support (million $) Stephen Hecht Minnesota 4.49 Robert Klesges Tennessee 2.02 Irina Stepanov Minnesota 0.76 Gregory Connolly Harvard/Northeastern 0.70 Christopher Haddock National Development and Research 0.57 Total 8.54

The federal government, via the Department of Health and Human Services, is engaged in a coordinated, expensive campaign to create a tobacco-free society.  The NIH, which contributes annually $24 billion to the American research establishment and $623 million specifically for tobacco research, strongly influences some in the academic community to vigorously oppose – and many others to ignore – tobacco harm reduction.

[Originally published at Tobacco Truth]

Categories: On the Blog

Testimony to the Florida House Business and Professions Subcommittee

Out of the Storm News - February 18, 2015, 1:02 PM

As Florida director of the R Street Institute, one of my responsibilities is to identify emerging free-market issues in my state and suggest to our national office in D.C. that we engage on them.  Some of our experts have done work related to alcohol retail in other states, and like those cases, we see the issue before you here today as strictly a free-market one, especially the repeal of outdated provisions in Section 12 of the bill.

We believe it is government’s responsibility to provide, enforce and ensure public safety. That definitely includes making sure that existing barriers preventing minors from accessing alcohol are preserved. But we do not believe businesses that already sell alcoholic beverages and abide by those public safety regulations should be required to incur the enormous expense of essentially erecting a stand-alone store just to sell other kinds of alcoholic beverages

The protocols employed by stores that sell beer and wine are essentially the same as those that sell other forms of liquor. That is, they must adopt policies and procedures to ensure they do not sell to minors, as well as loss-prevention safeguards to impede shoplifting.

In fact, our research has shown that convenience stores, supermarkets and other retailers that sell alcohol perform better than liquor stores in preventing sales to minors.  This is especially true among big-name retailers who devote millions of dollars in resources to their loss-prevention departments. They also have a lot more at stake than smaller stores if they are caught breaking the law by selling alcohol to minors.

This ties into other research finding de minimis difference in rates of underage drinking between states that allow liquor sales by supermarkets and other retailers versus states that do not.  The reason for this is simple: the overwhelming majority of minors who drink either purchase get their alcohol from friends, family and, in most cases, their own parents.

Therefore, I would conclude the only reason to preserve the status quo and continue requiring businesses to incur the expense of essentially erecting a stand-alone store to sell liquor is to use the force of law and government to protect one particular segment of the market. In our view, that is not a proper role for government.

Rather than suppress commerce, government should explore ways to reduce barriers to make it easier for willing consumers to transact with the businesses of their choosing. Laws that hinder the growth of existing businesses or the entrance of new businesses should be repealed, especially when they serve no public safety purpose.

Repealing this onerous requirement will not put liquor stores out of business. On the contrary, it would encourage the industry to innovate and better compete with other retail stores. Likewise, consumers would benefit from greater competition, because they would have more options and reap the benefit of lower prices, which may very well lead to more tax revenue.

As it currently stands in Florida, it’s not any easier for a minor to buy beer at a supermarket than it is to buy liquor at a liquor store. As such, we support the repeal of outdated laws that impose expensive, onerous requirements on businesses as a precondition to sell particular kinds of alcohol legally, as well as other provisions that reduce the hurdles emerging businesses and business models must clear.

 

 

RESTORE Act gives Alabama opportunity to lead on economy and environment

Out of the Storm News - February 18, 2015, 12:25 PM

April marks five years since an explosion at the Deepwater Horizon sunk the mobile drilling rig and released millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. While most Americans likely have moved on from the incident, many residents of Gulf Coast states like Alabama have not.

The sheer magnitude of the economic losses and environmental harm are still being calculated to this day. The long-term impacts, particularly for the environment, may not be fully understood for quite some time. Obviously, Alabama has a real and immediate interest in offsetting as much of that harm as possible.

Congress has provided the state a unique opportunity to address those problems, while demonstrating the ability to administer federal funds effectively and efficiently. In 2012, it passed the Resources and Ecosystem Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States (RESTORE) Act. The law redirects federal fines and penalties from the Deepwater Horizon spill in a manner that affords local and regional officials more control over the potentially vast number of needed restoration projects.

If Alabama is able to rehabilitate its Gulf Coast under the RESTORE Act, it may set an example for future federal spending that coordinates with state and local governments, rather than simply dispatching taxpayer dollars from Washington.

