Wednesday, January 28, 2009
AEI, Jan 28, 2009
Lurking inside the proposed stimulus bill is a provision that threatens to stoke global protectionism and weaken U.S. leadership. The "Buy American" clause requires the new infrastructure projects in the bill to use American steel exclusively in a misguided attempt to create jobs. Its proponents fail to consider the worldwide repercussions.
The federal government of the US is currently consumed with an effort to craft a fiscal stimulus that will save the economy. Even before assuming the Presidency this month, Barack Obama called for a major stimulus package and warned that without quick action "we could lose a generation of potential and promise . . . our nation could lose the competitive edge that has served as a foundation for our strength and standing in the world." In the process, however, the US is poised to lose some of its standing through its flirtation with protectionism.
Flirtation with protectionism
The $825 billion stimulus bill introduced in the US House of Representatives includes the following provision:
"None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be used for a project for the construction, alteration, maintenance, or repair of a public building or public work unless all of the iron and steel used in the project is produced in the US." (Sec. 1110(a)) The bill allows for exceptions if the clause would boost project costs by more than 25% or "would be inconsistent with the public interest." It would take an unusually brave Obama Administration official, however, to seek a waiver on public interest grounds.
Fiscal stimulus as protectionism Trojan Horse
The inclusion of this "Buy American" clause is a deliberate attempt to translate stimulus dollars into American jobs. One group advocating the measure, the Alliance for American Manufacturing, cites a report it commissioned as finding that:
"[M]anufacturing employment gains from such an infrastructure program could be improved significantly if the percentage of US-made material inputs were increased. Simply put, a higher share of domestically produced supplies would have a significant impact in terms of generating new manufacturing jobs. Utilizing 100% domestically produced inputs for infrastructure projects would yield a total of 77,000 additional jobs nationally."
They argue that the provision would disproportionately help manufacturing, raising the number of stimulated manufacturing jobs by 33% (AAM 2009).
Protection and the open economy multiplier
The underlying report argues that:
"the most important source of leakages for the kinds of investment we consider in this report is the use of imported goods and services in the production of infrastructure. Spending on imports does not raise the demand for domestic output and therefore does not create additional jobs."
The report never mentions the word 'export.' (Heintz, Pollin, and Garrett-Peltier 2009, p. 23)
US traditional policy: level playing field on procurement and the GPA
With some exceptions, the US has generally taken a different stance in the past. The website of the US Trade Representative, as yet unchanged from the Bush Administration, lauds the Government Procurement Agreement (GPA) and states that a "longstanding objective of US trade policy has been to open opportunities for US suppliers to compete on a level playing field for foreign government contracts." It cites WTO estimates that the parties to the GPA receive annual access to more than $300 billion in government tendering procedures.
What comes around goes around
Were there careful consideration of the implications, the US would seem to have little incentive to start a procurement fight. According to OECD figures (OECD 2008, pp. 56-57) the US in 2007 trailed only Switzerland, Mexico, Turkey, and Luxembourg in the race among members for lowest government consumption expenditure as a fraction of GDP.
Opposition from US business and trade groups
The "Buy American" stimulus provision has sparked opposition from US business and trade groups. They argue that it could prompt retaliation, undermine US leadership, and violate the pledge at the November 2008 G20 Summit in Washington not to adopt protectionist measures (Drajem, 2009).
It is unclear whether this lobbying will block the measure, though. There is extraordinary pressure to deliver the stimulus package to President Obama before the end of February. That allows little time for deliberation and debate. The rationale for the rush is the urgent need for the spending, though the Congressional Budget Office estimates that almost 60% of the new spending projects would take place after September of 2010 (CBO, 2009, p. 3).
Keynesian multiplier and the fallacy of composition
As significant as government procurement may be, the flawed mercantilist logic of the "Buy American" provision is even more dangerous because of its broader applicability. Dani Rodrik (2008) argues that one way to enhance the Keynesian multiplier effects of any fiscal stimulus would be to raise import tariffs. He writes: "Yes, yes, import protection is inefficient and not a very neighborly thing to do--but should we really care if the alternative is significantly lower growth and higher unemployment?"
Such analysis is flawed at several levels. Among them, there are the failings of Keynesian analysis more generally (see, e.g., Barro 2009), and the globally integrated nature of production, which would be exceedingly difficult and costly to unwind and which is uncaptured by simplistic macro models. But the idea is clearly seductive.
Obama's first test on protectionism
The protectionist urges in the stimulus debate pose a major challenge for President Obama at a difficult time.
He has not seemed to emphasize the importance of international economic relations in his appointments to date. His nomination for US Trade Representative, Ron Kirk, was one of his last, remains unconfirmed, and is inexperienced in global trade matters. President Obama has yet to name a new Secretary of Commerce after his first choice withdrew. His new Treasury Secretary, Tim Geithner, will likely be consumed with domestic aspects of stimulus and with averting financial collapse.
Campaign promises: Multilateral approach to foreign policy
In his campaign last year, President Obama called for a multilateral approach to foreign policy and a restoration of America's image in the world. It may fall to other world leaders to remind him of the role that global trade plays in US international relations.
Powerline Blog, January 28, 2009 at 1:31 PM
President Obama is set to sign into law, as the first legislation of his tenure, the so-called Lilly Ledbetter Act. It changes the rules for bringing lawsuits for alleged pay discrimination, enabling plaintiffs to bring stale claims, as Ledbetter herself attempted to do.
It is fitting that this law will be the first legislative product of the Obama presidency, for it is based on a lie. I demonstrated this last year in a post called "Lilly Ledbetter, Living a Lie."
The Lilly Ledbetter lie is today peddled in this Washington Post story, which suggests that she had no idea she was the victim of pay discrimination until she supposedly received an anonymous note tippling her off. So is the White House. (Hat tip, Openmarket.org.)