Although federal officials will directly allocate some RESTORE Act funds, the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council (Gulf Coast Council), comprised of state governors and federal agency officials, has discretion over a second pool of money. Moreover, the five impacted states have authority over a third pool of resources.

While Gov. Robert Bentley will represent the state on the Gulf Coast Council, the real opportunity for Alabama is in the direct spending administered by the state. In spite of the temptation to use RESTORE Act funds to alleviate the state’s budget challenges, Alabama must demonstrate an ability to balance the priorities of economic and environmental restoration responsibly.

Certain projects, like flood mitigation in coastal communities, may have both positive economic and environmental effects. As such, they should be prioritized. Where environmental projects like species rehabilitation and preservation are warranted, they should be balanced with positive economic investments in the area, like dredging in the Port of Mobile.

Most importantly, Alabama must continue to operate its state council as transparently as possible. Project selection criteria should be clear, expectations and deliverable metrics for projects should be publicly accessible and the state must fight waste and fraud that often plague spending of this magnitude.

The RESTORE Act presents a tremendous chance for Alabama to both rebuild its coast and show the nation how states can serve as prudent partners to improve federal spending. Alabama should not take that opportunity lightly.

We need politicians like Cindy Crawford’s latest photograph: unretouched

Out of the Storm News - February 18, 2015, 11:24 AM

For many young men growing up in the 1980s and 90s, Cindy Crawford was hard to miss…not that many were trying to miss her. She reigned supreme as the top supermodel of an era.

Recently, an un-retouched photo of Crawford from a 2013 cover shoot for Marie Claire Mexico and Latin America shows the 48-year-old model as she actually looks prior to the image editing process.  The picture has gone viral with observers praising Crawford for being “real.”

❤️ “@AureliaCotta: Thanks @charleneWhite for Cindy Crawford’s real photo. Without photoshop. This means a lot to me. pic.twitter.com/MggZWJwtEd

— Charlene White (@CharleneWhite) February 14, 2015

While there is nothing wrong with the occasional book or movie to taking our minds to a different place, many of us spend more time in a virtual world than the real one. Our constant artificial diet has rendered many of us unable to truly distinguish fact and fiction.

It might have started by editing images of our celebrities into a customized concept of beauty, but we have since unleashed a culture responding to our every whim. Why bother with reality when we can simply customize another one for ourselves?  We have gone beyond clothes, cars and home décor. Now, we can even choose news channels and media outlets that fit our demands. If we do not like something we read or watch, we flip a channel or click a link. In our own realities, everyone agrees with us. Unfortunately, we have allowed these customized fabrications to enter far more important aspects of our lives.

Imagine if many of our political leaders were unretouched.

By now, we all know it. We have heard one talking point after another: “Yes, we can,” “the war on coal,” “federal overreach,” “the war on women,” “let me be clear,” “pay their fair share” and  “repeal and replace.” Those words often feel empty and contrived. Many of our politicians portray an image of what they think we want to see and hear. We accept the reality of political fiction in exactly the same way we consume heavily edited images of supermodels.

We knowingly embrace retouched politicians who sacrifice thoughtfulness and humility to become a cheap caricature of voters’ political preferences. We shudder at the reality that our political perspectives might be not be as perfect, their edges rougher and the path forward not so well illuminated. The truth of our circumstance and our interaction with each other makes us quite uncomfortable.

By trying to create a generic appeal, political leadership has repeatedly devolved into a consumption science rather than public service. If being true to a set of beliefs and perspectives results in political defeat, both the public and the candidate are better served. Waiting until after an election, leaving office or some other opportune time for authentic perspectives to surface puts perception over principled service.

Enough of the processed political cheese, the virtual friends and synthetic beauty. “Real” is not some random occurrence to be praised as a cultural exception; sober awareness is essential to our humanity. It allows us to extend grace after failure, to understand with empathy, and to grow because we are forced to consider a world that does not revolve around us.

If one picture of Cindy Crawford can make us see that “real” can be beautiful, how much more should we expect of those we choose to lead us?

Federal court blocks executive amnesty, for now

Out of the Storm News - February 18, 2015, 10:09 AM

The Obama White House may be preoccupied with trying to figure out how best to water down Middle Eastern conflicts into mere questions of unemployment, and busy putting together the first lady’s schedule for her whirlwind round of vacations ahead of retirement, but they’ll also have to scramble their lawyer corps this morning, as a federal district court judge in Texas has issued a temporary injunction on Barack Obama’s executive amnesty order.

The order will halt execution of any of the program’s initiatives, some of which were scheduled to start this week. It could yet be stayed by the Fifth Circuit (even by tonight, if things move really quickly), but for now, the administration will need to come up with a Plan B.

A federal judge in Texas has ordered a halt, at least temporarily, to President Obama’s executive actions on immigration, siding with Texas and 25 other states that filed a lawsuit opposing the initiatives.

In an order filed on Monday, the judge, Andrew S. Hanen of Federal District Court in Brownsville, prohibited the Obama administration from carrying out programs the president announced in November that would offer protection from deportation and work permits to as many as five million undocumented immigrants.

The first of those programs was scheduled to start receiving applications on Wednesday and the immediate impact of the ruling is that up to 270,000 undocumented immigrants nationwide who came to the United States as children will not be able to apply for deportation protection under an expansion of an existing executive program. A larger new program is scheduled to begin in May.

Of course, the federal government has probably already filed the necessary paperwork to put an injunction on this injunction, but I suspect that this case, which involves 25 separate states, was filed in Texas, and below the Fifth Circuit for a reason. The Fifth generally leans conservative – legally, not necessarily politically speaking – and beyond that, once the law’s provisions go into effect, it’s much harder to “right the wrongs” presented by an executive order without rolling back the benefits the order has already conferred. We call that, in the legal business, “irreparable harm.”

The nice part about this ruling is that, while Judge Hanen, at least according to the New York Times, does lean conservative in his rulings, his temporary injunction doesn’t touch on the question of whether the executive branch violated its constitutional boundaries, but whether DHS created a whole new program and a set of associated procedures without following the administration’s own rules. The administration, which responded in a statement yesterday, says they totally talked to this one lawyer who said he knew exactly what he was talking about and they’re definitely within their rights, so nyah.

At any rate, even if it is just temporary, the order itself is pretty fun to read if you have a while.

NIH funding stifles tobacco harm reduction research and support in academia

Out of the Storm News - February 18, 2015, 9:19 AM

As a pathologist working at two large medical centers, I have studied the effects of smoking on health for more than 20 years. I’ve published scores of papers on the impressive benefits of switching from cigarettes to safer, non-combustible forms of tobacco (such as Swedish snus). This strategy – called tobacco harm reduction – has vast potential for improving public health.

In countless discussions about smoking’s devastation, people ask me: “If tobacco harm reduction is a viable quit-smoking option with huge public health benefits, why don’t U.S. medical schools advocate this concept? Why are you almost alone among American university professors in openly endorsing tobacco harm reduction?”

The answer resides within a powerful government agency, the National Institutes of Health.

The NIH is the pre-eminent source of research funding for virtually all universities and medical centers; it is the cudgel in the government’s campaign to create “a world free of tobacco use.” The NIH “invests nearly $30.1 billion annually in medical research for the American people,” according to its website. More than 80 percent of the institutes’ funding is awarded “through almost 50,000 competitive grants to more than 300,000 researchers at more than 2,500 universities, medical schools and other research institutions in every state and around the world.”

The NIH hostility to tobacco harm reduction was demonstrated in 1994, when the National Cancer Institute attacked me and my university because I published an article on THR in a scientific journal. Nothing has changed in 20 years. For example, a recent NIH announcement to fund research on smokeless tobacco, which is 98 percent safer than cigarettes, called for investigators “to develop an evidence base to inform smokeless tobacco control efforts, and to develop effective ways to limit the spread and promote cessation of smokeless tobacco use.” This prohibitionist mindset produces NIH-funded researchers who are hostile to tobacco harm reduction; the rest are cowed into silence.

It is hard to overestimate the influence of NIH funding. Universities aggressively pursue grants, and retaining NIH support is obligatory for faculty survival at most universities – influence and prestige are directly proportional to the size of one’s grants. Due to its magnitude, NIH funding is hugely influential in determining “legitimate” areas of research conducted by hundreds of thousands of university faculty throughout the United States. The agency’s influence is compounded by the NIH peer review system, in which groups of 20 colleagues pass judgment on grant proposals, and from which emerges a nationwide network of researchers who are intolerant of politically incorrect topics like tobacco harm reduction.