In honor of the occasion, I have re-posted my piece on Lilly's lie:
Lilly Ledbetter, the unsuccessful plaintiff in an equal pay case that went to the Supreme Court, has become ubiquitous this political season. She spoke at the Democratic National Convention, has testified in congressional hearings, and appears in an ad for Barack Obama. Congress is considering legislation that bears her name. The Washington Post, in a piece by Matthew Mosk, reverentially described her as "the Alabama woman whose fight for equal pay led her to the United States Supreme Court and inspired. . .fair pay legislation."
Not since the equally alliterative and industrial-sounding Rosie the Riveter, has a working woman become such a folk hero. But like Rosie, the Lilly Ledbetter being presented for public consumption is largely mythical.
The real Lilly Ledbetter worked for Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company from 1979 until she retired in 1998. After she retired, she sued Goodyear under Title VII of the Civil Rights of 1964 for alleged pay discrimination.
Ledbetter's pay discrimination claim went to a jury which found in her favor. However, the court of appeals reversed this verdict on the grounds that she did not file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC within the required statute of limitations period.
In her appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, Ledbetter raised the following issue: "Whether and under what circumstances a plaintiff may bring an action under Title VII. . .alleging illegal pay discrimination when the disparate pay is received during the statutory limitations period, but is the result of intentionally discriminatory pay decisions that occurred outside the limitations period."
Ledbetter framed the issue this way because she did not claim that the relevant Goodyear decisionmakers acted with discriminatory intent during the limitations period. Instead, she asserted that the paychecks she received during this period were unlawful because they would have been larger if she had been treated in a nondiscriminatory manner prior to the limitations period.
In other words, the alleged intentional discrimination had occurred years earlier, outside of the limitations period. But Ledbetter felt its ongoing consequences every time she received a paycheck, until the end of her career, because her pay never caught up to where she believes it would have been absent the early discrimination. An employee's pay at any given point in time is typically a function of years of pay decisions.
The Supreme Court agreed with the court of appeals that Ledbetter's challenge to pay decisions that pre-dated the limitations period was time-barred. In doing so, the Court correctly applied three decades of its own precedent in cases where Title VII plaintiffs have attempted to rely on the current effects of past discrimination to defeat a statute of limitations defense.
The Court also emphasized the common sense proposition that stands behind these decisions: in discrimination cases "the employer's intent is almost always disputed and evidence relating to intent may fade quickly with time." Thus, an employee who waits until years after the underlyng alleged intentional act of discrimination to sue, as Ledbetter did, undermines the ability of the justice system to conduct a fair trial. For example, by the time Ledbetter brought her case to trial, the supervisor whose decisions formed the main basis for her pay discrimination claim was dead.
There is, of course, nothing novel in the Supreme Court's reasoning. Statute of limitations period exist precisely to prevent the injustice inherent in situations where a plaintiff "sleeps" on his or her rights for years.
Ledbetter and her Democratic fan club argue, however, that the result in her case permits hidden discrimination. They would have the public believe that the Ledbetter decision leaves plaintiffs who don't discover concealed discrimination for many years unable to overcome the statute of limitations defense, and thus unable to remedy wrongdoing.
This is nonsense. For decades the Supreme Court has recognized that the limitations period in a Title VII case can be extended or tolled in such circumstances. Tolling is available where, among other situations, the plaintiff has no reason to suspect discrimination at the time of the disputed event.
But Ledbetter did not argue that the limitations period should be tolled in her case, and for good reason. Ledbetter testified that she knew by 1992 that her pay was out of line with her peers. In 1995, she spoke to her supervisor about the problem, telling him that "I knew definitely that they were all making a thousand at least more per month than I was and that I would like to get in line." Yet Ledbetter waited until 1998 to file her EEOC complaint.
This delay is particularly difficult to understand given the fact that, in 1982, she had filed a sexual harassment complaint with the EEOC. That dispute was settled without litigation shortly thereafter. Had Ledbetter followed the same course with her pay claim, she would have had her day in court, and Goodyear would have had a fair chance to defend itself. That this did not occur is Ledbetter's fault.
Prevented by the facts from arguing in a real court that she didn't have enough knowledge about her pay situation to bring a timely EEOC charge, Ledbetter (and those who seek political advantage through her) now raise this false claim in the court of public opinion. For example, Ledbetter claims that "the only way that I really knew [about the pay discrimination] was that someone left an anonymous note in my mailbox showing my pay and the pay for the three males who were doing the same job, just on different shifts." According to Ledbetter, "when I saw that note, it just floored me. I was so shocked at the amount of difference in our pay for doing the same exact job. And I went immediately to EEOC."
This claim, of course, cannot be reconciled with her sworn testimony that three years before allegedly receiving the "anonymous note," she told her supervisor that she definitely knew that she was making thousands less than her male counterparts for the same work.
Lilly Ledbetter is living a lie, one that Barack Obama hopes will help propel him into the White House.
Bench Memos/NRO, Jan 28, 2009
The editors of the Washington Post are at it again today, impatient to pass a bill to give the District of Columbia a regular seat in the House of Representatives—without senators and without statehood. Continuing its practice of misleadingly calling this a "voting rights" bill, when D.C. residents currently have all the voting rights to which the Constitution entitles them, the Post thinks all debate on this matter should come to an end. Referring to a hearing yesterday before a House Judiciary subcommittee, the editors write:
Much of yesterday's discussion came down to the now familiar back-and-forth over whether the measure is constitutional. There are valid legal arguments for and against, with noted scholars on both sides, but the question is best left to the courts to decide. The use of such concerns to block the bill is a ruse by those who lack the political will to enfranchise D.C. residents.