NIH dollars are vitally important to faculty and to institutions. Agency grants cover direct research costs, which typically pass through the university as faculty, staff and graduate student salaries, equipment and other project-specific charges. More importantly, the NIH also covers indirect costs, which are not specific to the project but involve administration and facility support. These are negotiated by each university, and they range from 25 percent to more than 100 percent of direct costs. If a principal investigator (or PI – the faculty member leading the project) gets a $1 million grant at a university with a 50 percent indirect cost rate, the university pockets $500,000.

How much money does the NIH spend on tobacco research? I conducted a search of the NIH Research Portfolio Online Reporting Tools for the word “tobacco.” In 2014, the NIH (mainly the National Cancer, Heart Blood Lung, Drug Abuse and Mental Health Institutes) dispensed $623 million (total costs) in 1,300 grants to more than 1,000 PIs at almost 300 universities, medical centers and other institutions. That works out to about $600,000 for each investigator. Few researchers will jeopardize grants of that size by doing or saying anything that conflicts with NIH dogma.

To explore the influence of NIH funding, start with members of the FDA Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee. TPSAC advises the FDA about regulatory actions, including “any application submitted by a manufacturer for a modified risk tobacco product,” which is a vital part of tobacco harm reduction.

A federal judge ruled last year that members of TPSAC, including current Chairman Jonathan Samet, had significant conflicts of interest in the form of funding from:

  1. Pharmaceutical manufacturers who compete with tobacco companies for the nicotine market; and
  2. Lucrative contracts to testify in lawsuits against the very industry they judge. He called TPSAC’s findings and recommendations “at a minimum, suspect, and, at worst, untrustworthy.”

TPSAC members also have a conflict of interest with respect to NIH funding. In 2014, six of the nine current TPSAC members had grants totaling $28 million (Table 1). Such outsized funding must be assumed to color decision-making, particularly on regulations as NIH-toxic as tobacco harm reduction.

Table 1. NIH support in Fiscal Year 2014 for tobacco projects to members of the FDA Tobacco Scientific Advisory Committee TPSAC Member University/Institution Total Support ($1m) Jonathan Samet Southern California 8.00 Warren Bickel Virginia Tech 0.39 Thomas Eissenberg Virginia Commonwealth 3.91 Suchitra Krishnan-Sarin Yale 5.79 Richard O’Connor Roswell Park 0.47 Kurt Ribisl North Carolina 9.21 Total 27.77

Followers of this blog know that major health organizations aggressively oppose tobacco harm reduction. They also receive considerable NIH funds to pursue tobacco-related projects. In 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics received $406,000 in support of “adolescent smoking cessation in pediatric primary care.” The American Cancer Society was awarded $343,000 for “building research and capacity on the economic policy-tobacco control nexus” (the title was truncated in the database). The American Heart Association scored $7.5 million for its Tobacco Regulation and Addiction Center and other projects.

Another big grantee last year was the American Legacy Foundation, recipient of $2.1 million for eight projects. One of its employees, David Levy, obtained $703,000 via Georgetown University for “modeling the policy impact of cigarette and smokeless tobacco use on U.S. mortality.” (I will be eager to see Dr. Levy’s mortality estimate from smokeless tobacco use, as my research indicates that it is close to zero.)

Individuals at the University of California San Francisco have engaged in an aggressive campaign against e-cigarettes (examples here and here). Table 2 shows they were awarded $12.5 million in 2014, with over half going to PI Stanton Glantz.

Table 2. NIH support in Fiscal Year 2014 for tobacco projects to faculty at the University of California-San Francisco Faculty Member Total Support ($1m) Stanton Glantz 6.61 Pamela Ling 1.49 Ruth Malone 1.34 Lyudmilla Popova 1.09 Judith Prochaska* 1.05 Neal Benowitz 0.95 Margaret Walsh 0.53 Total 13.03

*Also affiliated with Stanford University

I have previously discussed in the distorted research results concerning smokeless tobacco and harm reduction from several investigators, including Gregory Connolly, Christopher Haddock, Stephen Hecht, Irina Stepanov and Robert Klesges. Together, they received $8.5 million for tobacco projects in 2014 (Table 3). Haddock and Klesges continued work on tobacco use in the military: Haddock studied “barriers to effective tobacco control policy implementation in the U.S. military,” while Klesges was PI on a project with a particularly intimidating title: “preventing relapse following involuntary smoking abstinence” (my emphasis).

Table 3. NIH support in Fiscal Year 2014 for tobacco projects to individuals aggressively campaigning against smokeless tobacco Faculty Member University/Institution Total Support ($1m) Stephen Hecht Minnesota 4.49 Robert Klesges Tennessee 2.02 Irina Stepanov Minnesota 0.76 Gregory Connolly Harvard/Northeastern 0.70 Christopher Haddock National Development and Research 0.57 Total 8.54

The federal government, via the Department of Health and Human Services, is engaged in a coordinated, expensive campaign to create a tobacco-free society. The NIH, which contributes $24 billion annually to the American research establishment and $623 million specifically for tobacco research, strongly influences some in the academic community to vigorously oppose – and many others to ignore – tobacco harm reduction.

Heartland Daily Podcast – Steven Titch: “net neutrality” plan would effectively break the Internet

Somewhat Reasonable - February 17, 2015, 4:05 PM

In this episode of the ITTN podcast, Budget & Tax News managing editor Jesse Hathaway is joined by Heartland Institute telecom policy analyst Steven Titch.

A private information technology consultant and editor of multiple telecom trade magazines, Titch explains how the Internet really works, and how the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) proposed “net neutrality” plan would effectively break the Internet.

Titch says the FCC’s grab for regulatory power over such a large sector of the U.S. economy threatens the way the Internet has worked for years, as well as the stability of the rest of the economy.

[Subscribe to the Heartland Daily Podcast for free at this link.]

Categories: On the Blog

Hating Humanity by Opposing Science

Somewhat Reasonable - February 17, 2015, 3:22 PM

They don’t want to admit it, but we know it’s true. There are countless organizations that hate humanity enough to do everything in their power to put a stop to anything that might benefit it. Their focus is on the use of science to improve and protect our lives.

 A recent example is the discussion over the need to ensure youngsters are vaccinated against measles. When I was a child, the great fear parents had was polio and, when the vaccine was created against it, it ceased within my lifetime to be a major health threat. Measles, too, went from being a common disease in my youth to where it occurred rarely.

Even so, some idiots keep spreading the lie that vaccinations can cause autism. That was enough for some parents to fail to vaccinate their child. In other cases, children brought here from foreign nations where vaccination is not as widespread as here can and do cause outbreaks like the one at a California amusement park. It is occurring in other states as well. A disease like measles exists with a life force of its own to spread as widely and rapidly as possible.

 On February 14, the Wall Street Journal carried an article, “First Genetically Modified Apple Approved for Sale in U.S.” The previous day I received an email from Friends of the Earth (FOE) citing the apple and bewailing the fact that “Like other GMO’s, this apple won’t be labeled and regulators are relying on assurance from the company that made the apple that it’s safe for human consumption and the environment.”

 Why won’t it be labeled? Because it poses no harm to anyone’s health.
What FOE wants to do is create obstacles to genetically modified foods, but the World Health Organization is on record saying that “GM foods currently available on the international market have passed safety assessments and are not likely to present risks for human health. In addition, no effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of such foods by the general population in the countries where they have been approved.”

 Listen to what a farmer has to say about GMOs. Larry Cochran is the president of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers. “Most people don’t even know what GMO stands for, but for me as a farmer it’s just another way of speeding up the breeding process. I have a boss, Mother Nature, who does her own form of GMO breeding, whether it’s new races of disease or insects that have evolved. She’s always changing the rules. If we in agriculture want to be able to feed the world’s population, we have to be able to grow more food on less land, and I believe GMOs can help me do that.”

 In a December 31, 2014 commentary posted on the Daily Caller, Mischa Popoff, an expert on the organic food sector, the author of “Is it Organic?” and a policy advisor for The Heartland Institute, pointed out that “GMOs meanwhile have NEVER caused any health problem at any level.”

 Popoff’s book reveals what a scam organic farming is and, if you have had a choice between organic or not in the supermarket, you will instantly realize organic is much more expensive. Why? Because it does not use GMOs or other means to protect their crops against drought, weeds, or insect predation.

 “The real goal for organic activists,” says Popoff, “is to ban GMOs outright the way DDT was banned in 1972, a terrible move by these very same activists which resulted in more deaths from mosquito-borne malaria in the Third World than were cause by both world wars.”