It's nice for the Post to concede there are "valid" constitutional arguments on both sides. But I think they mean "plausible," since in a world where the Constitution means what it says, only one side can have the "valid" argument—i.e., the correct one. Having examined this matter as closely as anyone I know, I can say that in 30 years of studying the Constitution I've never come across a real (non-hypothetical) constitutional question that is easier than this one. The arguments on the other side, with all due respect to those who make them, are not only invalid but hardly even rise to the level of "plausible," requiring the tortuous misinterpretation of one clause in the text of the Constitution and the suppression of several others. For the short course, go to this recent post of mine, and follow the links for more elucidation.
But the Post, in its anxiety to remedy what it calls an "intolerable injustice," commits an injustice of its own in calling opposition on constitutional grounds a "ruse" by people who are somehow hostile or indifferent to "enfranchis[ing] D.C. residents." The constitutional grounds for a "no" vote on this bill are so compelling that the Post has long since ceased attempting to respond to them, and resorts only to name-calling and temper tantrums. Those grounds are so compelling that members of Congress who vote "no," as they should, can sleep the sleep of the just, knowing they have kept their oath to the Constitution. They don't need to be slandered by the capital's dominant newspaper as heartless bigots where D.C. is concerned.
The Post's editors, by contrast, have enough doubt about their position to recommend that the constitutional issue be "left to the courts to decide"—as if it were a) difficult, b) easy to hand off to the courts in a fashion that shapes it into a question courts can address, and c) appropriate for judicial rather than legislative resolution even if that were done. It is none of the above.
The Post writes also that "[n]o one at yesterday's hearing—even those who vehemently oppose the bill—could argue it's okay for the hundreds of thousands of Americans living in the nation's capital to be taxed, sent to war and governed without any real say in what their government does." I confess I don't get that exercised about the alleged injustice. But if that really concerned the editors, don't you think they'd want D.C. residents to have full representation in Congress—with senators too? Maybe those Americans could, you know, live in a state, which would automatically take care of the problem?
D.C. doesn't need or deserve statehood on its own. The best solution for D.C. residents to get "voting rights" in Congress is for the residential parts of the District to be "retroceded" to Maryland. This is how residents of Alexandria and Arlington, Virginia got to vote for congressmen again.
Majority leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland was a witness at yesterday's hearing and was in high dudgeon about the poor "disenfranchised" residents of D.C. But it's hard to avoid the conclusion that he just doesn't want them back as fellow citizens of Maryland.
January 28, 2009
WASHINGTON, DC - The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) continues to provide assistance to the people of Zimbabwe in the aftermath of a widespread cholera outbreak that began in August 2008. USAID is consigning nearly 440,000 bars of soap-valued at nearly $365,000-to the U.N. Children's Fund, which will provide it to humanitarian organizations to distribute as part of hygiene education programs in areas most affected by the cholera outbreak.
According to the World Health Organization, the cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe has now affected all provinces and 57 out of 62 districts. As of January 22, 2009, more than 48,000 cases of cholera and 2,755 deaths have been reported.
Cholera is usually transmitted through contaminated water or food. Outbreaks can occur sporadically in any part of the world where water supply, sanitation, food safety, and hygiene are inadequate and spread rapidly in areas with inadequate treatment of sewage and drinking water. Although cholera is contagious, it can be prevented. USAID and the international community are diligently working in Zimbabwe to help prevent the spread of the disease.
To date, USAID has pledged $6.8 million in emergency assistance for Zimbabwe's cholera outbreak. USAID's assistance is supporting the provision of emergency relief supplies for affected populations, humanitarian coordination and information management, and water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) and health interventions.
This assistance is in addition to the more than $4 million that USAID has provided for emergency WASH programs in Zimbabwe since October 2007. The U.S. Government has provided more than $264 million in humanitarian assistance for Zimbabwe's ongoing health and food crisis since October 2007.
For more information about USAID's emergency humanitarian assistance programs, please visit: www.usaid.gov/our_work/humanitarian_assistance/disaster_assistance/.
Progressive Policy Institute, January 28, 2009
From last Tuesday's inaugural address, the first inaugural pledge to fight poverty abroad since Kennedy's in 1961:
"To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders."
Cynics ask whether such promises are ever realistic. Worried idealists wonder whether we can keep them now, with life at home suddenly so difficult and the financial crisis already pushing people into poverty overseas. Brief answers: A promise to ease poverty is entirely realistic; and though the poor abroad will not escape the crisis, better trade policy this year can ease the blow. Background first, then more information.
Background: In dollar terms, America's ties with poor nations span aid, charity, trade, and remittances. Government aid and private charity flows, at $22 billion and $9 billion, account for the least money but are essential in emergencies and can bolster public health, primary education, and other public services. Remittances are larger -- immigrants send at least $45 billion home from the United States each year, with Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, and the Philippines especially large beneficiaries -- and complement aid by raising family incomes in rural districts and urban slums. Imports from low-income countries, excluding energy and goods from China, totaled $405 billion (or $35 billion per month) in 2007, spread across clothes, toys, Christmas decorations, coffee, mangoes, sports and fishing gear, TV sets, shrimp, flowers, and other goods. This is a much larger figure than those for aid, charity and remittances, but complements rather than replaces them by supporting tens of millions of middle-class and lower-middle class urban jobs and raising farm incomes, in poor countries.