 Fear of GMOs is spread monthly by countless articles condemning genetic modification. As Amy Paturel notes in an article on WebMD.com, “The World Health Organization, the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Medical Association all say these crops are safe as, and often safer than, foods changed the old-fashioned way, such as when a new plant is bred from two different types.”

 The irony of all the efforts to scare people in the fashion that the Friends of the Earth and comparable groups are trying to do—calling for labeling of GMO foods—is that the new apple has received approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The producer has voluntarily asked the Food and Drug Administration to likewise determine its safe consumption. What’s new about it? It does not turn brown after you cut it into slices by shutting off the enzyme that initiates the browning process. It also resists bruising. All good news for consumers.

 It is essential that companies that purchase large quantities of food products not fall prey to the anti-GMO lies. A biotech potato, Simplot, is also less susceptible to black spots from bruising and has lower levels of sugar and asparagine. Despite DOA approval, McDonald’s decided not to use it and it is a company that buys 3.4 billion pounds of potatoes a year.

 If farmers and ranchers are going to be able to feed the Earth’s human population of seven billion and growing, GMOs hold the key to avoiding widespread hunger while at the same time offering products like Golden Rice that would prevent a half million kids from going blind and dying every year due to Vitamin-A deficiency in the Third World.

 As Patrick Moore, a Greenpeace co-founder who left the organization when he realized it was operating from an anti-science, anti-capitalism agenda, warns, “There is now an anti-intellectual element that doesn’t care about people. There is no logic or science involved—only ideology and ignorance.”

 People live longer, healthier lives these days because of the discoveries of science. Genetic modification is just one of them. Vaccines are another. The Friends of the Earth and others who oppose such advances want you to die because they believe humans are a plague on the Earth.

Categories: On the Blog

How the U.S. Supreme Court biased its own decision on same-sex marriage

Out of the Storm News - February 17, 2015, 9:00 AM

By permitting same-sex marriages to take place over state laws to the contrary, the U.S. Supreme Court has essentially biased the outcome of the four same-sex marriage cases it will decide in a few months.

The court’s perspective seems to have shifted radically since it last considered the issue of same-sex unions in June o2013. Then, the Supreme Court rejected parts of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) by holding that legally married same-sex couples must receive the same federal benefits as their heterosexual counterparts.  The court’s opinion in United States v. Windsor did not hold that same-sex marriage should be recognized in every state.

Quite to the contrary, the Supreme Court noted, “The definition of marriage is the foundation of the state’s broader authority to regulate the subject of domestic relations with respect to the ‘protection of offspring, property interests, and the enforcement of marital responsibilities.'”

The Windsor holding emphasized each state’s well-established right to determine the definition of marriage. If Justice Kennedy and four other Supreme Court Justices believed then that the right to marry was fundamentally protected by the Constitution, they should have simply reflected that in their Windsor opinion.

They did not.

In fact, the Windsor opinion provides ample justification for the Supreme Court, as Justice Thomas recently suggested, to preserve the status quo until it hears the cases. “When courts declare state laws unconstitutional and enjoin state officials from enforcing them, our ordinary practice is to suspend those injunctions from taking effect pending appellate review,” Thomas said.

The latest Gallup polls do suggest a slight majority of all Americans (55 percent) support legally recognizing same-sex unions and a large majority of younger Americans polled favor the policy change. At the same time, those trends have not yet resulted in states amending their marriage definitions.

The current momentum in favor of legally recognizing same-sex marriage is almost entirely due to judicial interpretation. Of the 37 states currently allowing same-sex marriage, only 11 of them have recognized it through legislative action or popular vote.

By refusing to stay the orders of federal judges striking down state marriage definitions, the Supreme Court has created a situation completely unfair to the consideration of the issue before the court, same-sex couples rejoicing at the legal recognition of their marriage, and the citizens of states that define marriage as between a man and a woman.

Even those who oppose same-sex marriage realize the untenable position of legally recognizing marriages around the nation and then suddenly declaring them to be void. While Americans can and do choose to end their marriages, few would tolerate the government invalidating their legal union involuntarily. Given the court’s willingness to let legal recognition of same-sex marriages proceed, a decision anything short of protecting them with the full force of the Constitution would shock the nation.