Now the answers:
Question (1): Can we ever reduce poverty? Judged by facts, yes: the idealist's case is strong and the cynic's weak. The World Bank defines "absolute poverty" as life on $1.25 a day or less (in constant 1993 dollars) and has estimated poverty rates on this basis back to 1981. In that year, 52 percent of the world's people were very poor. By 1990, the figure was 42 percent. In 2005, the most recent year available, only 25 percent of the world's people were very poor. East Asia recorded the most progress, with the absolute-poverty rate falling from 78 percent in 1981, to 55 percent in 1990, and 16 percent in 2005. In one generation, then, Asian poverty fell from the near-universal experience of life to the sad exception. Drops elsewhere in the world have been slower but real: Since 1981, Latin America has cut absolute poverty from 13 percent to 8 percent; India and its neighbors from 60 percent to 40 percent; the Middle East from 8 percent to 4 percent; Africa from 54 percent to 51 percent. In eight low-to-middle-income countries without oil -- Chile, Jamaica, Mexico, Uruguay, Egypt, Jordan, Thailand, and Malaysia -- the absolute-poverty rate has fallen below two percent. Conclusion: if poor countries have good education, financial, infrastructure, anti-corruption, and other policies; if they are free of wars and coups; and if rich countries help through aid, trade and easy remittance, poverty often falls quickly and permanently.
Cambodia offers a human-scale and recent example. In 1996, after 25 years of first bombing, then genocide and famine, then endemic warfare, the country's gross national income was $14 billion, its per capita income was $1,240, and its infant mortality rate ran at 102 deaths per thousand live births annually. Cambodia has since received significant aid -- about $500 million annually, with Japan the largest donor -- and succeeded in trade, putting 350,000 young women to work through garment exports to American retailers. Earning three times the average national income as they sew shirts and pajamas, these garment-workers send a third of their pay money home, raising their rural relatives' "food security" from two months to a year. By last November's Rain Festival regatta on the Mekong, Cambodia's gross national income had in 12 years doubled to $29 billion, per capita income had risen by 60 percent to $2100, infant mortality had dropped by nearly half, and absolute poverty was down 20 percent.
Question (2): And in the midst of the current crisis? If cynics are wrong, are worried idealists right to fear that the achievement may slip away? Yes; and American policy can make matters worse or better.
Aid commitments have so far held up. With falling demand and unemployment in the United States, though, remittances are beginning to fall and trade is falling fast. Here again, Cambodia illustrates a general trend. Between October and November, as the crisis set in, America's imports from poor countries fell by $7 billion -- a 20 percent drop in a month. And as tourists and visitors from the rural districts watched the Rain Festival regatta, the garment factories that power Cambodia's growth were beginning to close down. According to The Phnom Penh Post, orders dropped by a third, 30 factories closed, and 20,000 young women lost work. The same things were happening in southern Africa, Central America, Pakistan, Mexico, the Philippines, Thailand, and many other countries. The effect in each is to suddenly increase poverty rates, raise the risk of rural hunger and urban sex-industry recruitment, and sometimes cause political instability.
No American policy can fully protect poor countries. But at minimum, Americans can avoid the trade protectionism and aid cuts that would worsen the blow to the poor; and with some energy, Congress and the new administration can ease it by making the U.S. trade regime more open and friendly to the poor.
In general, American trade policy is tougher on poor countries than rich ones, because tariffs and other barriers are relatively high on the cheap and simple manufactures and farm products poor countries provide, but low on services and high-tech products Americans buy from rich countries. On average, tariffs on poor-country imports are about twice as tariffs on rich-country goods. A series of "trade preference" programs partially ease the inequity by waiving some tariffs for poor countries. But the preferences are antiquated and in some ways ineffective, as they offer little help to low-income countries in Asia and the Muslim world, because it bars duty-free treatment for the clothes, shoes, and other light-industry products that account for most of their trade. In 2007, for example, Cambodia faced a $415 million tariff penalty on its $2.5 billion in clothes -- more than the $405 million penalty on Britain's $100 billion in medicines, aircraft parts, TV shows, insurance policies, and North Sea crude. Pakistan, Bangladesh, Lebanon, Sri Lanka, Laos, and others get similar exorbitant penalties.
Ending them through a better preference system would be easy and essentially cost free. The principal competitive effect would not be to raise total imports, but to give poor countries some help in dealing with much larger competitors; the main domestic consequence would be slightly lower clothing prices. A modest step, preference reform would give the people of poor nations some help as they manage a crisis they did not cause -- and over time, can help Americans keep a promise that, with some luck and good policy, we can fulfill in this generation.
The World Bank charts the decline of poverty, 1981-2005: http://siteresources.worldbank.org/DATASTATISTICS/Resources/WDI08povertysupplement.pdf
And has a shorter note on the falling rate of malnutrition:http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTPRH/Resources/childrenunderfive.pdf
PPI Trade & Global Markets Director Ed Gresser testifies last year at the Senate Finance Committee on preference policy:http://finance.senate.gov/sitepages/hearing061208.htm
The Center for Global Development's Kim Elliott has preference advice for the new administration:http://www.cgdev.org/content/publications/detail/967263
And the U.S. Trade Representative Office explains today's preference programs:http://www.ustr.gov/Trade_Development/Preference_Programs/Section_Index.html
Three views of Cambodia:
The Royal Ministry of Tourism tells the story of the water festival:http://www.mot.gov.kh/Hot_News/water_festival.html
The International Labor Organization's Cambodia factory-monitoring project reports on work conditions, pay and the social implications of the garment business:http://www.betterfactories.org/
The Phnom Penh Post reports on slipping sales, job loss and prospects for 2009:http://www.phnompenhpost.com/index.php/2009011923690/Business/Garment-factories-hunker-down-for-a-miserable-2009.html
The Kennedy legacy:
The 1961 inaugural: "To those peoples in the huts and villages across the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves, for whatever period is required -- not because the Communists may be doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right. If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich."
The promise led to creation of the Agency for International Development, a 50 percent increase in foreign aid, the launch of the Peace Corps, and one of the most ambitious and successful efforts to reduce U.S. and world trade barriers since the Second World War. The Bank has not calculated $1.25-a-day figures for years before 1981, so evaluations aren't easy. But social indicators suggest that posterity should judge him well on results, as well as inspiration. Since 1960, global infant mortality has fallen by nearly two-thirds (from 126 to 50 infant deaths per thousand live births) and life expectancy has jumped from 50 years to 68 years.
The Peace Corps:http://www.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=learn.whatispc.history
The Agency for International Development:http://www.usaid.gov/
Aid and remittances:
The OECD has foreign-aid data by donor country and recipient:http://www.oecd.org/department/0,3355,en_2649_34447_1_1_1_1_1,00.html
The World Bank predicts remittance growth to slow next year, with payments to Africa and the Middle East likely to fall:http://econ.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/EXTDEC/EXTDECPROSPECTS/0,,contentMDK:21121930~menuPK:3145470~pagePK:64165401~piPK:64165026~theSitePK:476883,00.html
Media Note (Revised), Office of the Spokesman, US State Dept
Washington, DC, Jan 28, 2009
Secretary of State Hillary R. Clinton met today at the State Department with fourteen prominent Afghan women judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys. These jurists were in Washington to participate in a training program arranged by the Department’s Public-Private Partnership for Justice Reform in Afghanistan. Secretary Clinton told them: "Your American friends greatly admire your bravery and courage. It is your work in the tough environment of Afghanistan for women lawyers that will bring real reform and the rule of law to the Afghan people. As President Obama made clear yesterday in his first foreign policy announcement, we are committed to supporting your efforts to bring security and stability to your country."
Under the leadership of the former Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts, Dr. Kerry Healey, and United States District Judge Stephen G. Larson of the Central District of California, the women participated in two weeks of intensive legal seminars, roundtable events, and consultations with senior officials from the State of California and the U.S. government, including former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. The women explored current topics in the Afghan and American legal systems, legal decision-making and mediation, domestic violence, family and mental health, and narcotics law, while gaining hands-on exposure to the American judicial system.
The Public-Private Partnership for Justice Reform in Afghanistan is a joint effort between the State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs and the American legal community to strengthen the rule of law in Afghanistan. The goal of the Partnership is to help the Afghan people establish a fair and transparent justice system that protects the rights of women, children, and minorities and that is equally accessible to all citizens.
Electronic Access via InternetMore information about the Public-Private Partnership is available for download from the State Department website at http://www.state.gov/p/inl/narc/partnership/index.htm.
Prometheus, January 27th, 2009
Today I’ll get into some issues in Mooney’s hatchet job where he and Marburger talk past each other. All quotations not otherwise attributed are from Mooney.
I’d like to indulge in one final Bush-era diatribe against the longest-ever serving White House science adviser: John Marburger, who has been a poor advocate indeed for the science world.
Since when is the president’s science adviser a science advocate? Let’s look at the underlying law dictating how the Office of Science and Technology Policy should operate (Public Law 94-282). Some relevant text:
The Act authorizes OSTP to:
Advise the President and others within the Executive Office of the President on the impacts of science and technology on domestic and international affairs;
Lead an interagency effort to develop and implement sound science and technology policies and budgets;
Work with the private sector to ensure Federal investments in science and technology contribute to economic prosperity, environmental quality, and national security;
Build strong partnerships among Federal, State, and local governments, other countries, and the scientific community;
Evaluate the scale, quality, and effectiveness of the Federal effort in science and technology.
There’s a lot of wiggle room here. But what isn’t here is some dictum that scientific outcomes advanced by OSTP dictate policy outcomes. This path is a small reach from the encouragement of open inquiry and publication without censorship. Many people can’t resist the urge to reach.
Marburger was responsible to the President, first and foremost. He provided scientific and technical information to the White House when needed, in the way that they wanted it. It’s within their rights to dictate how they want the information and how they use it - if they do at all. The same is true for President Obama and his future OSTP director. Would Dr. Holdren resign if President Obama opts for different climate change policies than what he recommends? I doubt it.
This is the problem some are concerned about with respect to Holdren - advocacy over advice. If Energy Secretary Chu’s confirmation hearings are any indication, expect some walkback of Holdren’s strong climate policy statements in the future.
Mooney writes as though Marburger is the only person focused on science policy as budget policy. ASTRA, Research!America, and many scientific societies are very interested in science budgets, often to the exclusion of most anything else. The whole post-war debate over how the federal government would support scientific research revolved around how federal research dollars would be treated.
Mooney discusses specific budget numbers, and their recent decline (in terms of real dollars, accounting for inflation). The implication is that blame for this can be squarely placed at the feet of Bush and Marburger. However, there has been little in the way of leadership from the Democratic Congress to make sure that authorized levels of funding from the America COMPETES Act were appropriated. These dollars are a perennial loser in budget battles. A Democratically-controlled Congress found it either impossible or undesirable to fight for that money. Where’s your disappointment in them, Chris?
“let’s note that on the question of ethics, the Bush administration was also wrong, and the 2001 policy in fact unethical, because it designated several cell lines as eligible for research that did not meet basic ethics guidelines for informed consent”
While there is a problem here, where many of the stem cell lines were obtained in ways that did not follow accepted informed consent procedures, Mooney ignores what is - at least politically - a much bigger ethical issue. There is a legitimate ethical consideration related to definitions of life. Science can inform that decision, but not dictate it. To ignore it, something a president would be more likely to pay attention to, is to continue attacking a strawman that isn’t there.
“This [Marburger's claim that the visibility of the science community was a political strategy of the Democratic party], too, is false. I’m happy to say that I watched the entire politics and science issue evolve over the course of the Bush administration. It wasn’t that the Democrats stirred up the scientists; rather, the scientists stirred up the Democrats and other progressive advocates.”
These chicken-or-the-egg arguments miss a relevant political use of the “War on Science.” I have noted then-Senator Clinton’s use of the term to include decreased aerospace research, muddling what was focused on concerns over misrepresenting data into traditional budget squabbles. This mission creep aside, it was more common to see Democrats simply lumping in allegations of scientific tampering or misuse in their laundry lists of Bush Administration malfeasance. What little direct mention science received in the recent inaugural address is consistent with this framing - “we will restore science to its rightful place.” Democrats took advantage of a potential new voting block and added to their rhetorical weapons. Those are, so far, the only explicit outcomes of listening to the science advocates.