If the unlikely event that the Court does issue an opinion contrary to the momentum of their own creation, the court will have needlessly caused heartache to those who welcome the change and an administrative nightmare for the states.

The Supreme Court will unmistakably have the final say on whether states are allowed to limit the definition of marriage based on sexual orientation, but they should have either said it sooner or waited to make the change until they were ready.

The highest court in the land needs to start acting like it.

Heartland Daily Podcast – Kays: Politicians Solidifying Their Stances on Common Core

Blog - Education - February 16, 2015, 5:34 PM

Director of Communications Jim Lakely speaks with Managing editor of School Reform News Heather Kays about the latest Common Core news in today’s Heartland Daily Podcast.

In today’s podcast, Kays and Lakely talk about the developments in Common Core debate. They discuss the recent comments made by Governor Jeb Bush as well as the stances taken by Governors Bobby Jindal and Scott Walker. Kays also explains the core arguements against Common Core.

[Subscribe to the Heartland Daily Podcast for free at this link.]

Heartland Daily Podcast – Kays: Politicians Solidifying Their Stances on Common Core

Somewhat Reasonable - February 16, 2015, 5:34 PM

Director of Communications Jim Lakely speaks with Managing editor of School Reform News Heather Kays about the latest Common Core news in today’s Heartland Daily Podcast.

In today’s podcast, Kays and Lakely talk about the developments in Common Core debate. They discuss the recent comments made by Governor Jeb Bush as well as the stances taken by Governors Bobby Jindal and Scott Walker. Kays also explains the core arguements against Common Core.

[Subscribe to the Heartland Daily Podcast for free at this link.]

Categories: On the Blog

Move to ban e-cigs stifles innovation

Out of the Storm News - February 16, 2015, 11:13 AM

California lawmakers aren’t afraid of innovation, or so they say. Members of the Legislature in Sacramento will have their commitment to innovation tested this session when an attempt to regulate e-cigarettes again comes before them.

State Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, has introduced legislation that would extend current restrictions on traditional tobacco products to e-cigarettes. Were S.B. 140 to be signed into law, Californians would be prohibited from using e-cigarettes in public meeting places like bars and restaurants. In Leno’s own words: “Like traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes deliver nicotine in a cloud of other toxic chemicals …”

In the broadest terms, Leno is accurate. E-cigarettes do deliver nicotine in a cloud of chemicals. But, to equate the toxicity of e-cigarette vapor to the toxicity of a traditional cigarette is misleading, even if not calculated. In fact, a study in the journal Inhalation Toxicity found the exposure to harmful byproducts in vapor is not just slightly smaller than in tobacco cigarettes, but orders of magnitude smaller.

In burning tobacco, traditional cigarettes create and release tar and other carcinogens not present in e-cigarettes. The persistent effort to craft a false equivalence between e-cigarettes and traditional cigarettes does not shoulder the weight of reality.

California’s smoking ban is popular and the public has come to view tobacco use with disfavor. In fact, the use of traditional cigarettes is trending toward an all-time low. If Californians can be led to believe that restricting e-cigarettes is functionally the same as restricting traditional cigarettes, they will support S.B. 140 with enthusiasm — regardless of the reality. In the larger picture, restrictions on e-cigarettes, predicated on problematic public health arguments, could actually harm public health. While the National Institutes of Health found that well-known pharmaceutical smoking cessation treatments like nicotine patches fail at above a 90 percent rate, e-cigarettes appear to be a viable tool for mitigating the effects of traditional cigarettes. Evidence suggests that vapor products can actually act as tobacco cessation mechanisms.

Just as importantly, a large study conducted by the government of Great Britain discovered that existing smokers, not those who have never used tobacco products before, predominantly use e-cigarettes. There is little to the claim that e-cigarettes drive people to smoke, and there is even less to the claim that restricting e-cigarettes will decrease the overall number of smokers.

In the end, though their educational efforts have been loudly and consistently maligned, the e-cigarette industry has innovated a potentially useful product. While not as popular as Silicon Valley firms, they are innovators nonetheless. They have developed a far less dangerous and potentially beneficial tool that allows adults to exercise their personal freedom with a de minimis public health impact.

Whether or not S.B. 140 passes, arguments to stifle innovation through false characterizations never are a healthy thing. Clouds of toxic rhetoric can be bad both for public health and private innovation.

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