Science and technology can thrive while being ignored in certain policy decisions. It is completely possible for resources to flow toward research and development, and for policies to encourage the use of science and technology, while scientific information that would undercut desired policies is shunted aside. So it is possible for both Mooney and Marburger to be right.
A war suggests a total effort that simply isn’t there in the case of the “War on Science.” There were certain instances of science-related conduct that were problematic and/or skirted the intent of the law (and may be again), but there was no systematic subversion, nor any particular master plan, which is what I expect when I see a war. Mooney and others don’t do science advocacy any favors if they continue to cling to this unrealistic notion of a “War on Science” long past the point of political effectiveness.
Energy is the lifeblood of our economy. As our competitors around the globe have shown us in recent years, job creation and economic growth begin with access to abundant, affordable energy supplies.
Unfortunately, the Obama administration’s stimulus proposals are founded on the fundamentally flawed notion that we will achieve prosperity if we make coal, oil, and natural gas, which make up 85 percent  of the energy that fuels our economy, more expensive and less available. Meanwhile, President Obama wishes to spend billions of taxpayer dollars on the most expensive and least efficient energy sources and force American consumers to pay more to purchase them.
Energy is, literally, “the capacity to do work.” More energy means more work, more jobs, and more economic growth. Less affordable energy means less work performed here at home. Affordable energy creates jobs and stimulates investment in America.
IER supports government policies that encourage private investment, foster job creation, and provide American consumers access to the vast, proven, affordable energy supplies they own beneath the 2.3 billion acres of government lands not leased for responsible energy production. These enormous taxpayer-owned resources, and the American jobs they would create, have been held hostage by a decades-long government policy of saying, “No, we can’t”.
Today, IER is offering a bold economic stimulus plan that will create jobs, strengthen our economy, enhance our national energy security, and make the U.S. more competitive in the world. Best of all, it won’t cost taxpayers a dime. In fact, it could generate hundreds of billions of dollars, along with jobs and new energy supplies for the future.
IER’s plan represents the most significant change in government energy policy in more than three decades. We urge the Obama Administration to say, “Yes, we can” to our two-part plan, which begins by embracing the fundamental medical precept: First, Do No Harm:
- Vow to defend jobs and investments against expensive, job-killing climate regulations. German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently stated that she would not allow EU climate regulations that “take decisions that would endanger jobs or investments in Germany.” President Obama should follow suit and vow to defend American jobs against costly climate regulations.
- Halt EPA’s attempt to regulate carbon dioxide using the Clean Air Act. The Clean Air Act was designed to regulate regional air pollutants, not global concentrations of carbon dioxide. President Obama needs to apply a cost-benefit analysis to EPA’s proposal to make 85 percent of the energy that fuels our economy more expensive and less available, cost Americans $7 trillion over the next 20 years, and accomplish little, if any, real reductions in global temperature.
- Renounce plans to bankrupt coal companies. As a presidential candidate, Obama said he would bankrupt coal-fired power plants with climate regulations. America currently gets 48 percent of our electricity from coal. Unlike wind and solar, coal is reliable, affordable, and proven. Wind and solar cannot power modern society’s always-on electricity needs.
- Join other policymakers in denouncing billions for “project[s] that depend on significant taxpayer subsidies while potentially doubling power costs” for American consumers and abandon all efforts to implement Federal Renewable Fuels Standards, Federal Renewable Portfolio Standards and Low Carbon Fuel Standards.
And second, say “Yes, we can” and pursue the following landmark changes in federal energy policy:
- End subsidies for all forms of energy and return the money to American taxpayers. The government should not be in the business of picking winners and losers in energy production. Furthermore, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), direct payments to individuals and cutting taxes have the fastest and most significant impacts on the economy.
- Continue our progress on the most significant change in energy policy in decades: Streamline regulations to produce energy from American resources on American lands and coastal waters. ICF International recently released a study that shows developing America’s abundant but currently off-limits domestic energy supply would create 160,000 new jobs alone and generate $1.7 trillion for local, state, and federal tax revenue.
- Provide coastal states with 50 percent of revenue from offshore and onshore energy leasing. Last year alone, the U.S. raised over $23 billion from energy leasing on federal lands.
- Support exploration and energy production in ANWR. According to the Energy Information Administration, ANWR “is the largest unexplored, potentially productive geological onshore basin in the United States.” It contains a mean expected value of 10.4 billion barrels of oil. Opening ANWR would create hundreds of thousands of American jobs, generate billions of dollars in state and federal revenue, and enhance our energy security.
- Expedite job creation by waiving all regulations on federal lands for the expedited construction of the Alaska natural gas pipeline. Congress did this in 1973 for the 800 mile-long Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline, which was built in just three years and has since delivered 16 billion barrels of oil to American consumers. Russia, Iran, and Qatar control 60 percent of the world’s natural gas supplies. We should use our abundant supplies of natural gas, and not allow another OPEC-style cartel to limit our energy sources.
- Allow the exploration and experimentation necessary to produce affordable energy from America’s oil shale resources. The western United States is home to an estimated 800 billion barrels of recoverable oil equivalent in oil shale. This is about three times the amount of proven oil reserves in Saudi Arabia. This resource is untapped and needs research to develop economically.
- Permit the exploration and experimentation necessary to produce affordable energy from methane hydrates. A 2007 study found that the U.S. has about 5,700 trillion cubic feet of methane hydrates—about 900 times the current annual gas consumption in the U.S. Like oil shale, this resource is untapped, and companies need to research ways to bring it to market.
- Limit frivolous lawsuits designed to thwart responsible development of American energy and the American jobs it creates. The following quote sums up this problem best. In an interview with Dow Jones Newswires in January 2003, The Wilderness Society’s Peter Morton threatened: “If you bid on a lease on public land, you can expect (environmental litigation).“
- Remove regulatory impediments to building and expanding refineries. We have not built a new refinery in the United States since 1976 because of environmental regulations and bureaucratic red tape. While existing refineries have gone to great lengths to expand their capacity to meet domestic demand, refinery expansions are becoming even more difficult due to regulatory impediments.
- Resolve issues involving the Yucca Mountain Repository for spent nuclear fuel. The Federal government has been studying Yucca Mountain as a fuel repository for the last 30 years. Ratepayers have paid billions to the Nuclear Waste Fund—it’s time for the Federal government to move forward and provide a return on that investment.
- Remove regulatory barriers to building the next generation of nuclear power plants. The Federal government should not stand in the way of developing nuclear fuel reprocessing, pebble-bed reactors, or whatever forms of nuclear energy are economical.
 According to EIA, in 2007 39 percent of our energy came from petroleum, 22 percent from coal, 23 percent from natural gas, 8 percent from nuclear, 2.4 percent from hydroelectric, 2.1 percent from wood derived fuels, 1.0 percent from biofuel, 0.3 percent from geothermal, 0.3 percent from wind, and 0.1 percent from solar. The latest data from EIA is available here: http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/alternate/page/renew_energy_consump/table1.html
Findings point to new mechanism for repairing damaged nerves
america.gov, January 27, 2009
Washington — Scientists have identified a gene required to repair severed nerve cells — a finding that could one day be used in the development of treatments for spinal cord injuries, according to a report published January 22 in the journal Science.
“We discovered a molecular target for a future drug that could vastly improve the ability of a neuron to regenerate after injury,” said Michael Bastiani, the University of Utah scientist who led the research team.
Each year, between 10 and 83 people out of every million people worldwide suffer a spinal cord injury, according to a 2006 study in the journal Spinal Cord. One-third of those injured become paralyzed in all four limbs. Complications from spinal cord injuries include urinary tract infections, depression, pneumonia and renal failure. The estimated lifetime costs are between $1 million and $3 million per injury, depending on the extent of the injury and the age at which it occurs, according to the Christopher Reeve Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to curing spinal cord injuries.
The gene identified in the study, dlk-1, is unique because it is not required for normal growth in embryos, yet it is “absolutely required for regeneration” after injury, Bastiani said. “Most of us believed that virtually everything we found in regeneration also would be involved in development, so it is surprising.”
When the dlk-1 gene was mutated, neurons failed to regrow after injury. When scientists artificially activated dlk-1, regrowth was accelerated.
The study was performed using the nematode worm C. elegans, many of whose neurons are able to regenerate after injury. Many of the genes important for the function of the nervous system in worms, including dlk-1, are also present in humans.
SCREENING FOR REGENERATION
Although worms and humans seem worlds apart, the worm is an ideal tool to identify genes important for neuron regeneration, according to lead author Marc Hammarlund, assistant professor at Yale University School of Medicine.
The C. elegans worm is tiny and transparent, enabling scientists to watch its development unfold cell by cell from embryo to adult, a discovery that led to the Nobel Prize in medicine in 2002. The worm’s tiny size and completely sequenced genome make it amenable to genetic screens, a technique where researchers mutate thousands of genes to identify those few involved in a particular physiological function.
Hammarlund and colleagues used worms genetically engineered to contain a population of glowing green neurons, making them easy to distinguish under the microscope. (See “Four Americans Share in Nobel Science Prizes.”)
Researchers then mutated the beta-spectrin gene. Neurons in these mutants are damaged by the mechanical strain of normal movement. Unlike in mammals, worm neurons can regenerate, so as the worms move their neurons are cycling between damage and regrowth. Using a technique called RNA interference, Hammarlund interfered with the function of more than 5,000 genes individually and examined whether regeneration was impaired.
The dlk-1 gene stood out because when it was mutated, the neuron regeneration decreased dramatically, Hammarlund said. He then took normal worms and used a laser to severe nerve cells; when dlk-1 was over-activated, the severed neurons regrew faster than normal.
Hammarlund told America.gov that more than 60 genes were identified in the screen and could play a role in regeneration. The dlk-1 gene is, thus far, the best understood, but Lebanese postdoctoral fellow Rachid El Bejjani is now studying the other genes identified in the screen.
The link between dlk-1 and nerve regeneration in worms prompts many questions as scientists look to translate their findings to humans.
The function of dlk-1 in normal, adult neurons is not known, Hammarlund said. He was surprised to discover that although dlk-1 is required for the regrowth of damaged neurons, it is not required for the initial growth of neurons in embryos.
In humans, damaged cells in the peripheral nervous system regrow far better than those in the central nervous system. It is not clear why, but it is possible that dlk-1 is preferentially active in the periphery, a question that scientists now will examine, according to Hammarlund. Also not known is whether dlk-1 can spur regrowth of neurons regardless of the damage — it may turn out that dlk-1 is more effective at repairing neurons damaged by trauma than those damaged by a stroke.
One caution is that dlk-1 needs to be activated at the time of injury — activation even two hours after neurons were cut with a laser failed to bring forth robust regrowth. Hammarlund acknowledges that this narrow window is a barrier to treating traumatic nerve damage in humans, but is confident that eventually “we’ll get there.”
“In the future, we would like to develop drugs that could activate this chain of molecular events in nerve cells and stimulate regeneration of diseased and injured nerve cells,” said Erik Jorgenson, a coauthor of the study and scientific director of the Brain Institute at the University of Utah. “At this point, we can’t do that. But this study gives us hope that in the future, we will have a rational approach for stimulating regeneration.”
AEI, Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Allow me to introduce myself: I'm a Bad Faith Economist. At least, that's Paul Krugman's contention in the New York Times yesterday. He argues that opponents of the stimulus plan are all dastardly dissemblers, scheming to sabotage a new New Deal that would otherwise save the economy.
The stimulus package is an unwieldy monster weighing in at over $800 billion. It includes new spending projects, aid to state governments, and proposed tax cuts. It is the new spending projects that spark this particular debate. Krugman's logic is as follows: if any arguments against the spending are flawed, then all must be flawed. That certainly makes a critic's job easier, so let me adopt his approach for the moment and deal with his tactics on taxes.
Krugman says we should "write off anyone who asserts that it's always better to cut taxes than to increase government spending." I agree. I don't know of any critics who are asserting that, but there must be some out there. Krugman dismisses them by arguing that air traffic control is useful. Again, I agree.
He then proceeds: "Meanwhile, it's clear that when it comes to economic stimulus, public spending provides much more bang for the buck than tax cuts." For those who are not well-versed in the rules of classical rhetoric, the phrase "it's clear that…" means "I am about to make an assertion that I strongly believe but would be very hard to prove." In fact, there is a raging debate about whether tax cuts or public spending do more to revive a troubled economy. One side of this debate--see Greg Mankiw, especially here--argues that tax cuts are superior, while another side--see Brad DeLong, especially here--argues that tax cuts and spending are roughly equal. They're both arguing about this 2007 paper co-authored by the incoming Chair of President Obama's Council of Economic Advisers, Christina Romer. In it, she and her husband, David Romer, conclude that "tax changes have very large effects on output."
For a fair fight between those touting tax cuts and those supporting spending, they compare a tax cut today to a spending boost today. If one compared a tax cut now to spending years down the road, then it would be no contest-–tax cuts would win. In fact, that's pretty much the choice we face. According to press reports of an unreleased CBO study, only $26 billion of $355 billion in new spending would occur in the current fiscal year. Another $110 billion would come in Fiscal 2010. That's less than 40 percent of the total by September 2010. Those numbers are so low because it's very hard to find and fund that many worthwhile projects that quickly. Democrats have countered with much higher percentages, but those generally include the tax cuts and the aid to states, which are not really at issue.
Now, there may be a lot to be said for a new electricity grid and renovated highways, even if they don't show up until next decade. But those plans should be judged on their merits, with hearings and all the other trappings of democratic deliberation. They shouldn't be rammed through as emergency stimulus.
It is also misleading to imply that one must favor either tax cuts or the proposed spending projects right now. I don't believe that either holds the key to economic recovery. At the heart of our current crisis lie a downward spiral in the housing sector and a near collapse of our financial sector. There are plans that address these root causes, but they are likely to be expensive. Without such action, a fiscal boost is unlikely to save the day. With such action, a fiscal boost (beyond what is already in the works) may be unnecessary and unaffordable.
One might almost ask whether Dr. Krugman is being intentionally misleading with his piece, but I would not stoop so low as to question his motives. I am perfectly willing to accept that he is putting forward his flawed arguments in good faith.
Philip I. Levy is a resident scholar at AEI.
President Obama was on Capitol Hill to hear out Republican ideas for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan.
White House blog, Tuesday, January 27th, 2009 at 2:01 pmOn the Hill
President Obama is on Capitol Hill today to hear out Republican ideas for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan.
Upon finishing his meeting with House GOP leaders, he gave the brief remarks below..
He’s on his way to see Senate Republicans at 2:30 PM.
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT AFTER MEETING WITH HOUSE REPUBLICAN CAUCUS
Ohio Clock Corridor, U.S. CapitolJanuary 27, 2009, 1:41 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Hello, everybody. We had a very constructive meeting with the House members, members of the Republican Caucus. I'm a little bit late for my Senate colleagues -- former Senate colleagues.
And the main message I have is that the statistics every day underscore the urgency of the economic situation. The American people expect action. They want us to put together a recovery package that puts people back to work, that creates investments that assure our long-term energy independence, an effective health care system, an education system that works; they want our infrastructure rebuilt, and they want it done wisely, so that we're not wasting taxpayer money.
As I explained to the Republican House Caucus, and I'll explain to my former Senate colleagues, the recovery package that we have proposed and is moving its way through Congress is just one leg in a multi-legged stool. We're still going to have to have much better financial regulation, we've got to get credit flowing again, we're going to have to deal with the troubled assets that many banks are still carrying and that make the -- that have locked up the credit system. We're going to have to coordinate with other countries, because we now have a global problem.
I am absolutely confident that we can deal with these issues, but the key right now is to make sure that we keep politics to a minimum. There are some legitimate philosophical differences with parts of my plan that the Republicans have, and I respect that. In some cases they may just not be as familiar with what's in the package as I would like. I don't expect a hundred percent agreement from my Republican colleagues, but I do hope that we can all put politics aside and do the American people's business right now. All right.
White House blog, Tuesday, January 27th, 2009 at 9:48 am
In his first interview with an Arab television station, President Barack Obama offered a bold change to America's relations with the Muslim world.
"My job is to communicate to the American people that the Muslim world is filled with extraordinary people who simply want to live their lives and see their children live better lives," President Obama told Al Arabiya. "My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy."
In the interview, conducted in the White House map room, President Obama also expressed his commitment to tackling the Middle East peace process immediately.
"Sending George Mitchell to the Middle East is fulfilling my campaign promise that we're not going to wait until the end of my administration to deal with Palestinian and Israeli peace, we're going to start now," he said. "It may take a long time to do, but we're going to do it now."
The interview is part of the President’s broader outreach to the Muslim world, which includes a promise to make a major address from the capital of a Muslim nation.
Al Arabiya is a 24-hour Arabic-language news channel based out of Dubai.